Hrbacek's heroics not enough for Troy in opener as Salado rushing attack powers 46-27 Eagles victory
FLYING HIGH: Senior center Bryce Dobbins and Salado's offensive line helped the Eagles rush for 429 yards and six touchdowns in their season-opening 46-27 win over area rival Troy on Friday night at Mary Hardin-Baylor's Crusader Stadium in Belton. Noah Mescher paced Salado with 173 yards and two TDs, Reid Vincent ran for 156 yards and a score and Caden Strickland added 89 yards and a TD. Wrook Brown caught a touchdown pass and ran for a TD as Salado snapped its two-game losing streak against Troy. (Photo by Greg Wille, TempleBeltonSports.com)
By GREG WILLE
BELTON – Troy running back Zach Hrbacek entered Friday night's annual season-opening game against area rival Salado with the reputation of being a big-time player, and the elusive senior star did nothing to tarnish that as the Sam Houston State commitment rushed for 284 yards and scored all four Trojans touchdowns.
But Salado's preference is to demonstrate its strength in numbers, and the tenacity and depth of the Eagles' Slot-T offense surely and steadily overmatched the Trojans' defense on a hot evening for high school football at Mary Hardin-Baylor's Crusader Stadium.
Senior fullback Noah Mescher rushed for a team-high 173 yards and two long touchdowns, senior tailback Reid Vincent ran for 156 yards and a long score, senior Wrook Brown produced two touchdowns and two other Eagles scored a TD as Salado methodically pulled away to defeat nemesis Troy 46-27.
Sophomore halfback Caden Strickland rushed for 89 yards and a touchdown in his sharp first varsity start to help the Class 4A Division II Eagles rack up 429 rushing yards on 48 carries as they snapped their two-game losing streak against 3A Division I Troy, No. 9 in Texas Football magazine's preseason state rankings.
“We've prepared since Day 1 of two-a-days that we have to score every time we have possession of the ball to beat Troy, and if we didn't we knew we wouldn't be in a position to win,” said Salado fifth-year head coach Alan Haire, whose squad led 12-0 midway through the first quarter, fell behind 15-12 early in the second and then outscored Troy 34-12 the rest of the night.
“Hrbacek is very elusive, very tough to tackle. Of course, that's why he's (a) Division I (recruit), and we knew that coming in. I'm glad he's graduating. He was going to get his, but we made them punt (four) times and we felt like that was a victory. We just kept scoring and they didn't keep pace, and with that we were able to edge out the win.”
Salado senior center Bryce Dobbins was a force up front along with his offensive line comrades: tackles Gavyn Keyser and Avery Womack, guards K.C. Perkins and Aidan Wilson and tight end Nick Sibbitt, helping the Eagles average 8.9 yards per rush and compile 21 first downs.
“At halftime we knew (Troy) would be well-rested and they'd be ready to fight back, but we just had to be more aggressive and stronger,” said Dobbins, whose Eagles – leading 26-15 at halftime – took command by possessing the ball for the third quarter's first 6½ minutes and using a 67-yard drive to move ahead 33-15 on junior quarterback Hutton Haire's 2-yard touchdown keeper. “We had to be more willing to work, and I feel like we outworked them in this game.”
“I thought we could still do enough to stay in it, but ultimately what it boiled down to was that we made more mistakes than they did,” said Ronnie Porter, Troy's seventh-year head coach. “We had way more mistakes than Salado did. A lot of (our players) aren't necessarily young, just inexperienced.
“We've got some who have never watched film before. That'll be a very eye-opening session, but we're going to learn from those mistakes because we're going to face the Slot-T again next week (in Troy's home opener against Mexia). At times we were decent defensively, but we've got to be way more consistent than that. We've got to get help from our backup players. We got zero help from those guys tonight.”
Troy produced a breakthrough season in 2019, winning a program-record 12 games and reaching the 3A Division I Region III final before losing to eventual back-to-back state champion Grandview. Porter's Trojans got their customary huge performance from first-team all-state player Hrbacek, whose touchdowns against Salado came on runs of 65, 22, 74 and 15 yards.
“He's a kid who's going to make you right. We made some crucial blocking mistakes, but he made us right several times,” Porter said of Hrbacek, who rushed for 2,736 yards and 35 touchdowns last season. “He's a stinkin' player and a special kid.”
However, Troy's offense accounted for only 32 yards aside from Hrbacek's 284-yard rushing outburst. Making his first start, junior quarterback Jace Carr completed seven of 10 passes but totaled just 26 yards and rushed for minus-13 yards against Salado's increasingly active defense.
The Eagles forced a punt on the Trojans' game-opening possession, then on Strickland's first carry of the season he blasted off left tackle for a 25-yard touchdown and a 6-0 Salado lead. After another Troy punt, Mescher broke through would-be tackles near the line of scrimmage and galloped 75 yards for a touchdown to make it 12-0 with 7 minutes gone.
Troy's offense didn't remain silent for long. Hrbacek sliced through a hole on the right side and dashed 65 yards for a touchdown, then caught a lateral and ran it in for a 2-point conversion and a 12-8 game. One minute into the second quarter he got great blocking and zipped off right tackle to cruise in for a 22-yard touchdown, giving the Trojans their only lead at 15-12.
