By David Fong
MIAMI COUNTY — In the early 1990s, Matt Burgbacher was the quarterback for the Tippecanoe High School football team.
Just a few miles up the road, the Troy football team was in the middle of an incredible run of conference titles and playoff appearances.
Despite his competitive nature, Burgbacher doesn’t remember any burning desire to take on the Trojans while he was in high school.
“Honestly, back then Troy was just at a different level than we were,” said Burgbacher, now the head football coach at Troy. “Obviously in the last 23 or 24 years, that gap has closed. I don’t think it’s because Troy is any less of a program than it was back when I was in high school; I just think Tipp has really raised its level of play.”
Despite being located less than 10 miles apart, the Troy and Tippecanoe football teams did not have a long history of playing one another until the Red Devils left the Central Buckeye Conference and joined the Greater Western Ohio Conference American North Division prior to last season. Now the two teams are guaranteed to meet every season, barring some sort of seismic conference realignment.
The Trojans (3-2) and Red Devils (3-2) will play tonight at Tipp City Park in the GWOC North opener for both teams.
Burgbacher himself may have answered why the two teams seldom played prior to Tippecanoe joining the GWOC — historically, the game had been a mismatch when they did play.
Including last year’s game (a 35-7 Troy win), the two teams have played a total of 25 times since the first meeting in 1904 — that was a 6-0 Tippecanoe victory — and Troy has won 21, Tippecanoe has won two and the two teams tied twice. In the 25 games between the two schools, Troy has outscored Tippecanoe by a total of 599-72, an average score of 24.0 to 2.9. Troy shut out Tippecanoe 14 times in those 25 meetings.
The two teams played every year from 1928 to 1946, with Troy winning 16 times, Tippecanoe winning once in 1939 — its last win against Troy — and the two teams tying twice. In those 19 consecutive meetings, the Trojans outscored the Red Devils by a combined total of 440-49, an average score of 23.1 to 2.6, with Troy shutting out Tippecanoe 11 times.
Following the 1946 meeting between the two schools, they would not play again until a single home-and-home series in 1984 and 1985. Troy won both of those games, beating Tippecanoe 27-2 in 1984 and 42-14 in 1985. That would be the last meeting between the two schools … until last year.
While Troy got the better of the Red Devils last year, there’s not much debating Tippecanoe is not the same program the Trojans beat up on throughout the 1900s. Currently, the Red Devils are on a 12-year playoff run, tied with Covington for the longest-consecutive playoff streak in Miami County. Two years ago — one year before entering the GWOC — Tippecanoe announced its presence to its future conference with a 37-12 win over GWOC North stalwart Piqua in the Division III regional quarterfinals.
Last year, the Red Devils went 3-2 GWOC North play, falling only to Troy and Piqua. Given Tippecanoe’s recent history of success, there’s no reason to believe they won’t continue to be a factor within the division.
“Our kids have worked hard to get the program where it is,” Tippecanoe coach Joel Derge said. “Coach (Charlie) Burgbacher did a great job building this program and we’ve tried to maintain what he started.”
Matt Burgbacher never got to play against Troy while at Tippecanoe, but now he’ll return alongside his father as Troy’s coach to take on his alma mater. His father Charlie — now Troy’s defensive coordinator — coached for nearly three decades at Tippecanoe, becoming the winningest coach in program history and kick starting the Red Devils’ current playoff run.
“Obviously it’s going to be a little different,” Matt Burgbacher said of the return to Tipp City Park as opposing coaches. “Neither of us have ever been on the visitors’ sidelines before. Obviously I played a lot of games there and coached a lot of games there, but never on the visitors’ side. It will be weird looking up at the home stands and seeing the old oak tree. But once the game starts, you’ve got to put all of that out of your mind.”
Contact David Fong at firstname.lastname@example.org; follow him on Twitter @thefong