BY JOSH SIGLER KOKOMO TRIBUNE
---- — TIPTON — They’ve been here before, and with the window closing on the current seniors’ careers, Tipton’s football squad is looking to break through to the semistate round in those seniors’ final opportunity to do so.
The Class 2A No. 7-ranked Blue Devils (9-3) captured their fourth-straight sectional title last Friday in a 37-21 win at Delphi, and tonight will look to win their first regional title since 1994 when they welcome Oak Hill to town.
“That’s 19 years, and a win [tonight] would put this ballclub in elite company, where only two other teams in school history have been,” Tipton coach Aaron Tolle said. The Blue Devils also won a regional in 1988. “That’s been our approach, and I don’t think there’s any doubt our team is going to be very focused and zeroed in. I think they have been, for the most part, all season long. They’re very tournament experienced. This is the fourth straight year they’ve been in this game, and I think our guys are eager to be successful in one.”
It’s Tipton’s fourth straight year hosting the regional round, falling at the hands of eventual 2A state champion Fort Wayne Bishop Luers each of the three years previous. Luers moved up to Class 3A with the IHSAA’s success factor, opening the door for someone new in the 2A North to earn the nod to the state finals.
“There’s eight teams left [in 2A] and that’s the ultimate goal for all eight of them,” Tolle said. “We’re really looking forward to this. This is the first time we’ve played Oak Hill in football in school history to my knowledge. I think that’s pretty cool. They’re a program a lot like us, a public school that’s used to having a lot of success in football. I think it’s kind of neat that we’re getting to play a CIC team, which is our old conference. I think you wrap all of those things into [tonight], and the fact that it’s a regional ballgame, and it’s going to be a great atmosphere.”
The Golden Eagles (9-3) recovered from a three-game losing streak (Elwood, Eastbrook, Mississinewa) to end the regular season by finding their form in the postseason with wins over Madison-Grant (40-14) Bluffton (55-22), and Alexandria (35-14) in sectional play to grab their first title since 1996.
“My first impressions of them are that they’re very well-coached, they’re very physical, they bank on winning the line of scrimmage and they’re a run-dominant football team,” Tolle said. “Therein lies the game. I think it’s going to boil down to who wins that line of scrimmage.”
Oak Hill runs a wing-T/option hybrid offense that has only completed 19 passes this season, but run for nearly 4,000 yards. Four different Golden Eagles have carried the ball over 100 times, led by junior fullback Zach Daniels, who has 177 carries for 1,389 yards and 19 TDs. Junior Quarterback Derrick Randall has added 117 carries for 894 yards and seven TDs, while senior wing Nick McPike adds 138 carries for 641 yards and seven TDs. Senior wing Ethan Bowland has also proven to be a formidable option with 106 carries for 579 yards and 15 TDs.
Senior linebacker Josh Snider leads the Blue Devils’ defense with 105 tackles (73 solos).
“It’s a very difficult scheme to defend,” Tolle said. “They don’t pass the ball very often. I think the challenge there is if they don’t want to throw the ball, let’s make them throw the ball and be disciplined in the secondary, because the worst thing that could happen is you give up an easy one in the passing game when that’s not really something they want to do. We have to be very disciplined and very physical.”
Tipton will counter with a more-balanced, spread offensive attack to battle Oak Hill’s 5-2 defense.
Senior QB Austin Hooker is 75 of 136 through the air for 1,121 yards, 10 TDs and three interceptions. He’s also carried the ball 84 times for 462 yards and 12 TDs. Senior tailback Nate Hein has added 191 carries for 1,174 yards and seven TDs, while junior Brody Dell has sprinkled in 130 carries for 684 yards and nine TDs.
Senior wideouts Jake Devendorf (33 catches, 458 yards, four TDs) and Nate Friend (25 catches, 373 yards, two TDs) have been Hooker’s favorite targets.
“I always like to say we’re going to take what the defense gives us,” Tolle said. “If they put eight guys in the box to stop the run, we’re going to throw the football. If they drop into coverage, we ought to be able to run the football. Their front seven has been a pretty physical bunch, and I think they’re going to rally to the ball.”