Northwestern, Taylor and Tipton probably like their chances in Class 2A Sectional 28. For that matter, Madison-Grant and others probably do as well.

“It may be as open a sectional as there is in the state,” Northwestern coach John Hendryx said. “We don’t have that 9-0, top-five-ranked team in our sectional so I think everybody is pretty excited. Everybody probably thinks if they can get on a roll, they have a shot.”

Taylor (6-3), Tipton (6-3), defending sectional champion Northwestern (5-4) and Madison-Grant (4-5) own the best records in the eight-team field. Elwood (2-7) is a possible sleeper after making it to the final last season.

“I think it’s extremely balanced,” Tipton coach Aaron Tolle said. “The team that can put three really good ballgames together in a row is probably going to come out the winner.”

Northwestern hosts Taylor tonight in a promising first-round matchup. The Titans beat the Tigers 24-20 in a Mid-Indiana Conference game on Sept. 19. The Titans led 10-7 after three quarters, went ahead 24-7 in the fourth quarter, then held off the Tigers’ comeback bid.

Taylor coach Josh Ousley is expecting another hard-fought contest.

“I don’t think anyone is backing down,” he said. “They know what we do and we know what they do, so it’s going to come down to who can execute the best.”

Taylor dropped two straight after beating Northwestern, but bounced back to win its final two games of the regular season. Ousley noted the keys for his squad tonight are simple.

“No. 1, we have to stop the run. Obviously, we haven’t done that very well the past couple weeks, but we have to stop the run and be physical. And No. 2, we have to run the football,” he said. “I know those are clichés in football, but good teams stop the run and they run the ball. Those are two things that control the game.”

Quarterback Jake Leicht triggers the Titans’ attack. He has completed 105 of 164 pass attempts for 1,591 yards with 17 touchdowns and only three interceptions. Shawn Fogleman has 35 receptions for 588 yards and 10 touchdowns and Austen Conwell follows with 28 catches for 537 yards and five TDs. Teddy Nolley leads the ground game with 700 yards on 114 carries. Linebacker Josh Steward leads the defense with 75 tackles.

“Athletically, [the Titans] are a tough matchup for us,” Hendryx said.

Northwestern rebounded from its loss to Taylor to win three of its final four games in the regular season. The Tigers seemed to find a running game along the way to complement their passing game.

“What I really like about this team is where we’re at mentally,” Hendryx said. “I think we’re way ahead of where we were a year ago in our mental preparation. … They’re just a lot more excited than I thought last year’s group was for the tournament. Last year’s kids obviously had a lot of success, but they weren’t an emotional bunch. I think this group is ready to get going.”

Northwestern, like Taylor, features a strong passing game. Quarterback Trevor Gibson has completed 103 of 207 pass attempts for 1,437 yards and 14 touchdowns with seven interceptions. Brayden Merrell has 41 receptions for 562 yards and six TDs and Mitch Daily has 36 catches for 568 yards and four TDs.

A safety on defense, Daily has a team-high 76 tackles.

Tipton (6-3) at Alexandria (0-9)

Tipton opens against the only winless team in the Sectional 28 field. Tolle likes the draw — but for other reasons.

“I’m in my fourth year [as the Blue Devils’ coach] and Alexandria is a team I’ve never coached against and it’s always kind of fun to play somebody different,” he said. “It’s also kind of neat because it’s one of those old [Central Indiana Conference] rivalries. It’s a team that I played a lot when I was in high school.”

Tipton and Alexandria last met in 1997. The Blue Devils left the CIC following the 1997-98 school year. They won the last 16 meetings between the teams.

Alexandria is mired in a 20-game losing streak.

“You’ve heard it 1,000 times — you throw out the records at this time of the year and let the best team win,” Tolle said. “We have to go over there and play a good, solid game.”

Tipton opened the season 4-0 before dropping three straight to West Lafayette, Clinton Central and Sheridan. Tipton bounced back to win its final two games in the regular season.

“Obviously, we had a rough stretch there in the middle of the season in which we lost three straight games and weren’t really in any of the three,” Tolle said. “I do feel like we have grown as a team. After a tough stretch in the middle of the season, a lot of teams would have been ready for the season to be over, but I certainly didn’t see that in our kids’ eyes. We have kind of rebounded and I feel like we’re rejuvenated.”

Tipton lost quarterback Ross Schulenburg to an injury midway through the regular season. Freshman Jake Dye took his place. Dye has completed 22 of 46 pass attempts for 358 yards as a complement to running back Taylor Maxey, who has gained 859 yards on 134 carries. Maxey has overcome an ankle injury and is good to go for the sectional. Sean Hickman has emerged as a solid No. 2 option in the running game.

“If our quarterback can continue to execute and we win the line of scrimmage and we play really good, solid defense, we’re going to be a tough out in the tournament,” Tolle said.

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