By MARK SALUKE Kokomo Tribune
---- — TIPTON — Tipton pulled off what no team has been able to accomplish in recent years against Lafayette Central Catholic on Friday night.
The Blue Devils knocked the four-time defending Class A state champions from the postseason for the first time since 2008, pulling out a 28-24 win in a Class 2A Sectional 35 semifinal game played in front of a roaring home crowd.
Tipton (8-3) will visit Delphi, a 40-21 winner over Southmont Friday, in next week’s sectional final. Tipton beat Delphi 38-0 in Week 9 in Hoosier Conference play.
The Knights (9-2) made sure it came down to the final play, going for the win on second-and-goal at the Tipton 5-yard line with :2.4 on the clock. LCC quarterback Ty Preston tossed over his intended receiver’s head in the end zone and the Devil celebration was on.
“The fact that it’s the second round of the sectional would be the only reason that it wouldn’t be right there at the top,” Tipton coach Aaron Tolle said of where the win ranked for him as a coach. “The amount of effort that was expelled on this field by both teams was just phenomenal. I’ve got to give all the credit in the world to our senior kids. They just decided this wasn’t going to be the end [Friday night]. They turned up the heat and we had a couple seniors make great plays at the end.”
The senior duo of wide receiver Nathan Friend and quarterback Austin Hooker hooked up on a pair of fantastic touchdowns with the game on the line in the fourth quarter.
Facing its largest deficit of the game, 24-14, with just under six minutes remaining, Tipton put together a lightning-fast, four-play, 60-yard drive that culminated with Friend’s 22-yard reaching grab on the left side of the endzone. Brody Dell’s conversion run made it 24-22 at 5:09.
“Austin threw the perfect ball. I jumped up, grabbed it and, luckily, I held on to it as I went down,” Friend said.
After forcing LCC to punt on a quick three-and-out, Tipton put together the game-winning drive, going 59 yards in five plays. Facing a fourth-and-four at the LCC 18, Hooker found Friend on a nearly identical touchdown toss as the Devils went up 28-24.
“The second one, oh my goodness, another perfect ball by Austin,” Friend said. “I just kept telling myself, ‘Catch this ball, Nate, catch this ball.’ We run the play all the time in practice. Wow, just a great all-around effort from the team. I want to thank the entire team.”
The two quick touchdown strikes were highlight-reel worthy moments.
“Probably the best two plays I’ve ever seen on this field,” said senior Nate Hein, who finished with 120 yards rushing in the game and pushed past 1,000 yards on the season. “This is my favorite win ever. Winning the Super Bowl couldn’t match how happy I am right now.”
The two quick strikes also more than made up for Hooker’s pick-six earlier in the quarter on an errant toss that Adam Lovell snatched up and ran 76 yards to paydirt, quieting the Devils’ crowd.
“I’m not gonna lie, I wasn’t that confident after that pick-six,” Hooker said. “But I had five, six guys picking me up right then, saying, ‘We can do this. If it wasn’t for those guys I don’t think I’d be standing here celebrating right now.”
Tipton was looking at a 10-6 deficit heading out of the locker room to open the second half, but the Devils quickly gained momentum, forcing LCC into a quick three-and-out on its first possession of the half. It then took the home team just two plays to make some serious noise.
On second-and-five from the Tipton 46, Hein broke loose for a 54-yard touchdown run. Hooker’s conversion made it 14-10.
Hooker ran from five yards out for Tipton’s first score of the game. He finished 8 of 17 pass attempts for 107 yards and the two touchdown tosses to Friend.
“Right now, this is the most important game I’ve ever played,” Hooker said. “Next week, that will be the most important game I’ve ever played.”