By Josh Brown
TIPP CITY — After a long touchdown catch by Milton-Union’s Blake Smith — and then the ensuing kickoff hitting the Tippecanoe returner in the face, forcing the team to fall on the loose ball — it seemed the Red Devils focus might have been shaken.
They fixed that quickly.
Cole Barhorst broke a long run on the first play of that drive, finished it off with an 11-yard touchdown run and then the Bulldogs lost a fumble on the ensuing return — one of five fumbles they gave away in the first half — leading to another quick Tippecanoe touchdown. The Red Devils cruised from there, forcing six turnovers in the first half alone en route to a 49-14 victory Friday night at Tipp City Park.
“There was a few emotional swings,” Tippecanoe coach Joel Derge said. “The guys get very excited for this one. It’s a rivalry game, and sometimes I’ve got to calm them down a bit when they’re playing on emotion like that. But the defense left us with some short fields that we were able to capitalize on, we had over 400 yards of offense — a lot of good things happened tonight.”
Tippecanoe (3-0) had its own problems holding onto the ball, though. The Devils fumbled the ball four times in the first half, losing two of them, and Milton-Union’s Blake Smith intercepted a halfback pass by Quentin Williams. But Cade Rogers intercepted a Zach Vagedes pass in the closing seconds of the first half — the second week in a row the Devils picked off a pass right before the break — and recovered all five of the fumbles the Bulldogs committed for a whopping total of nine combined first-half turnovers.
“We also turned it over three times in the first half,” Derge said. “We’ve got a lot to work on. We’re not going to win a lot of games if we turn it over three times in a half. But we played some pretty solid defense in the first half, held them to less than 100 yards rushing in the game — which was a goal of ours. We’ve just got to clean up those turnovers.”
“You can’t give the ball over like that,” Milton-Union coach Mark Lane said. “That will put you behind the 8-ball all game. The kids had a chance to make it a game, but we just blew that chance. They (Tippecanoe) took advantage of their chances, and we didn’t capitalize on ours.”
One of the Devils’ fumbles worked in their favor, though. After Milton-Union lost a fumble on the game’s opening possession, on third-and-8 from the Milton-Union 19, Tippecanoe quarterback Aaron Hughes took a keeper all the way to the 2-yard line before a hit jarred the ball loose. Lineman Grant Carlson fell on it in the end zone, though, giving the Red Devils a 7-0 lead less than two minutes into the first quarter.
After the teams traded punts, Milton-Union (2-1) drove into Tippecanoe territory, then quarterback Zach Vagedes hit Blake Smith in stride down the right sideline for a game-tying 42-yard touchdown pass with 5:21 left in the first quarter that momentarily seemed to stun the Red Devils. On the ensuing kickoff, the Tippecanoe returner lost the ball in the air, it hit him on the facemask and the Devils managed to maintain possession.
But Barhorst got free on a 59-yard run on the first play from scrimmage, and six plays later he took it in from the 11-yard line to give the lead back to Tippecanoe, 14-7 with 2:08 left in the first quarter. The Bulldogs then fumbled the ensuing return away, but Smith intercepted a halfback pass attempt by Tippecanoe to give the ball back to Milton-Union at its own 2. The Devils forced a three-and-out, though, and Milton-Union’s punt only made it to its own 29-yard line. Tippecanoe then embarked on a six-play, 29-yard drive, capped off by a 2-yard Matt Garber touchdown plunge to make it 21-7 early in the second quarter.
Another lost Milton-Union fumble led to a 28-yard touchdown run by Barhorst to make it 28-7, and after the teams traded fumbles Williams took in a 16-yard touchdown run with 1:32 left in the half to make it 35-7.
Barhorst had 126 yards on 13 carries in the first half and had only one touch in the second half — an 87-yard touchdown run, his third of the game, to finish with 213 yards on 14 carries.
And while the turnovers came to a stop in the second half, Tippecanoe continued to put the game away. Barhorst took a carry up the middle and got free again, this time going 87 yards for a touchdown with 6:11 left in the third quarter that made it 42-7 and began the running clock. Backup Mason Doll added a 13-yard touchdown early in the fourth quarter that gave the Devils a 49-7 lead.
Another long pass from Vagedes to Smith set up a Connor Gostomsky touchdown with 4:12 to play, but Tippecanoe ran out the clock from there for the 49-14 win.
“We’ve got to watch film, get better, fix all of the areas we didn’t do so well in and just continue to improve,” Lane said.
The Red Devils face their toughest test of the season in Week 4, traveling to Trotwood, while Milton-Union opens league play on the road at Northridge.
“It’s going to be a tough game,” Derge said. “We’ve never beaten them before. Our guys will be pumped and ready for the challenge.”
Contact Josh Brown at (937) 552-2132, or follow @TroyDailySports on Twitter.