Troup fights for spot in quarters
Published 10:03 pm Thursday, November 16, 2017
By Kevin Eckleberry
On a November night in 2003, the Troup Tigers pulled off some late-game magic to beat Bainbridge 24-21.
On a fourth-down play, quarterback Tyler Wynn threw a 10-yard touchdown pass to Roderick Kennedy to lift the Tigers to the dramatic, come-from-behind win.
That victory propelled Troup into the quarterfinals of the state playoffs for the first time since 1987.
Tonight in Atlanta, the current Troup team is hoping to join the quarterfinal club.
Troup will play St. Pius X in the second round of the Class AAAA state playoffs, with the winner advancing to the final eight.
With a win, Troup would make it to the quarterfinals for the first time since that special 2003 season.
Troup reached this point with a dominant 31-7 road win over Heritage-Catoosa last week, giving the program its second playoff win since that 2003 season.
It was a big moment for a team that has made some remarkable strides over the past two years.
After going 1-9 in 2015, Troup has won 17 games the past two seasons, and getting that playoff win was another signal of how far the program has come in a short time.
“We’ve won a lot of games the last two years,” said Tanner Glisson, who is in his third season as Troup’s head coach. “Last week was a good step for us, and to win it pretty easily, handily, was big. I think they want to keep playing, and enjoy what they’re doing. So it’s a fun time of the year.”
While advancing deep in the playoffs isn’t something Troup is accustomed to, this is old hat for St. Pius X.
Under successful head coach Paul Standard, St. Pius has advanced at least as far as the quarterfinals six times since 2009.
St. Pius played for state championships in 2012 and 2014, losing to Buford both years, and it reached the quarterfinals in 2015 before stumbling to a 2-9 record a year ago.
This St. Pius team began the season with five straight losses, but it will bring a six-game winning streak into today’s game.
“Last year they played a bunch of sophomores, so now they’re a bunch of juniors,” Glisson said of St. Pius. “So they’re starting to hit their stride.”
It will be a game of contrasting offensive styles.
With senior quarterback Montez Crowe putting up massive numbers, Troup has thrown the ball as well as almost any team in the state.
St. Pius does it a different way.
The Golden Lions feature an option running attack, and they rarely throw the ball.
In last week’s 44-31 win over West Hall, the Golden Lions passed just four times while pounding out 344 rushing yards.
It’s an offense designed to drain the clock and limit the number of possessions the other team has.
Quarterback Connor Egan is the trigger man for the option offense, and running back Jason Jones had more than 100 yards in the playoff win.
“What we really don’t want to do is let them drive the length of the field, and bleed the clock,” Glisson said. “That’s what they do. We may give up some plays, but we can’t allow them to hold onto the ball. The last five games, two teams got eight possessions, and three teams got 10 possessions. We are used to getting 13 to 14 possessions. So we’ll see how that plays out.”
Troup’s defense played so well in the win over Heritage, but this is a different sort of challenge.
“We played 52 snaps (Tuesday) in practice on defense, trying to prep them to mentally stay in games for a longer period of time, to make sure in the third or fourth quarter we don’t start getting undisciplined, and start taking dive when we’re supposed to take the pitch,” Glisson said. “And they did a great job, so we’ll see how it translates on Friday.”
St. Pius played a brutal non-region schedule that included some of the state’s top teams, and it came up short in each of those five games.
Beginning with a 28-13 win over Stephens County on Oct. 6, St. Pius has done nothing but win.
“We knew the tough schedule would pay off and this group of 14 seniors kept this team together,” Standard told the Atlanta-Journal Constitution after last week’s win. “I’m so proud of them and they did a great job of leading. We stayed with our core principles and the kids never not believed in the process, and our staff did a great job.”
In 2015, while St. Pius was going 10-3, Troup was struggling through a 1-9 season.
The foundation for the team’s current success was laid that year, though.
“I felt like things were going to change,” said senior MaCenta Stafford, a sophomore on that team in 2015. “It all started in the weight room, and then that translated onto the field.”
The Tigers turned it around a year ago, going 8-3 and finishing second in Region 5-AAAA to earn the right to host a playoff game.
Troup went 8-2 in the regular season again this year, and it followed that up with a blowout win over Heritage-Catoosa.
The offense was humming along as usual.
Crowe threw for 354 yards with three touchdowns, and Jamari Thrash had four catches for 165 yards with two touchdowns.
Thrash had a 91-yard scoring catch early in the third quarter that helped Troup break the game open.
Mark-Anthony Dixon had four catches for 118 yards with a 65-yard touchdown, and Kobe Hudson had four receptions for 86 yards.
Trey Williams had a touchdown run, and he and Tyree Carlisle each ran for 27 yards.
For the season, Crowe has thrown for 3,569 yards with 38 touchdowns.
Thrash has had a remarkable season with 49 catches for 1,180 yards, and Hudson has 39 receptions for 828 yards.
Those two have combined for nearly 30 touchdown catches.
Dixon has 20 catches for 556 yards with four touchdowns, and Ja’Rell Smith and Kenly Bridwell both have two scoring receptions.
Carlisle leads the Troup rushing attack with 412 yards and six touchdowns.
Defensively, Troup had its way with a Heritage offense that had been scoring more than 40 points per game.
Kobe Hudson and Devon Hill both had interceptions that led to Troup touchdowns.
“I thought we played very well (defensively) against Central-Carroll, and I thought we played pretty well against Cartersville, and I thought we played pretty well (against Heritage),” Glisson said. “So that’s three weeks in a row where we have played pretty decent.
“Now this totally changes that because of what you’ve got to do assignment-wise.”
Joko Willis, who moved from linebacker to the defensive line a few weeks ago, is Troup’s leading tackler.
Junior linebacker Kevin Martin is Troup’s second-leading tackler, and King Mwikuta is the top tackler among the defensive lineman.
Stafford, who shifted to defensive back from linebacker late in the season, has more than 50 tackles.
Glisson said the willingness of the players to move positions is a strength of the team.
“That’s the attitude they have,” Glisson said. “But that’s kind of the culture we’ve tried to create, is do whatever it takes, and so far so good.”
Troup is also in good shape on special teams, with Carson Wreyford doing a nice job on field goals and extra points and on kickoffs.
Wreyford is also Troup’s punter, although he hasn’t been needed very often in that role this season.
If the Tigers win tonight, they would be one victory away from the program’s first final-four berth since 2001.
Two wins, and Troup would reach the state-championship game for the first time in school history.
No one on the team is looking beyond a talented St. Pius team, though.
“We’ve got to focus on this week,” Stafford said. “If we win this Friday, then we’ll focus on next week. It’s got to be one week at a time.”
ST. PIUS X
WHAT: Second round of Class AAAA state playoffs.
WHEN: Today, 7:30 p.m.
WHERE: St. Pius (Atlanta)
RECORDS: Troup (9-2); St. Pius (6-5)
HOW THEY GOT HERE: Troup finished third in Region 5-AAAA and beat Heritage-Catoosa 31-7 in the first round of the playoffs; St. Pius finished first in Region 8-AAAA and beat West Hall 44-31 in the first round of the playoffs.
UP NEXT: The winner will play either Woodward Academy or West Laurens in the quarterfinals