By David Fong
TIPP CITY — Joel Derge has zero interest in an easy path to a regional title.
The Tippecanoe High School football coach would rather do things the hard — and more rewarding — way.Which is good, because that’s exactly what Derge and his Red Devils will get this week as they take on area powerhouse Trotwood-Madison at 7:30 p.m. Friday in the Division III regional semifinal game at Wayne High School.
“I think everyone knows if you want to be the best, you’ve got to beat the best,” Derge said of the Rams. “They’ve won five-straight regional titles and they’ve done it all different ways. They’ve done it as a No. 7 seed, they’ve done it as a No. 2 seed — it doesn’t seem to matter what happens in the regular season. If you want to win the regional, you’ve got to beat Trotwood.”
Indeed, the Rams have established themselves as the premier Division II-III school in the area the past half-decade. The Rams won three-straight regional crowns in Division II from 2010-2012, reaching the state title game all three years and winning a Division II state championship in 2011.
Trotwood has won a Division III regional title each of the past two years, losing in the state title game two years ago and falling in the state semifinals last season. To win the regional title in 2013, Trotwood defeated Tippecanoe 25-7 in a game that was much closer than the final scored would indicate.
“They were up 12-7 with about four minutes to go and we fumbled and they returned it for a touchdown,” said Derge, who was an assistant coach on the the 2013 team. This is his first year as head coach at Tippecanoe. “We couldn’t get anything going on offense and then they scored again with about two minutes to go. It was a very hard-fought game and it was definitely closer than the score.
“Our seniors were sophomores on that team. None of them played in that game — we had a lot of seniors on that 2013 team — but they all remember. The kids are excited to be playing Trotwood. We know how good they are.”
Offensively, the Rams feature a high-powered running attack led by the one-two punch of sophomore Raveion Hargrove and senior Rondric Bogan. Despite missing nearly three games with an injury, Hargrove has carried the ball 150 times for 1,932 yards (12.0 yards per carry) and 25 touchdowns.
Bogan has carried the ball 105 times for 885 yards and 10 touchdowns.
“They are going to run the football out of the pro-I set,” Derge said. “They’ve got two running backs, both of whom are talented in their own way. (Hargrove) is the shiftier of the two, but (Bogan) is the more powerful. It’s not like either one is slow, though. They are both fast. We’ve got to corral them and try to take them our of their run game.
“It’s no surprise what they do. They do what you’ve got to be able to do in November in Ohio, which is run the ball. That’s what it’s all about. Their offensive line probably averages 265 or 270 pounds — they are big guys, but they aren’t sloppy. They move their feet well and will get after you.”
While Derge has a pretty good idea what to expect from the Rams offensively, he’s had a little tougher time getting a read on them defensively — at least in terms of personnel.
“They play a ton of guys,” he said. “On the film we’ve got, it seems like they’ve got 11 different guys out there every time.”
Aside from personnel, however, Derge has a pretty good idea what to expect, regardless of who the Rams put on the field.
“They’ve got a lot of speed. They’ve got a good linebacker and a good cornerback — like they always do. They’ve always got good defensive backs. They are going to play man coverage close to the line of scrimmage and try to stack the box to stop the run. It’s a mindset, really. They think they are more athletic than you are and they are doing to try to use that athleticism.”
Contact David Fong at firstname.lastname@example.org; follow him on Twitter @thefong