TIPTON — In the coffee shops and diners around a small town like Tipton, the conversations seem to always be dominated by the recent fortunes of the football and basketball programs.
As it pertains to football, there are a select group of years that stay on peoples’ minds in Blue Devil country. Nine Tipton squads have won sectional titles, and before this season, the 1988 and ‘94 teams often receive the most votes for best-ever Tipton teams for their respective trips to the state finals.
After Friday’s regional championship, the current squad will likely get their due mention as well when the talk turns to football in the future. Led by a senior class that’s 15 players deep, the Blue Devils dispatched Oak Hill to claim their first regional crown since ‘94.
“There’s a lot of them. It’s a nice, balanced group,” coach Aaron Tolle said. “There’s a lot of four-year players in this group. They’ve just got a wonderful mindset about them. There are some that are leaders by example and others who can lead vocally. It’s a great mix. … We’ve talked about and challenged our kids on their legacy and what they’re going to be remembered for, and hopefully that’s going to be determined in the next couple of weeks.”
In their own words, it’s a legacy the seniors take very seriously. They’ve carried on the long-standing traditions of Burying ‘em at the Rock, a Thursday tradition where, following a win, players place a tombstone in the ground before pre-game walkthroughs, as well as spaghetti dinners, senior wills and Thursday’s funky dress-up days at school.
Well aware of the program’s past history and success in between the lines, they seniors were eager to write their own chapter. They certainly have.
“I think we take a lot of pride in what we do as Tipton football players,” tailback Nate Hein said. “I think everyone knows ‘That’s Tipton football. That’s been passed down for years.’ And we like to carry that tradition with us into every game.”
They’re already cemented as one of the most successful classes in school history. They’re the first to win four straight sectional championships. In each of the first three tournament runs, the Blue Devils ran into eventual Class 2A state champion Fort Wayne Bishop Luers in the regional round.
They wouldn’t be denied this time, building a 42-0 lead over Oak Hill by the half before cruising to a 56-2 victory. The preparation to get back to that point began directly following last season’s 22-12 loss to Luers in the regional round.
“After losing those three in a row, the main goal coming into this year was to get to that game, and really focus on that game to get to the next level,” lineman Luke Shively said. “It really shows the senior class’ hard work, and how we came together in the offseason this year. We were tired of losing, we really were. We had aspirations coming in that were a lot higher than just a regional. I think we’re ready to continue on.”
Hein chose an opportune time to put forth the best game of his career last Friday. He scored on 80- and 91-yard runs on Tipton’s first two plays from scrimmage, and added a 66-yard scamper on the third play before adding 49-yard touchdown catch early in the second half. He finished the night with 236 rushing yards on just six carries.
“It’s never a goal to make it a close game,” Hein chuckled. “That’s how the plan went, and our line played outstanding in that game. There were so many holes to run through, and our receivers blocked downfield. Sure, I ran the ball, but I think it had to do with up front and our receivers our blocking more than me running.”
Aside from their winning resume, the current Tipton team may be especially endeared in hearts of fans due to the fact they’ve seen this team more than any other — literally. Friday’s 2A North semistate game against No. 5 Rensselaer Central (11-2) will mark the ninth time this season the No. 7-ranked Blue Devils (10-3) have played at home. The ‘94 team that finished as the 3A state runner-up played seven of its 14 games at home, by contrast.
“I like knowing this is going to be the last game we play on that field,” Hein said. “Knowing it’ll be our last game on that field, I think all 15 of us [seniors] will put everything we have into it Friday. I love knowing that, because it’s going to make me play as hard as I possibly can. Knowing that we can be the third team to ever do something like this is pretty special.”