BY PEDRO VELAZCO
After beating Northwestern, Tipton’s players gathered in their post-game huddle and Blue Devil coach Aaron Tolle had one last task. The Devils had to count up how many points they’d had.
It took a little while, and a few strategic pauses for breath, but the No. 4-ranked Devils belted out numbers one through 53 to celebrate their 53-26 victory over the Purple Tigers on Friday night in the semifinal round of Class 2A Sectional 28.
“We’re a very mature ballclub,” Tolle said. “We’re playing at a very high level. We haven’t been really challenged a whole lot here in the last month. I really think our kids were foaming at the mouth, ready to get after it [Friday] night. We’re peaking, we’re playing our absolute best right now, just hoping we can keep it going.”
Tipton (10-1) plays at Hoosier Conference rival Benton Central next Friday for the sectional title. Tipton beat BC 47-7 on the road in Week 3.
The Blue Devils, who are the defending sectional champs, took control almost instantly at Northwestern, scoring 21 points in the game’s first 4:05. Tipton had the ball first and needed just four plays before James Altherr got the road team on the board with a 16-yard run. Northwestern fumbled on its first play and the Devils needed just one snap to score again. Blake Hoover went 33 yards down the right sideline on a pass from quarterback Austin Hooker with 9:56 left in the first quarter.
On Northwestern’s fourth play of the next possession, Hoover picked off a Northwestern pass and went 60 yards for another score and a 21-0 lead.
“It was the killer,” Northwestern coach John Hendryx said of Tipton’s fast start. “Play one of the game, we get one of our starting DBs hurt [Craten Brown]. It’s like we walked out the door and it’s 21-0, looking around like, ‘What in the world just happened?’ It was like a nightmare. If you wanted to write up the worst scenario possible for the start of the game, we saw it.”
Northwestern fought back to trim the lead to 21-14 midway through the second quarter. The Tigers struck on a 23-yard pass play from quarterback Trevor Richmond to Billy Parslow, then the home squad forced a fumble and scored five plays later on a four-yard TD run by Brandon Curry with 7:18 left in the first half. It was as close as Northwestern would get.
Tipton got a three-yard TD from Altherr with 4:41 left in the half, and next turned an interception into a quick score. Hooker had the confidence to throw to Hoover in triple coverage and the electric receiver outraced the pack to the ball and pulled away for a 65-yard score with 1:49 left. Tipton got another crack after forcing a punt and Altherr scored on a two-yard run for a 40-14 lead at halftime.
The Devils pushed their lead to 53-14 with a six-yard score from Altherr and a 18-yard run by Brody Dell in the fourth quarter.
Tipton scored on seven of its first eight possessions.
“That first drive, we kind of decided we wanted to get really physical with them up front and I thought our offensive line kind of took charge of the game,” Tolle said. He noted getting points out of their defense on Hoover’s interception return as a key point. “That just put us in a great, great position very, very early in the game. ... We couldn’t have had any better of a start.”
Tipton ran for 297 yards. Altherr rushed for 124, Dell for 66 and Hooker for 61. The 234-pound QB was particularly hard to stop on short-yardage situations.
“They’re just so much more physical than we were up front,” Hendryx said. “They could have done that to us however they wanted to. They could have lined up and never thrown a pass and swallowed us. Or they could have lined up and thrown the ball every play and we couldn’t have done much about it. That’s the best Tipton team we’ve played.
“Give our kids credit, at 21-0 they could have started looking around wondering when the lights were going to go off, but they played their rear ends off, got themselves back in it and just couldn’t get them off the field.”
Hooker also connected on 10 of 13 passes for 205 yards and no interceptions. Hoover had seven catches for 166 yards.
“[Hoover], he’s not a big physical kid, he’s just one of the most elusive kids that I’ve seen,” Hendryx said. “He’s got more open-field juice than [former Tipton player Jake] Dye had last year. Dye had great speed and was a great player. I don’t want to take anything away from him. But Hoover just needs six inches of space and you’re in trouble.”
Northwestern got the game’s last two scores on a 32-yard run by Keegan Fessenden and a 27 yard fumble return by Adam Smith.
Richmond completed 6 of 14 passes for 134 yards. Fessenden led the Tigers (8-3) with 97 yards on the ground.
“You hate to see your seniors go, but I’m awfully proud of them,” Hendryx said, noting a lot of new players on the offensive end. “I’m not sure many people, maybe even myself, expected us to be as good as we ended up being. It’s just a credit to our senior class. They worked very hard.”