PIQUA — Preparations during Troy-Piqua week are stressful in a normal season.
The 2020 season has only just begun, and it’s been anything but normal.
“It was nerve-wracking,” Piqua football coach Bill Nees said. “We have these countdown clocks — they have them, we have them. You’re always accused of looking ahead and all this. Then all of a sudden, it’s done. It’s time. And everybody came in cold.”
After a preseason dominated by questions of whether or not it would even lead to regular-season competition due to concerns caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, after no one was able to play any preseason scrimmages, after the season was cut down to only six weeks and the schedule reshuffled, after only getting the go-ahead to play the week before Week 1, Troy-Piqua week arrived.
And the Indians (1-0) made the most of it.
Sophomore quarterback Brady Ouhl threw a long touchdown pass and ran for another to help give the Indians a big advantage, and then Tanner Kemp ran in the middle of a short screen pass and streaked 70 yards for the game-sealing touchdown as Piqua snapped a four-game losing streak to the Trojans with a 26-10 victory Friday night at Alexander Stadium/Purk Field.
And while the atmosphere was strange early on in the game, by the time Kemp iced the game with his thrilling pick-6, it felt like any other game in the long and storied rivalry.
“We came out, we’re not in school yet, and we’re thinking it’s kind of a scrimmage-type atmosphere,” Nees said. “But we had a good group in the stands, and once the game got going, boom. I think when the band starts playing, you just get into it.
“They (the crowd) didn’t have any scrimmages, either. So it was opening night for everybody.”
For Troy (0-1), it was a night of missed chances. Twice in the second quarter, the Trojans turned the ball over on the doorstep, fumbling it away on the Piqua 2-yard line and then throwing an interception in the end zone in the closing seconds of the first half — two costly turnovers that left the Trojans trailing 13-3 at the break.
“You can see it right there — lost opportunities,” Troy coach Dan Gress said. “We left a lot of points on the field that we didn’t get, and we had some plays that we didn’t make. Us coaches, we’ve got to come back tomorrow and do a better job of getting this team prepared.
“Heartbreak for the seniors. That’s it. That’s all I feel. Heartbreak for the seniors.”
And Troy’s fourth turnover proved to be the final nail in the coffin.
Troy took possession from its own 20 with 4:52 remaining in the game and trailing by two possessions at 19-10. Quarterback Josh Mayfield connected on a number of short passes as Troy drove into Piqua territory but saw time bleeding away fast. And with 54 seconds remaining, Mayfield went to the well again with another short screen attempt — only this time, Kemp saw it coming.
“We just went lock, and I was reading the quarterback’s eyes. I saw him looking towards that receiver doing the screen, and I just read it and took off,” Kemp said.
“Boy, that was big,” Nees said. “Tanner’s one of the fastest guys on the team. They were nit-picking him down on the boundary, and we were debating how patient we were going to be. I think it was a good call to keep him situated where he was.”
And as Kemp ran the length of the field, all of the uncertainty and effort that led up to the season evaporated.
“It felt amazing,” Kemp said. “Best feeling ever. We’ve been doing all of this hand sanitizing and working to be able to play, and we finally got to. It felt great.”
Troy took the lead early on a 35-yard field goal by Jack Kleinhenz, but the Indians answered as Brady Ouhl hit Blane Ouhl with a 26-yard touchdown pass on the next possession to give Piqua a 7-3 lead after the first quarter. Brady Ouhl then faked everyone out on a third-and-3 handoff up the middle, keeping it himself and going 44 yards down the right sideline to make the score 13-3 Piqua with 5:31 left until halftime.
Troy’s offense finally showed sign of life on the next possession, as, on third-and-12, Mayfield hit Kleinhenz in stride for a 48-yard gain, then Mayfield escaped a sack and ran it to the Piqua 6-yard line for a first-and-goal. But on the next play, Troy fumbled it away, with Damian Lawson recovering for the Indians on the 2-yard line to kill the drive.
Troy forced a punt and drove back to the Indians’ 8-yard line, but Ca’Ron Coleman intercepted a fade in the corner of the end zone — the Trojans’ second straight turnover inside the 5 — in the half’s final 10 seconds, and Piqua led 13-3 at the break.
“The No. 1 thing that helped us was, we didn’t have any scrimmages, but we came in here healthy,” Nees said. “And we’ve got almost everybody that goes both ways, so we were able to have scrimmages (against ourselves). We were able to hit and do live stuff. That helped us get ready.”
Piqua forced a three-and-out to begin the second half, and a facemask on the punt return set the Indians up on the Troy 39. Five plays later, Bryson Roberts punched through the middle for a 5-yard touchdown run, giving Piqua a 19-3 lead with 8:05 remaining in the third.
Troy fought back on the next drive, aided by a personal foul for a late hit along the sideline that put the Trojans on the Indians’ 15-yard line. Four plays later, La’Manual Kemp-Short bulldozed his way in from four yards out, capping off an 11-play, 72-yard touchdown drive to cut Piqua’s lead to 19-10 with 4:19 left in the quarter — and that’s where things remained until the game’s final minute.
Ouhl finished the game 8 for 13 for 116 yards and one touchdown and added 44 rushing yards and another score on seven carries. Brady Ouhl led Piqua’s receivers with three catches for 49 yards and a touchdown. For Troy, Mayfield was 17 for 29 for 184 yards with three interceptions — one to Coleman, one to Kemp and one to Jasiah Medley — and he added 57 rushing yards on 23 carries, with Nick Barr making eight receptions for 72 yards.
It was the 136th meeting between the two teams, with Troy entering the night holding a 66-63-6 lead in the series and a four-game winning streak — earning a division championship and a trip to the playoffs with each of those four wins. It was the first time since 2012 that the game did not take place in Week 10, and the first time since 1981 it took place in Week 1.
It was also the first time either team had seen action since their Week 10 meeting in 2019, a 35-9 Troy win — but Piqua put an end to that streak and closed to 66-64-6 in the overall series standings.
“We’ve done it before. It’s flipped back and forth,” Nees said. “It was even for a while, then we had a run of four years, then they had it for four years. Everybody gets that streak going every once in a while.
“They’re a really good football team again this year. We’ll see how things progress the rest of the year.”
The Indians travel to Butler in Week 2, while Troy will host Xenia for Senior Night.
“All we’re worried about now is sticking together and coming back to work tomorrow,” Gress said.