BY PEDRO VELAZCO KOKOMO TRIBUNE
---- — TIPTON — Tipton’s football team looked vulnerable for a few minutes Friday night. Just a few. Then never again.
The Blue Devils crushed Oak Hill 56-2 to win their Class 2A regional game and set up a rematch with Hoosier Conference rival Rensselaer Central next Friday in the northern semistate.
Oak Hill marched down field after the opening kickoff and got three first downs before stalling out at the Tipton 22. A field-goal attempt went wide and Tipton took over on its own 20.
That’s when the game turned.
Nate Hein took a handoff on Tipton’s opening play from scrimmage and exploded through a hole on the right side. An Oak Hill defender dove at his feet and came up short and injured (key running back Zach Daniels, who didn’t return). Another defender coudln’t maintain the chase as Hein tore upfield for the game’s opening score.
“Obviously, they saw something and took advantage of it right away,” OH coach Bud Ozmun said. “All I know is, it’s a backbreaker right off the bat.”
Tipton stopped Oak Hill without a first down in the Eagles’ next drive and pinned Tipton at its own 9 with a huge punt.
Tipton turned to Hein again, and again gave him all the space he’d need, as he exploded through a hole on the left and ripped 91 yards to pay dirt.
Tipton led 14-0 on two plays.
“I saw everybody blocking,” Hein said of his first two runs, which amounted to sprints with little or no contact from the Oak Hill defense. “I ran the ball, I might have gotten all the yards, I might have scored, but that was an offensive line and our wide receivers’ touchdown. There’s no way I would have done any of that if they wouldn’t have blocked.
“This might be a little weird, but I didn’t wear any underwear [Friday] and I felt that made me a little quicker.”
After another Oak Hill punt, Tipton again went to Hein on the first play and he raced 66 yards to the Oak Hill 16. Three plays later, Tipton quarterback Austin Hooker bulled in from eight yards out and the rout was on.
“Well, you can’t draw it up any better than that,” Tipton coach Aaron Tolle said. “We said the game was going to be won at the line of scrimmage and our offensive line set the tone the first three or four drives we had the ball, and just dominated the line of scrimmage.
“I think they really wanted to take away Austin. I think they were really loading up on the quarterback’s side and to our kids’ credit, they took advantage of it. You take one away, it’s hard to take away the other.”
Tipton needed just one play again for its fourth TD, a 32-yard pass from Hooker to Brody Dell, and needed two plays for its fifth TD when Hooker faked a handoff, then raced 40 yards for a score. The Devils iced the half by marching 72 yards in less than a minute as Hooker completed four passes, finishing with a 26-yard TD strike to Nate Friend and the 42-0 halftime advantage.
Tipton ran just 13 plays in the first half and scored six touchdowns. Hein ran three times in the opening half for 237 yards. Seven of Tipton’s 13 plays went for 22 yards or more.
In Tipton’s first possession of the second half, Hooker found Hein on a short screen as a last resort after downfield options were closed off, and Hein weaved through the defense for a 49-yard score. Dell added a one-yard TD later in the quarter to close Tipton’s account.
The Devils ran for 372 yards in the game and Hooker was perfect on the night, going 9 for 9 with 191 yards and three TD passes.
“[Hooker] was lights out,” Tolle said. “You could tell it was our fourth regional. We were ready to play.”
The Devils are glad to be alive to host Rensselaer again after a 9-7 loss to the Bombers in the regular season. The Blue Devils played that game without Hooker, who was on the mend from a broken arm (non-throwing) at the time.
“They’re impressive, they’re on a mission,” Ozmun said. “When you’re in your fourth [regional] here and you’ve got that senior group that they have, it was obvious that they came out with a mission in mind and they executed it very well. They’ve earned this win, they’ve earned this regional title.”