TROY — After going down with an injury in the first quarter of Week 5’s game against Greenville, Troy sophomore running back Nick Kawecki had some ups and downs preparing to return to action for the playoffs.
“I’ve been getting back into the swing of things during practice. At first, I felt a little off, but after a while I felt like I was getting back into it,” he said of coming back to action after missing last week’s regular season finale.
Having Troy’s offensive line to run behind upon returning, though? That was a massive help.
“Oh, that is the best line I’ve ever had. Those guys are awesome!” he said.
That offensive line cleared the way for 386 rushing yards, with Kawecki returning to action with a 169-yard, two-touchdown performance, La’Manual Kemp Short adding two more scores on the ground and quarterback Josh Mayfield running for one and throwing for another as the ninth-seeded Trojans (5-2) routed No. 24 Franklin Heights (0-6) 49-6 Friday at Troy Memorial Stadium in the first round of the Division II, Region 8 playoffs.
“When you look ahead, hands on your legs, ready to go, you get the ball and you see that line in front of you, you feel pretty good about yourself,” Troy football coach Dan Gress said. “We have Ethan Freed, (Jakob) Moorman, we had (Dawson) Hildebrand come back for us this week, Zach Ray on the other side, and Joe Cusick and Nathan Kaiser, with us missing Andrew Holley this week.
“And you know what? The thing I love the most about this O-line, did you see the excitement when we score with our running backs and Josh making that big play? They don’t want the credit. They just come out here and have fun playing the game of football. You can see how much they care about each other.”
Kawecki — who was the Miami Valley League’s leading rusher until his injury — made it clear he was back on the game’s opening drive, carrying the ball all five plays and finishing the 62-yard drive with a 29-yard touchdown on a pitch up the left sideline to give Troy a 7-0 lead two minutes in.
“How he hits the hole is a little different than how other people hit the hole,” Gress said. “Between Nick and Manny (Kemp-Short) and Josh, and last week with Evan Jones, everything is a nice little change-up. Everyone brings something a little different to the table, and it’s hard to stop fresh backs.”
After the defense forced a turnover on downs on Troy’s 40-yard line, the Trojans marched back the other way, going 60 yards in eight plays, this time with Kemp-Short running over defenders on a 4-yard score to give Troy a 14-0 lead with 3:43 left in the opening quarter. And the first play after another turnover on downs on the Troy 37, Mayfield added one final score in the first, faking to Kawecki and taking the ball up the gut for a 63-yard touchdown to make the score 21-0 after one.
“Those backs garner a lot of attention,” Gress said. “And another thing that stuck out was the blocking of our wide receivers. They’re getting better with that week to week, because we have some big, physical wide receivers. And when (the back) hits the second level, they are the difference maker on that block. They’re really starting to take that to heart.
“That’s what it’s going to take as we keep going through the playoffs. With these defenses, that’s that make-it-or-break-it block in that second level for our running backs.”
Troy followed that up with the game’s lone turnover, turning a bad snap by the Falcons into an Adam DeCerbo fumble recovery, and on the next play Mayfield hit Barr in stride for a 43-yard touchdown pass to make the score 28-0 with 9:39 left in the half. And after Franklin Heights answered with a 50-yard touchdown pass from Jeffery Beverly to Tommy McGeehan to cut the lead to 28-6, Kawecki finished off a quick six-play, 77-yard drive with a 6-yard score — and Mayfield hit Navin Couch for a two-point conversion to make the score 36-6 at halftime, ensuring that the running clock would be turned on to start the second half.
Kemp-Short added a 12-yard score, carrying half of the Falcon defense with him for 10 of those yards, to make it a 43-6 game late in the third, and the second team offense added a fourth-quarter touchdown as Kristefer Williams took a shovel pass from Donnie Stanley in from 4 yards out for the game’s final score.
Mayfield finished with 90 rushing yards and was 3 for 3 passing for 61 more yards, and Kemp-Short had 73 rushing yards. Troy’s defense, meanwhile, allowed only 206 yards of offense for the Falcons, 97 rushing and 109 passing.
The Trojans will go on the road in the second round of the playoffs, traveling to Edgewood. The eighth-seeded Cougars defeated No. 25 Columbus West 62-12 Friday night.