By Josh Brown
TIPP CITY — The Greater Western Ohio Conference North Division preview for next season almost didn’t happen.
And Tippecanoe was forced to wait an extra day to find out who its
Had Belmont beaten Dunbar in its Week 10 game on Saturday night, it would have leapfrogged Piqua in the Division III, Region 10 standings to face Tippecanoe in this weekend’s first-round playoff game — depending on whether or not Meadowdale also won. But the Wolverines hammered the Bison 38-6, allowing the Indians to hold on to the No. 7 spot in the region — and they will travel to Tipp City Park Friday to face the No. 2 Red Devils in a regional quarterfinal matchup.
“I went to the Belmont-Dunbar game, but in the middle of the second quarter we’d found out Meadowdale had won, so we wouldn’t be playing Belmont anyway. So I turned my focus to Piqua or Celina then,” Tippecanoe coach Joel Derge said. “Then we found out we’d be playing Piqua, so Sunday morning we traded film with Piqua — and they’re the biggest team we’ve seen this year and definitely the most physical team we’ve faced.”
Tippecanoe, which had already clinched a home game going into Week 10, finished the regular season with a convincing 40-0 victory over Kenton Ridge in the Central Buckeye Conference Kenton Trail Division championship game — in its final season in the division. Now the Devils will be leaving for the GWOC North Division — where they will see Piqua on a yearly basis.
Piqua, meanwhile, won three of its final four games to finish the season 6-4, with its only loss a narrow 17-14 Week 9 defeat against Sidney. That run included a 28-7 victory over Trotwood — which finished third in the region.
“It’s the postseason now, so you can throw the seeds out the window. Everyone is good at this point,” Derge said. “I’d compare Piqua to the Trotwood team we saw in the regional final in 2013 because they’re really big. We don’t have anyone on defense that can match their size — but our strength is their weakness, and that’s our team speed. Hopefully we’ll be able to utilize that.”
Tippecanoe boasts a multi-headed monster of a rushing attack, led by Jakob Prall, Cameron Gibbs and, for the past four weeks, Cole Barhorst. Prall and Gibbs are the speedsters, with Prall leading the team with 1,100 yards and 13 touchdowns and Gibbs adding 701 yards and 11 touchdowns. Barhorst, a sophomore who saw his carries begin going up four weeks ago, has piled up most of his 286 yards and three touchdowns in that time frame.
That crew will be going up against the GWOC North’s top defense against the run, with the Indians allowing only 87.1 yards per game.
“We’ve got two halfbacks and a fullback, and we like to spread out the carries and use misdirection to gain an edge,” Derge said. “But their defense is the top one against the run in their league. We know it’s going to be tough sledding Friday night, and we’re going to have to execute well.”
Piqua, meanwhile, focuses its running game on one back — junior Darien Tipps-Clemons. He finished the regular season second in the GWOC North with 1,565 yards and 24 touchdowns. Piqua does have a passing game, too, with quarterback Rupert Delacruz piling up 1,253 yards — with the division’s leading receiver Noah Lyman collecting 674 of those — but he only has five touchdowns to four interceptions. Then again, the Indians don’t need to throw to score.
“When they get near the goal line, they’re big and just punch it in,” Derge said.”They’ve got a running back that’s very athletic. He’s very similar to the Kenton Ridge one that we just faced, only a little better. He runs hard, he falls forward and he’s very physical. We’ve talked to our defense all week about filling their gaps and winning their one-on-one battles.”
“Their passing game complements their running game well, and they’ll mix it up with passes on first down and runs on third down. They definitely have good skill receivers. Our defensive backs will have to be able to defend their patterns.”
Tippecanoe’s secondary does have that ability, though — Riley Hadden leads the Kenton Trail in interceptions with seven this season.
And the Devils have a potent passing game of their own — one that has the ability to hit the home run. Quarterback Brandon Gotthardt led the Kenton Trail in yards with 780 and in touchdowns with 12. Prall led the team with 262 receiving yards and four touchdowns, with Bobby Hopkins adding 224 yards and five scores. Along with Jacob Ambos and Eric Seeman, the Devils have four of the division’s top 10 leaders in receiving yardage.
With practically everything cancelling each other out and the two teams’ strengths directly opposing each other’s weaknesses, Derge knows where the game will be decided.
“It’s going to come down to who executes better and who can run the ball better,” he said. “And hopefully, that’s us.”
Contact Josh Brown at (937) 552-2132, or follow @TroyDailySports on Twitter.