That state-championship meltdown that ended Trotwood-Madison’s football season last year? Fuel for a burning inner fire.
“It’s unbelievable to come out with a win,” Rams standout linebacker James Parker said following an as-yet season-defining 16-7 defeat of postseason rival Toledo Central Catholic on Friday at Alexander Stadium. “But at the end of the day our objective since Day 1 has been to finish. That’s what we have to do.”
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That’s a direct reference to what Trotwood couldn’t do in 2016 after being mashed by Akron Archbishop Hoban 30-0 in a Division III state title mismatch. But the Rams have qualified for a do-over after knocking out the Irish in yet another state semi.
Trotwood (14-0) will look to complete a perfect season against Dresden Tri-Valley (13-1). That will be the last of seven state title games at 8 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 1 at Canton’s new Tom Benson Hall of Fame Stadium. Tri-Valley, located near Zanesville, defeated Akron St. Vincent-St. Mary 24-6 in the other D-III state semi at Perry.
Joining Trotwood in advancing to title games are area teams Clinton-Massie (D-IV) and Midwest Athletic Conference members Marion Local (D-VI) and Minster (D-VII).
This was the fourth straight season Trotwood and TCC were matched in a state semi. This relatively new playoff rivalry started in the 2012 D-II state title game, an Irish win.
Last season Trotwood shocked TCC 36-0, which set up the Rams’ disappointing fall of not finishing in the title game. Nothing like that high-scoring mismatch was expected in this title-like bout. Instead, it was a defensive slugfest that all but negated two great offenses.
Trotwood benefitted the most, turning two blocked punts into nine points for a slim lead. Then the Rams’ hammer struck. Mostly contained throughout, standout senior Rams running back Ra’veion Hargrove zig-zagged 77 yards through the heart of the Irish defense to seal the stunning win with less than five minutes remaining.
“You shut him down, you shut him down and you shut him down, then he hits one,” veteran TCC coach Greg Dempsey said. “It’s just bad timing. You miss a play and they make you pay for it. That’s what good teams do.”
Unlike the bulk of its blowout wins, Trotwood had a game-deciding assist from its punt-rush unit. First, Kennedy Coates swatted an Irish punt into the end zone, where Taron Britt fell on the ball with inches to spare from the back end. That drew the teams even at 7-all in the first quarter.
Incredibly, Trotwood blocked another punt, although it was more like a miss fire into the Rams’ defensive front and never had a chance to go airborne. This time the ball tantalizingly caromed through the end zone just ahead of the diving Rams. The resulting safety put Trotwood up 9-7 in the third quarter.
The teams traded penalties, missed passes, interceptions and botched series until Hargrove stunned the Irish with his long strike.
Trotwood sensed a blocked punt was doable after viewing video of the Irish.
“We noticed (the TCC punter) rolls to the right and does that rugby thing,” Trotwood coach Jeff Graham said. “We said when we get that opportunity that’s where we’ve got to hold our hat to make that difference in the game.”
Hargrove had 127 yards rushing, pushing his season total to 2,127. The Trotwood defense was just as magnificent as the 2016 blowout, holding TCC to 21 yards rushing (45 carries) and 91 yards of total offense.
That defensive might was also costly. Rams sophomore corner Sam Anderson was removed on a stretcher afterward as a precaution and will undergo concussion protocol. The Rams’ postgame team huddle also prematurely ended due to a player’s asthma attack.
“It was an ugly game and sometimes it happens that way,” said Graham, shrugging. “You gotta give it up for these seniors. They’ve been here and they don’t panic in this situation.”