Rocked by injuries that had leveled its offensive line and star running back Reveion Hargrove, Trotwood-Madison challenged its defense to carry the Rams this high school football season.
Besides, most of Trotwood’s veteran offensive line had graduated and holes needed to be plugged. And then the injury bug bit.
“It took our continuity away,” coach Jeff Graham said. “Midway through the season we got everybody healthy, Hargrove got in shape and our defense had already been playing well. Most of our leaders are on defense and that took us into the playoff run. The guys have played well and we’ve put ourselves in a great position.”
That’s understating what’s at stake for the Rams. Its offense and defense humming at a championship level, Trotwood (12-2) plays defending champ Akron Archbishop Hoban (13-1) for the Division III state championship at 3 p.m. on Saturday at Ohio Stadium in Columbus.
Joining the Rams in Week 15, season-ending title games are Midwest Athletic Conference members Coldwater (D-V), Marion Local (D-VI) and Minster (D-VII). Those three MAC teams are hoping to match the historic 2014 season when they all won state titles, the first conference to do that in Ohio playoff history.
The first of seven state title games is at 7:30 p.m. Thursday when two-time defending state champ Cincinnati La Salle (12-2) plays Massillon Perry (13-1) for the D-II championship. All the games will be televised live on Time Warner Cable channels 1311 (HD), 311 and 99 in Southwest Ohio.
Trotwood has played for five state titles, including four consecutive years from 2010-13. The Rams won their only championship by completing a 15-0 season in 2011 to capture the D-II crown. However, those previous title games were played at Canton or Massillon. This will be the first time for the Rams and Graham, a former outstanding Ohio State University receiver, to play and coach at Ohio Stadium.
“I told them, take a good five minutes, take a deep breath and absorb it all,” said Graham, who was recruited by former OSU coach Earle Bruce and also played for John Cooper with the Buckeyes. “So just take it in, soak it up, enjoy the moment and from that point on do everything that you did to get yourself in this position. Just go out there, have fun and let’s play RamNation football.”
Trotwood has separated itself from other D-III contenders during an impressive four-game playoff run. Blowouts of Wapakoneta and New Richmond were followed with a dramatic 34-27 dodging of St. Marys Memorial in a regional final at Piqua two weeks ago. That was the most points the Rams — who lost 17-6 to Wayne in Week 10 — had yielded.
Trotwood responded with a season-defining 36-0 blanking of unbeaten Toledo Central Catholic in last week’s state semifinal at Lima. The Irish registered their only first down with two minutes left in the third quarter. Hargrove and an offensive line anchored by Jaison Williams and Mickale Stewart were unstoppable.
Trotwood (39.5) is averaging the most playoff points of any of the title-contending teams. Central Catholic defeated Trotwood in a D-III state semi last season, then lost to Hoban in the title game.
“These guys are the champions, we understand that,” Graham said. “We’ve got to understand the magnitude of the game. It’ll be a great game. We just have to match their intensity and play RamNation football.”
• A Trotwood team meal at the school will be at 5:30 p.m. Friday. Fans are encouraged to join in a send-off for the Rams at 6:30, starting in the school commons and ending at the buses. Among those to be introduced by athletic director Guy Fogle are superintendent Kevin Bell, school board member Denise Moore, principal David White and Trotwood mayor Mary McDonald.
Trotwood buses will leave at 7 p.m., accompanied by a police escort out of town.
• Coldwater will depart from the school at 3 p.m. Saturday. Cavaliers AD Eric Goodwin said fans are encouraged to join in a send-off.