By JOSH SIGLER KOKOMO TRIBUNE
---- — Tipton’s football program has a long-standing tradition where, following a win the previous Friday, at Thursday pregame walkthroughs it places a tombstone in the ground with the defeated team’s name on it.
It’s know as “Burying ‘em at The Rock.” The Blue Devils sent 25 years worth of frustration to the grave last Friday night in a 28-24 come-from behind triumph over No. 2-ranked Lafayette Central Catholic in Class 2A sectional semifinal action.
The win snapped an 11-game tournament losing streak to parochial schools, dating back to the 1988 semistate, when the Blue Devils defeated Fort Wayne Bishop Dwenger 18-16.
But, as euphoric and gratifying as the victory was, coach Aaron Tolle knows the truly meaningful games begin this week, when No. 7 Tipton (8-3) travels to Delphi seeking its fourth straight sectional title.
“It was a very emotional game, and I think that’s one of our big challenges this week,” Tolle said. “We have to get our kids’ heads out the clouds and make them understand that while last week’s game was big, this one is even bigger.
“In tournament play, all you want to do is survive to play the next week,” he continued. “If you can survive, that next week’s game becomes even bigger. We’ve tried to make our kids understand that as big as last week’s win was, they don’t present a trophy for [winning] Round 2. We’ve tried to get across to our kids that every game from here on in has a trophy at stake.”
Delphi (6-5) is a squad Tipton knows well. As Hoosier Conference foes, the Blue Devils have defeated the Oracles 14 straight times dating back to 2001, including a 38-0 win in Delphi in Week 9 of this season on Oct. 18.
Delphi defeated Benton Central (1-9) 21-7 and Southmont (4-7) 40-21 to reach the sectional final round. The Oracles are seeking their first sectional title since 1977.
“It’s scary because I’ve always said it’s extremely tough to beat an opponent twice in one season,” Tolle said. “Now we’re trying to beat an opponent twice in one month. They’ve won two games in a row and I’m sure they’re much more confident than they were three weeks ago. They have reason to be. We have to continue to play at a really high level.”
Senior Garrett Johnson leads Delphi on both sides of the ball. At running back, he enters with 236 carries for 1,172 yards and 11 touchdowns. He’s the team’s leading tackler as well, with 76 tackles and six interceptions from his defensive back position.
“He carried the ball 30 times for 190 yards last week,” Tolle said. “The first thing that jumps off the page to me is we have to stop him. We were lucky enough to do that the first time. Because were able to do that, it probably swung the score in our direction maybe more so than it could’ve been. The thing that scares me is if we can’t contain him, that’ll allow them to play ball control and keep the ball away from us. That shortens the game, and then the game gets a lot closer. And at that point, anything can happen in tournament play.”
Senior quarterback Austin Hooker leads the Blue Devils’ offense, completing 64 of 118 passes for 984 yards and nine TDs this season in seven games of action. He missed four games with a broken arm early in the season. The southpaw has also rushed for 394 yards and nine TDs on 72 carries. He enters tonight with 7,308 career passing yards, and according to the IHSAA website, needs seven yards to move into 25th on the state’s all-time passing yardage list.
Tailback Nate Hein has added 175 carries for 1,040 yards and seven TDs. Senior wideouts Jake Devendorf (33 catches, 458 yards four TDs) and Nate Friend (23, 341, three) have been Hooker’s favorite targets.
Senior linebacker Josh Snider is the team’s leading tacker with 97, including 67 solos. Junior defensive back Brody Dell has added three interceptions.
SECTIONAL 35 FINAL • MATCHUP: Tipton (8-3) at Delphi (6-5) • TIME: 7 p.m.