By Josh Brown
TIPP CITY — Tippecanoe has five goals each game.
“We want to run the ball, stop the run, play solid special teams, not have any dumb penalties and win the turnover battle,” Tippecanoe coach Joel Derge said. “If we can do those five things, we’ll be in good position to win any game.”
Friday night, the Red Devils had to settle for three of them.
Penalties and turnovers bogged down the Tippecanoe offense in the first half, while Stebbins started off fast on the game’s opening possession. But the Red Devils broke through and scored on the final play of the first half and rode that momentum into the second half, pulling away for a 38-19 victory Friday night at Tipp City Park in a battle of two teams that entered the night 6-1.
“We had some dumb penalties tonight,” Derge said. “We had three first-and-goals in the game, and every time we had a penalty. Whether it was a hold or a false start, we’ve got to clean those things up.”
With the win, Tippecanoe improved to 7-1 and 2-1 in the Central Buckeye Conference Kenton Trail Division, taking control of their own destiny with two weeks left in the season. If the Devils win their final two games — at Tecumseh and at Kenton Ridge — they’re guaranteed at least a share of the division title in their final season in it before moving to the Greater Western Ohio Conference.
Stebbins (6-2, 1-2 CBC Kenton Trail) made an impression right away, though. Quarterback David Hickey broke a 34-yard run on the first play from scrimmage, kickstarting a 7-play, 77-yard drive. Tippecanoe forced fourth-and-1 from the 9-yard line, but Hickey took it to the end zone on a keeper to give the Indians a 7-0 lead at the 8:48 mark of the first quarter.
“We told the guys that the offense they run is hard to duplicate in practice,” Derge said of the Indians’ triple-option attack. “They’re a very fast offense, while we really struggled to move the ball the whole first half.”
Both teams made mistakes for the rest of the quarter, with Tippecanoe’s Brandon Gotthardt throwing a pair of interceptions and Hickey getting pick off by Riley Hadden. In fact, neither quarterback completed a pass to his own team until the middle of the second quarter. Tippecanoe, meanwhile, shot itself in the foot with penalties, twice getting first-and-goal situations — and both times going backwards thanks to holding or false start calls.
The Devils capitalized on a Stebbins mistake, though, forcing an intentional grounding call at midfield on fourth-and-8 to take over at the Indians’ 35-yard line. The Devils earned a first-and-goal from the 10 — but a false start on first down backed them up to the 15, and with 1:59 left until halftime Dylan Shomper put the Devils on the board by kicking a 26-yard field goal to make it 7-3.
The defense held Stebbins to a three-and-out, though, and thanks to strategic use of timeouts the Devils got the ball back on their 31 with 1:08 left. A few plays later, Gotthardt then hit Cole Barhorst with a screen pass on third-and-10, and Barhorst took it 38 yards to the Stebbins 16.
“He gives us a little more speed at fullback and makes the offense more dynamic,” Derge said of the sophomore Barhorst, who turned in his second big performance in as many games. “Teams know we’re fast around the edges already. Cole may not be as fast as (Jakob) Prall or (Cameron) Gibbs, but he gives us a bit more speed up the middle.”
And on the final play of the half, Gotthardt scrambled to buy time until Jakob Prall got open in the back of the end zone, and the 16-yard touchdown put the Devils up 10-7 at the break.
Prall broke a 51-yard touchdown run early in the second half to extend the lead to 17-7, but the Indians fought back, converting a pair of fourth downs — including a 30-yard touchdown pass from Hickey to Elijah Hall on fourth-and-5 — to cut the lead to 17-13. But Tippecanoe scored early in the fourth quarter as Prall broke a 53-yard run to extend the lead to 24-13, then the Devils recovered a Stebbins fumble on the Indians’ 9 and made quick work of the short field to make it a 17-point game — on another touchdown by Prall, a 2-yard score.
“On the third play of the second half, Prall broke about a 50-yard touchdown. That gave us 17 unanswered points, which was big,” Derge said. “Playing against a triple-option team, that makes them need to throw the ball a bit more and takes them out of their comfort zone. But we do need to clean some things up in the secondary. They threw some deep passes on us — and in situations where we knew they were going to pass — so we have to take care of that.”
Joseph Simpkins caught a 38-yard touchdown pass from Hickey that made the score 31-19, but Gibbs sealed the game with a 64-yard touchdown run, and the Devils celebrated the victory.
Tippecanoe travels to Tecumseh — which routed Springfield Shawnee Friday — next week before a Week 10 showdown against Kenton Trail-leading Kenton Ridge.
“We’re going to go in, watch film on Tecumseh tomorrow and try to exploit their weaknesses,” Derge said. “We’ve just got to do what we do.”
Contact Josh Brown at (937) 552-2132, or follow @TroyDailySports on Twitter.