By JOSH SIGLER KOKOMO TRIBUNE
---- — INDIANAPOLIS — It wasn't the way they wanted to go out, but it won't be the way they're remembered, either.
The 15 seniors on Tipton's football team exited on a sour note in Saturday's Class 2A state finals, a 56-6 loss at the hands of Indianapolis Cardinal Ritter, in a contest that snowballed out of control on the Blue Devils.
But, coach Aaron Tolle was certain of this: The outcome would do nothing to take away from the legacy of a class that was more successful than any other in program history.
“They’re a group of kids that are the reason we do what we do: Stay after school every day, lift weights, practice, stay there until all hours of the night," Tolle said. "Coaching those kind of kids … are what make it worth what I do. I expect our future kids to act and behave exactly like this outgoing group of seniors has."
The Blue Devils went 38-16 during the class's four seasons, claiming four straight sectional championships, a feat that hadn't previously been accomplished. The team fell to the eventual 2A state champion each year, losing to Fort Wayne Bishop Luers in the regional round on 2010, '11 and '12 before succumbing to Ritter Saturday in the finals.
"We have a good team in there," running back Nate Hein said. "It was a pleasure to play with these guys. We go to 'The Rock' every year and pass down things, and the special things will always be there. We always leave a little part of the seniors, and I'm sure [the returners] will carry it on.
"Coach Tolle said it best: 'You guys might not have had a good day [Saturday], but the past four years have been great with us.' We've done so many great things. [Saturday] may not have gone our way, but it was a great ride."
The seniors led the squad to its third appearance in the football state finals. Players from the other seasons, 1988 and '94, sent video messages to the current players before a Thursday team dinner ahead of the Devils' 27-0 win over Rensselaer Central in the 2A north semistate last week. That dinner was also paid for by those former players.
To lineman Luke Shively, it was a perfect example of the type of community that produced himself and his 14 classmates on the squad.
“Tipton football is the best around," he said. "It doesn’t get any better. It really doesn’t. The traditions are second to none, and I wouldn’t have wanted to come up through a different program. The community is big. They love their football. Everyone supports everybody. It’s one big family."
Tolle called QB Austin Hooker "The heart and soul" of his team numerous times through the team's run to the state championship game this season.
Hooker was a four-year starter under center for the Blue Devils, where he rewrote the record books and crept into the IHSAA's all-time passing yards list. He finishes his career with 7,631 passing yards, which ranks 22nd all-time in state history. His 79 career touchdown passes are a program record.
"It's obviously hard right now because [Saturday] wasn't fun," Hooker said. "But like coach said, tomorrow or maybe the next day we'll be able to put this into perspective and be able to see all the good things we've done in the last four years.
"I can't really separate myself from the team because everything I do is for the team," he added. "I couldn't have done anything without them. The records are pretty cool, but it means more to me to be here with my teammates in the state finals."
Tipton started the season 3-0, but lost three straight with Hooker sidelined with a broken non-throwing arm. He returned, and the Devils went on an 8-0 run to reach the state finals before falling Saturday.
Led by his seniors, Tolle was proud of his team's perseverance, something the 2013 squad will always be remembered for.
"The season was up and down, and we were certainly battle-tested," Tolle said. "Our kids have been challenged in every which way. And, it’s like I told them: ‘[Saturday] wasn’t our day, but our performance doesn’t sum up the type of season we’ve had.’ I know that, they know that and our community knows that. I’m extremely proud of our kids and the run they were able to make.”