But Vincent, the only returning starter in Salado's three-pronged backfield, answered on the next drive with a 16-yard run before he darted up the middle, cut left and showed impressive speed en route to a 59-yard touchdown that regained the lead for the Eagles at 19-15.
“It was a great start for Noah Mescher, who was our free safety last year, and Caden Strickland, a sophomore. And Reid coming back should be experienced with 12 games under his belt,” said Alan Haire, whose 2019 Eagles went 8-4 and were eliminated in the area round of the 4A D-II playoffs by eventual state champion Texarkana Pleasant Grove. “ I was proud of all three of them, but really the engines up front are the key.”
Salado's Slot-T attack uses the forward pass sparingly, but it became a weapon 4 minutes into the second quarter when Hutton Haire, facing a fourth-and-18 predicament, lofted a long pass down the right side that Brown snared near the goal line for an unlikely 35-yard touchdown and a 26-15 advantage that held up through halftime.
Troy marched to Salado's 10-yard line on its ensuing possession, but senior linebacker Peyton Miller broke up Carr's fourth-down pass to extinguish the threat.
After Haire's 2-yard TD push capped a 13-play drive to put Salado up 33-15 midway through the third, Hrbacek kept Troy afloat by charging off left tackle and outrunning everyone for a 74-yard TD to make it 33-21. Brown's 34-yard kickoff return helped lead to his nifty 6-yard scoring rush to the left side for a 39-21 game with 3 minutes left in the third.
Hrbacek came right back once more, ripping off a 53-yard run and then breaking tackles on a 15-yard score, with his fourth touchdown bringing the Trojans within 39-27 going into the final period.
But again, Troy's tiring defense couldn't stop Salado's ground game when it needed to the most. The Eagles marched to the Trojans' 28 a minute into the fourth before Mescher went off left tackle and charged in for his second TD, making it 46-27 and essentially sealing Salado's thorough victory.
“We knew we had to keep working the whole game,” Mescher said. “Our line blocked wonderfully and made the holes.”
Alan Haire said stamina was a vital factor in Salado's season-opening win.
“They've asked to run more. They've asked to run after practice and after weights, so it's a voluntary deal for these 2020 seniors,” he said. “That's the way they want to be. They don't want to take a play off because of a cramp. They want to make sure they're in shape, and luckily it helped us tonight. Now we've got to keep working them.”
Next for Salado is next Friday's home opener against two-time defending state champion Grandview, whose Zebras are fueled by star senior quarterback/safety Dane Jentsch.
“They are back-to-back state champions with the 3A player of the year, and if you want to be good, you play good people,” Alan Haire said. “Win, lose or draw, you'll be better by playing good people.”
Added Mescher: “We love the challenge. We'll practice as hard as we can starting tomorrow.”
SALADO 46, TROY 27
Troy 8 7 12 0 – 27
Salado 12 14 13 7 – 46
Salado – Caden Strickland 25 run (kick failed), 7:58.
Salado – Noah Mescher 75 run (run failed), 5:11.
Troy – Zach Hrbacek 65 run (Hrbacek run), 4:55.
Troy – Hrbacek 22 run (Tyler McKissick kick), 11:06.
Salado – Reid Vincent 59 run (Wrook Brown kick), 10:28.
Salado – Brown 35 pass from Hutton Haire (Brown kick), 7:43.
Salado – Haire 2 run (Brown kick), 5:38.
Troy – Hrbacek 74 run (run failed), 5:20.
Salado – Brown 6 run (kick failed), 2:42.
Troy – Hrbacek 15 run (run failed), 1:11.
Salado – Mescher 28 run (Brown kick), 10:55.
First downs: Troy 9; Salado 21.
Rushes-yards: Troy 28-290; Salado 48-429.
Passing yards: Troy 26; Salado 39.
Completions-attempts-interceptions: Troy 7-10-0; Salado 2-6-0.
Punts-average: Troy 4-43; Salado 2-34.5.
Fumbles-lost: Troy 3-1; Salado 2-0.
Penalties-yards: Troy 6-45; Salado 4-20.
Rushing – Troy: Hrbacek 23-284, Hunter Martin 3-19, Jace Carr 2-(-13); Salado: Mescher 15-173, Vincent 15-156, Strickland 11-89, Brown 3-16, Haire 4-(-5).
Passing – Troy: Carr 7-10-0-26; Salado: Haire 2-6-0-39.
Receiving – Troy: Jacob Smith 2-10, Hrbacek 1-8, Jase Schmidt 4-8; Salado: Brown 1-35, Strickland 1-4.
Troy senior running back Zach Hrbacek turned in another productive performance Friday night in the Trojans' season-opening 46-27 loss to Salado at Mary Hardin-Baylor's Crusader Stadium in Belton. The returning first-team all-state player rushed 23 times for 284 yards and scored touchdowns of 65, 22, 74 and 15 yards. (File photo by Greg Wille, TempleBeltonSports.com)