By Josh Brown
WEST MILTON — As the eight-mile trip to West Milton came closer to an end, Jakob Prall and his Red Devil teammates saw an ever-increasing number of signs posted along the path, all with the same message.
The signs were intended to fire up the hometown Milton-Union Bulldogs, but it affected the Tippecanoe players, too.
“It definitely does (motivate you),” Prall said. “The other team having confidence coming into a game? It gets you fired up. Especially between us and Milton. They’re just a few miles down the road, and there’s always talking back and forth. It can get heated sometimes.”
After two years of blowouts, the fire is definitely back in the rivalry.
Tippecanoe took charge in the first half thanks to back-to-back 80-plus-yard touchdown runs by Prall and Cameron Gibbs, carrying a 22-point lead into the break. But the Bulldogs didn’t back down, capitalizing on Red Devil miscues in the third quarter to keep the game competitive before Prall broke off a 51-yard touchdown run with 7:32 remaining, and the Devils closed out a 35-12 victory over the Bulldogs Friday at Memorial Stadium.
The past two seasons, Tippecanoe (3-0) has had an easy time with the Bulldogs, winning 57-14 last season and 49-0 the year before that. Both of those times, though, Milton-Union came in with winless records — and the Devils could tell right away it was going to be a different kind of game.
“This is the best Milton team that this class of seniors has seen,” Tippecanoe coach Joel Derge said. “They’ve improved a lot, they were able to break off a couple of big runs and do some good things on defense against us. But we had three big plays that really helped us out.”
Even so, for these Bulldogs, competitive just isn’t enough.
“The kids are all crushed we lost the game,” Milton-Union coach Mark Lane said. “They wanted to be 3-0. I’m sure tomorrow, it’ll sink in a little more (how far we’ve come from the past two years). But the kids care, and right now, they’re crushed we lost our first game of the year. I’m proud of these guys.”
The Bulldog defense held on Tippecanoe’s first possession of the game, but Milton-Union couldn’t get moving itself. Tippecanoe then drove the ball 71 yards on eight plays, converting two third downs along the way and finishing it off with a 16-yard touchdown pass from Brandon Gotthardt to Bobby Hopkins to make it 7-0 right before the end of the first quarter.
The Devils forced a three-and-out and went right back to work, taking the ball 81 yards on seven plays — including a 21-yard run by Chris Garber and a 31-yard catch from Gotthardt to Eric Seeman, who was falling backwards adjusting to an underthrown ball but still came up with it. Jakob Prall took the ball to the 1 with a 15-yard run but couldn’t stretch over the goal line, but Garber punched it in on the next play to make it 14-0 with 9:30 left in the half.
Milton-Union was forced to punt from midfield, giving the ball to Tipp at its own 9. On the second play of the drive, Prall used his break-away speed to torch the defense for an 86-yard touchdown run, giving the Devils a 21-point lead. And after a three-and-out, Cameron Gibbs did the exact same thing, this time from 84 yards away to make it 28-0 with 3:30 to play in the half.
“We really struggled early,” Prall said. “The game was nose-to-nose for a while. We really relied on the big plays this week. We’ve got a lot of speed between Cameron and I in the backfield. And we tried to use that to our advantage.”
“We busted those two long ones in a row to make it 28-0, but I think we took our foot off the pedal after that,” Derge said. “I think they were maybe trying to go into the locker room down 28-0, they ran the ball on third-and-7, and then they broke off a big one on us.”
That big one came from Zac Shields, who weaved his way through the middle, down the right sideline and back towards the middle of the field on a 55-yard touchdown run that made it 28-6 at the break. That was all the Milton-Union offense could manage in the half, though, as Shields finished the half with 90 yards on 13 carries and the Bulldogs had 106 yards of total offense.
Tippecanoe, meanwhile, churned up 289 rushing yards on 23 carries, with Prall (seven carries, 134 yards) and Gibbs (seven carries, 133 yards) both going over 100 thanks to their long scoring runs. The Devils had 336 yards of total offense in the half.
But the Bulldogs had trailed in their previous two games, as well, and they weren’t about to give up.
“There is not any quit in this team,” Lane said. “It’s just not in these kids’ vocabulary.”
The Devils fumbled the ball away on two of their three third-quarter possessions, but their defense held Milton-Union in check, as well, and the score remained 28-6 after three. And more Tipp mistakes allowed the first Bulldog drive of the fourth to continue as a facemask penalty on a fake punt kept the ball in Milton-Union’s hands. Shields broke free down the sideline and was driven out of bounds at the Tippecanoe 2, a 22-yard run, and the Bulldogs cashed it in from the 9-yard line as Blake Smith hit Joey Swafford with a touchdown pass to make it 28-12.
Tippecanoe answered immediately, though, as Prall broke off a 51-yard touchdown run to make it 35-12. Milton-Union’s next drive stalled at midfield, and the Devils ran the clock out from there.
“That was huge,” Prall said. “At that point, the game was still kind of undecided. That run really put it away.”
“That’s what the wing-T is all about, getting angles on the defense and finding seams,” Derge said. “Our offense is very simple. We run the same plays over and over, and we tell the kids that they’ve just got to trust in it and eventually one will bust. You just need a two-yard seam to get through, and that’s exactly what happened.”
“I can’t say this enough, I’m proud of these guys,” Lane said. “They played their hearts out. And now we’ve got to get ready for another good football team.
Milton-Union hosts 2-1 Northridge in Week 4, the second of a three-game homestand, while Tippecanoe returns home to host 2-1 Ben Logan.
Contact Josh Brown at (937) 552-2132, or follow @TroyDailySports on Twitter.