BY JAKE LOURIM
TROY — Two years ago, Pontiac gave Troy only six points and eliminated the Colts from playoff contention. Last year, the Phoenix put up 50 on Troy’s Homecoming.
But that was well before the Colts picked up their new backfield combo.
Twin brothers Terrance Cherry and Torrance Cherry Jr. combined for another huge game Friday with 279 yards to lead Troy to a 24-14 OAA Red Division win over Pontiac.
After two disappointments in two years of Pontiac High School’s existence, the Cherrys shouldered the load with former Troy junior varsity quarterback Alex Mussat winning his second straight start.
“Pontiac had a lot more speed than (Rochester Hills) Stoney Creek,” Mussat said. “I’ve got to make quicker decisions, quicker reads.”
Terrance Cherry carried 20 times for 179 yards and two touchdowns, while Torrance Cherry Jr. added 18 rushes for 100 yards and another score. Mussat said their quickness helped him deal with Pontiac’s team speed.
Troy ran 48 plays on the night — 38 of them Cherry runs — making the offense run smoothly most of the time. Their bruising running accounted for all three Troy touchdowns and helped the Colts control the clock again. Once they had the lead in the second half, they slowly milked away the ticker.
The brothers have helped carry the Colts to victories while three starters are injured. Junior quarterback Jay Darish (knee), senior quarterback/wide receiver Justin Losey (shoulder) and senior center Brian Johnson (mononucleosis) have all missed the past two games. They could return as soon as next week.
“They’re to the point where we can talk about it,” Troy coach Gary Griffith said. “We really don’t know. We’ve got to put them in practice. They’re going to be rusty — they haven’t played in three weeks.”
Troy (3-1, 2-1) looked to be in control up 10-0 with 7:23 to play in the half, but Pontiac (0-4, 0-3) went on a 12-play, 80-yard touchdown drive that ate up 5:50 and brought the Phoenix back within striking distance for the second half.
Pontiac quarterback Jody Harrison tossed a 28-yard pass over the middle on third-and-10 and later a 15-yard wheel route on third-and-goal from the 17 to set up the touchdown.
“They’re big where they’re supposed to be big, they’re talented where they’re supposed to be talented,” Griffith said. “The whole premise on defense was, ‘Don’t give up big plays.’ What’d we do in the first half? We gave up a whole bunch of big plays.”
The Colts came out, punted and surrendered their lead on an 86-yard touchdown run by Harrison. A senior, Harrison finished 9-for-20 for 100 yards passing and 19 carries for 196 yards rushing.
“We needed to get better pressure on the quarterback and not leave gaps glaringly open,” Griffith said. “As the game went on into the fourth quarter, we started to get some pass rush.”
That deficit sounded the alarm on the Troy sideline, as the Colts came back and scored in three plays: Torrance’s 14-yard jet sweep and runs of nine and 45 by Terrance.
Harrison broke loose for another 50-yard run on the ensuing possession, moving the Phoenix to the Troy 33. But the Colts stiffened after that point, pushing Harrison back to midfield with a sack and a penalty.
Troy stifled Pontiac’s last gasps, allowing only two first downs on the final three possessions. It was over when Harrison threw four straight incomplete passes with 1:21 to play.
“We finally started getting some pass rush on the quarterback there at the end, we harassed him pretty good and all of a sudden the pass defense became a whole lot easier to play,” Griffith said.
Early in the game, it looked like special teams would be the difference. Troy forced a quick three-and-out, and then Juwuan Jackson returned a 29-yard punt 23 yards. The Colts couldn’t get a first down, but were in range for junior Erich Hagen’s 37-yard field goal.
Pontiac moved the ball into Troy territory on the next series, but junior Davis Strobridge’s sack eventually forced a fourth-and-ten from the 20, and the Phoenix couldn’t kick the field goal or convert the first down.
On the next series, junior safety Justice Bigelow’s sack popped the ball out, and Troy took over at the Pontiac 40. Three running plays put the Colts at the 34, and Hagen went out for a 51-yard field goal.
Leaving last week’s game with two extra points in the past, Hagen knocked the 51-yard field goal through with a few yards to spare.
Only it didn’t count. Pontiac ran into Hagen for a five-yard penalty, and since it was fourth-and-four, the Colts took the penalty and converted it into a Terrance Cherry touchdown run four plays later. The kick would have been two yards shy of Kevin Muma’s school record from 2008.
The Troy defense has been strong for most of the year, giving up only 15.3 points per game. Although they slipped up occasionally Friday night, they always had the key stop to get the job done. The special teams had four out of five touchbacks and perfect field goal kicking, and the offensive line made room for the Cherry twins.
That brings up a showdown at Lake Orion next week. After a sluggish 17-10 win over Oxford in Week 1, the Dragons have outscored their opponents 152-34 in the past three weeks. They’ve hammered this year’s senior class 104-19 in three meetings, but fourth- year starter Greg Webber and Co. are ready to change that.
“No one here has ever beaten Lake Orion,” he said, “at any level.”
(Jake Lourim is a junior at Troy High School and a member of the S.H.P. Media Group / www.northoaklandsports.com Student Correspondence Program. He is publisher of website www.troycoltsportsupdate.com and a member of the Troy school newspaper editorial staff. He can be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org)