TRAVERSE CITY — To say the outcome of the TC Patriot Game was expected would be a lie.
Players, coaches and fans alike grew accustomed to the rivalry game between Traverse City Central and TC West being a nail-biting, one score contest.
The Trojans debunked that notion when they floored the Titans by a score of 32-0 on Friday night at Thirlby, marking the first time the Trojans (3-1, 1-0 Big North Conference) have ever shut out the Titans (2-2, 0-1 BNC).
“We did not,” TC Central sophomore Josh Burnham said when asked if the outcome was expected. “We thought it was going to be a close game that we would be giving 100% to the fourth quarter and the last play.”
Friday night was filled with a lot of unexpected moments from the Trojans and uncharacteristic play from the Titans.
The eighth annual TC Patriot Game marked the first time in 33 games that the TC West defense allowed 31 or more points and the first time they have been shutout since 2015.
The only other shutout in the 25-game series came when the Titans beat the Trojans 31-0 in 2002.
Friday also marked the largest margin of victory (32) in the series since the very first time these two teams met in 1997 (36).
“This is a huge game, no doubt about it,” TC Central head coach Eric Schugars said. “We were hungry for it. The last two years it was difficult to go home on the other end. I think it was just our time tonight and the way it came out you couldn’t ask for anything more.”
The game started slowly and looked to be the defensive slug-fest everyone has come to know. The Trojans were only up 3-0 after the first due to a 28-yard field goal by Alex Parks.
The game was jump started by the Central defense, who made stop after stop in the first quarter, when Carson Hall snagged the first interception of the day. The Trojans offense only needed one play after getting the ball back on downs before the game started to open up.
Austin Bills burst to the outside, dodging tacklers for a 67-yard rushing score to put the Trojans up 9-0 in the second. They went into attack mode from there and even tossed in a trick play to put the Titans in an even deeper hole.
Following a 30-yard scramble from Peyton Smith, the Trojans drew up a halfback pass that worked to perfection. Smith tossed the ball backwards to Trey Searles on the left side of the field who then found a sprinting Burnham across the middle for a 54-yard score.
“When you play aggressive defenses you have to find ways to attack them,” Schugars said of the play. “Our offensive coordinators drew that up and created that scenario and our players executed it.”
The play put the Trojans up 15 points after Parks missed his second PAT of the day and the momentum would never swing back to the home team.
“We started a little slow on offense but our defense gave us life,” Schugars said. “It’s just like we stopped them and stopped them. Once once you do that, your offense gets some points and then we hit a big play. And then we felt the momentum and were like, listen, they can’t stop us at this point.”
The Trojans took the 15-point lead into halftime and were giving the ball back to the Titans to start the third but they did not let off the accelerator.
The Central defense forced two three-and-outs in the third quarter and the offense ate up nearly five minutes on a 11-play, 40-yard drive that ended in a 37-yard field goal by Parks.
“I just knew that we had to keep our foot on the gas and give it 100% even coming out of half time when we had a lead,” Burnham said. “We had to keep going and keep pushing.”
And that they did.
Burnham turned up the heat in the second half, scoring on a 20-yard run and making the big defensive play of the night. The play after scoring on the ground, Burnham leaped from his outside linebacker position and high-pointed a pass intended for Aiden Griggs, taking the interception 33-yards to the house and expanding the final margin to 32-0 after a Parks extra point.
“It’s typically a tight ball game but the way we have big play capability, I felt we had the chance to flip it,” Schugars said. “We hit two big plays and I knew if we stayed great on defense we could flip this thing. It was a feeling I had and it came down to big plays.”
The Titans were marred by injuries, with starting quarterback Andy Soma sidelined by two hairline fractures in his throwing hand and right tackle Caleb Hippensteel out for the game. Junior Mason Morrison stepped in at QB in a less-than-ideal situation.
Making his first career start, he went 5-for-12 passing with 71 yards and two interceptions. Vaughan said the combination of Friday being his first start and the environment he was thrown into was a “two-fold” issue for the new gunslinger.
“Unfortunately, in this game when we get behind we were maybe asking Mason (Morrison) to do a little bit more than he’s ready to do at this point,” Vaughan said. “That’s why we gotta get back to work on Monday.”
The Titans were held to 142 yards of total offense, split evenly at 71 yards on the ground and through the air.
Burnham finished with 26 rushing yards, 54 receiving yards, eight tackles, a sack and three total touchdowns for the Trojans. Bills was the workhorse on the ground for TCC racking up 114 yards on nine carries that included a score. Smith threw for 107 yards on 5-of-14 passing.
Christian Boivin led the Titans on the ground with 33 yards on seven carries and Chase Tyson had 24 rushing yards.
“We are 1-0 in the Big North, that’s what we wanted,” Schugars said. “But beating your crosstown rival and being 1-0, that’s a little sweeter.”
As for the Titans, Vaughan hopes this loss is a lesson rather than a burden.
“One of our goals is the be the best in Traverse City and unfortunately we don’t have that goal this year,” Vaughan said. “We can go one of two ways — we can let it drive us down or we can let it motivate us to continue to get better.”