Trojans build steam heading into playoffs, hold off Stebbins 28-21

RIVERSIDE — The division championship and next week’s playoff matchups already decided, there didn’t seem to be much for Troy and Stebbins to play for in the regular season’s final week.

The Trojans, however, saw things differently.

“We had the mindset that we’re playing a football game. And whenever you play a football game here at Troy, you’re playing to win. It’s a chance to go 1-0,” Troy football coach Dan Gress said.

And with sophomore running back Nick Kawecki — who still entered Week 6 as the Miami Valley League’s leading rusher — sidelined since the first quarter of Week 5’s victory over Greenville, the Trojans banded together and shared the load as a team.

La’Manual Kemp-Short and Evan Jones both rushed for 100-plus yards and scored a touchdown, quarterback Josh Mayfield ran for two more scores and the Trojan defense came up with big stops when it mattered most as Troy knocked off MVL Valley Division champion Stebbins 28-21 Friday night on the road.

Troy improved to 4-2 with the win and built momentum for next week’s home playoff game against Columbus Franklin Heights, where the Trojans are seeded ninth in Division II, Region 8. Stebbins — seeded No. 7 in the same region — fell to 4-2, its only other loss before Friday night being to Piqua.

Kemp-Short — Troy’s power-running specialist who had his first 100-yard game last week — finished with 102 yards and a touchdown on 20 carries, while Jones posted his first career 100-yard game with 101 yards and a score on 21 carries.

“I came in, and I got the job done. When a man goes down, another comes up and you’ve got to do what you’ve got to do to win the game,” Kemp-Short said. “It’s fun running like that, running people over. I’ve got a big body, and I’ve got to use it.”

“I was happy to get back in the backfield, but none of us could do it without our line,” Jones said. “And I can’t wait to get Kawecki back, too, because he’s a great runner. And it’s nice to share reps with Manny (Kemp-Short), too, because he’s such a big force. I’m just really thankful to be in the backfield with them and Josh.”

Mayfield, who was also 4 for 8 passing for 77 yards, added 70 yards and two touchdowns on 16 carries as the Trojans piled up 265 rushing yards on the night to Stebbins’ 75.

“It’s a team effort. We’ve got everybody — the O-line, the running backs, the receivers and everybody surrounding us — doing their part,” Mayfield said.

“That’s next man up. We’ve always lived by that, and it showed up tonight,” Gress said. “We have full faith in all of our guys, so when we come in to a night like this a couple guys down, we don’t even blink or hesitate. It’s just next man up.

“We’ve got a great backfield, and I can’t wait to turn on film tonight and see where it always starts, and that’s our offensive line. And I’m really excited to see how our wide receivers came to play tonight. They didn’t get as many balls as they probably would like — which, that happens when the running game is going — but I know they were blocking their butts off, and that’s just as important with us.”

Troy took charge early, converting two three-and-outs by Stebbins into touchdowns in the first quarter. Mayfield scored the first one on a 13-yard run with 8:32 remaining in the first, then Kemp-Short finished off an 11-play, 68-yard drive with a bruising 1-yard touchdown push to give Troy a 14-0 lead after one.

Stebbins answered early in the second, though, with Rayvonn Harris turning a short pass from Nate Keller into a 77-yard touchdown reception to cut Troy’s lead to seven with 10:15 until the half. Troy then fumbled away the ensuing kickoff and gave Stebbins a short field, but Chase Murphy intercepted a third-down pass in the end zone to keep the Trojans ahead, and Jones capped off a 10-play, 80-yard drive with a 10-yard touchdown run to put Troy up 21-7 at the break.

But the night was far from over.

“Stebbins made me sound like I knew what I was talking about — we’ve been telling the kids all week and told them at halftime that this is a four-quarter game when you play a team like Stebbins,” Gress said.

Keller hit Aiden Jones with a 25-yard touchdown pass for the only score of the third quarter to again get the Indians within a touchdown, but on fourth-and-goal from the 2-yard line, Mayfield willed himself over the goal line to give the Trojans some insurance again with a 28-14 lead with 10:19 to play.

Keller — who finished 13 for 24 for 240 yards passing — hit Adrian Norton with an 11-yard touchdown pass to make it 28-21 with 7:01 to play. Troy then drove the the Stebbins 17 and attempted a 34-yard field goal with 2:18 to play, but the kick was no good and the Indians got another shot.

The defense stood firm and forced a three-and-out on that possession, though, and even though Stebbins got the ball back for one last play with five seconds remaining, another incompletion finally wrapped up the win for the Trojans.

“We just had to keep pushing,” Mayfield said. “They came back, never gave up and kept fighting, I’ll give them that, and we just had to keep punching back. It was a dogfight.”

“This was a great momentum-shifting game and a great team win against a tremendous Stebbins team heading into next week,” Gress said. “We still have ‘Troy’ across our chest, and we’re excited to get back to work.”