By Michelle Garmon
For the Kokomo Tribune
Tipton turned in a historical performance here Friday night.
The Class 2A No. 4-ranked Blue Devils defeated Benton Central 35-17 to earn their first-ever sectional three-peat Friday night.
The three-time defending Sectional 28 champions improved to 11-1 on the season, and earned themselves a third straight home regional date with No. 5 Fort Wayne Bishop Luers next Friday night.
“I’m really, really proud of our kids,” Tipton coach Aaron Tolle said. “Goal No. 1 when we started on Aug. 1 was to be a three-time sectional champion. Give our kids credit: We had our battles and we found a way to win. I’m extremely proud and extremely lucky to be their coach.”
Friday night’s path to victory was a little different than the last two weeks. Tipton found itself trailing after Benton Central marched 79 yards in 11 plays to start the contest. A Brandon Rooze screen pass to Garrett Gray on a fourth-and-two went for 26 yards and a touchdown. Marshall Sparenberg’s kick put the Bison (5-7) up 7-0 at the 6:10 mark of the first quarter.
Tipton responded six-minute drive that covered 60 yards, all on the ground. James Altherr was the main workhorse as he had 10 of Tipton’s 11 carries, and scored on a three-yard run with seven seconds left in the first quarter. His PAT kick even the score at 7-all.
The Bison responded with another march down the field, but had to settle for Sparenberg’s 27-yard field goal, giving them a 10-7 lead with 10:18 remaining in the first half.
The game changed when the Blue Devils forced two BC turnovers. Tipton had to punt on its next series, but got the ball back two plays later when Nate Hein came up with the first of three Blue Devil interceptions on the night.
Tipton took over at the Benton Central 31-yard line, and needed six plays to take the lead for good. Altherr’s two-yard plunge put Tipton up 13-10 at the 2:32 mark.
Blake Hoover’s 67-interception yard interception return to the house and Altherr’s two-point conversion run extended Tipton’s lead to 21-10 at the half.
The Blue Devils came out and went 70 yards in six plays to start the second half. Two big plays in that drive were through the air. Gunnar Norred made a leaping, one-handed snatch of an Austin Hooker pass that went for 22 yards. Hooker and Altherr hooked up for a screen pass that went 41 yards and gave Tipon and first-and-goal at the BC two-yard line.
Two plays later, Hooker scored on a one-yard QB keeper to put Tipton up 28-10 with 9:22 left in the third quarter.
Alex Mundell’s 65-yard interception return set up Tipton’s final score of the night. The Blue Devils needed six plays to cover 30 yards, with Hein capping the drive with a one-yard TD run. Altherr’s final PAT made it 35-10 with 7:04 left to play.
Benton Central, which was seeking its first sectional title in program history, scored with 2:11 left in the game on a four-yard pass from Rooze to Gray.
“Benton Central had a nice gameplan,” Tolle said. “They came out and executed it very well. They got what they wanted. They won the coin toss, took the ball and went down and scored to take the lead. But, we weathered the storm, to our kids’ credit. We came up with a couple turnovers, which gave us the momentum, and we took control.”
Altherr finished with 19 carries for 96 yards and two TDs. He also had three catches for 71 yards.
Hooker completed 8 of 12 passes for 126 yards. He was intercepted once in the end zone that killed a drive in the third quarter.
Defensively, Tipton held Rooze to 20 of 35 passing with those three interceptions. The Blue Devils also sacked him three times, with Bryce Calvin forcing a fumble that was recovered by Quintin Carter late in the contest.