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Trojans stun Cut Bank for first win

by Phil Johnson
| September 22, 2013 12:57 PM

It took a fourth-quarter comeback and a Montana Playoff, but the Troy Trojans (1-2) earned their first football win in dramatic fashion last Friday. Overcoming six turnovers, the Trojans prevailed 32-26 over Cut Bank (1-3) in a game that included back-to-back 70-yard touchdown passes and enough dramatic turns to earn a spot on Broadway.

Sophomore halfback Sean Opland, wearing the Trojans’ home maroon jersey and pants, began the scoring with 10.5 seconds remaining in the first quarter on a 35-yard sweep right which he punctuated with a lead-pipe stiff arm at the five-yard line. The run immediately followed a 58-yard strike to junior receiver Michael Miller which offset at second-and-29 from the Trojan seven.

The Wolves responded quickly following the first of what would be several long kickoff returns. Starting at the Troy 27-yard line, Cut Bank tied the game in four plays when junior quarterback Jess Ray dived in from the one.

The game began to slip from Troy in the second quarter as it looked again like their own mistakes would take them out of the game. On consecutive first downs, the Trojans turned the ball over—once on an Opland fumble, another on an intercepted pass that bobbled out of the intended receiver’s hands. But for all their struggles on offense, Troy responded defensively, allowing only one touchdown on a short field. Senior defensive end and team captain Bruce Metz disrupted the Cut Bank offense all night, recording key sacks and stuffing several runs. Foreshadowing later events, Opland atoned for his offensive mistakes with dashing defensive efforts, frequently bottling up the Wolves’ jet sweeps.

Midway through halftime, with the score 12-6, Cut Bank father John Finstad scurried across the field waving his winning 50/50 raffle ticket. Rather than keeping his $152 prize, Finstad donated the money to Troy’s Close Up Foundation trip to Washington, D.C.

“I’ve had two of my children go through the program,” Finstad said. “It’s a great experience and I thought it’d be great for more kids to go.”

On increasingly dewy grass and before the blaring horn of a passing BNSF train, the Trojans kicked off to begin the second half. Following a return to the Cut Bank 35-yard line and a facemask penalty on Troy, the Wolves started at midfield. Eight plays later, another Ray goal line dive made it 18-6.

Troy responded quickly when quarterback Gabe Hickman connected with Gage Tallmadge on a high-arcing fade into the back, right corner of the end zone. For the second time, Metz’s extra-point was blocked and the score remained 18-12.

The Trojans finally got the break they have needed all season with 9:29 remaining in the fourth quarter when the driving Wolves fumbled and Metz recovered. Hickman brought his team even in three plays, the last a scintillating 15-yard touchdown scramble during which he broke numerous tackles. The score remained tied when Troy went for two and failed.

Just when Troy looked to be in command, Cut Bank responded with a kick return to the Trojan 35. But following a stuffed run on first down, senior Troy defensive back Luke Haggerty intercepted a pass. The Trojans drove to midfield before Cut Bank grabbed an interception of their own on a desperation toss from Hickman. Two plays later, the real fireworks began.

On second-and-10 from their own 30-yard line, Cut Bank aligned in their typical four-wide set. The far right receiver ran a ten-yard underneath route that distracted the Trojan safety. Tristian Tubbs, lined up in the right slot, ran a fly route and beat his man. Ray launched a deep ball that appeared to be overthrown. But Tubbs, a 141-pound senior who also serves as the kicker, galloped underneath the ball and scored with 4:30 remaining. A successful two-point conversion made it 26-18.

Just 49 seconds later, Troy responded with their own 70-yard strike. For the first time in the game, Troy coach Jim Dasios sent his quarterback under center. The Cut Bank defense responded by bunching their defense close to the line of scrimmage and, following a five yard run on first down, were out of position when Hickman’s heave fell into Michael Miller’s hands. The Trojans tied the game when Hickman pitched an option to Opland who walked into the end zone untouched.

Following a three-and-out, Troy nearly blew it when the punt return was muffed. Troy maintained possession following a scrum and an audible sigh of relief swept through the crowd.

Strong runs from Hickman and Opland moved the ball to Cut Bank’s 30-yard line with under a minute to go before a Hickman pass was intercepted at the three-yard line. In a surprise move, Cut Bank coach Paul Schilling elected to pass out of his own end zone with seconds remaining. A first-down incompletion led to two quarterback dives that earned a Wolves’ first-down.

Again, the Wolves passed and with less than 15 seconds remaining Opland intercepted a pass at the Cut Bank 40. Running to victory, Opland rambled to the seven-yard line, but as he fell he lost his third fumble of the night. A stunned Cut Bank took a knee and the game went to overtime.

Montana overtime rules, known as a Montana Playoff, are much like college rules, giving both teams a chance to score, except in Montana offenses start at the 10-yard line. A coin-flip determines who starts with the ball and for the second time on the night Troy won the toss. Following common strategy of wishing to defend first—so the offense knows exactly what it must do—Cut Bank opened with a quarterback keeper that was stuffed for a loss of one. On the next play, Hickman, playing safety, intercepted a pass in the end zone.

Hickman followed his defensive stand with a six yard run to the left. On the next play, still steaming from all his fumbles, Opland stormed through the Wolves’ defense and scored the winning touchdown.

Trojans rushed the field, waving their helmets in joy before lining up to shake hands with a crestfallen Cut Bank team; it was only last week they lost 12-8 when a Hail Mary fell through their defenders hands and into a kneeling Three Forks receiver’s grasp.

A jubilant Coach Dasios led the team in rendition of the Troy fight song. Players exited the field through a tunnel of adorning fans.

“This was the most exciting game I ever coached,” Dasios said. “When we don’t have any injuries we are a pretty good football team. Hickman played outstanding, and when Opland gets upset he does something about it. When he fumbled at the end I told him he was getting the ball in overtime. I knew he would score.”