By Josh Brown
TIPP CITY — It would be easy for Tippecanoe to fall into the “what could have been” trap, to let one fateful play define its 2013 season.
But the Red Devils have one massive positive to focus on instead — the fact that its talented senior class took the football program farther than it had ever been.
After an undefeated regular season and its first outright Central Buckeye Conference Kenton Trail Division championship since 2007, the Devils set out on a remarkable playoff journey that took them all the way to the Division III Region 10 championship game against the Trotwood Rams, who had been in the state title game two of the previous three seasons at the point, winning it once.
“The kids played like they believed they could win, and we could have won,” Tippecanoe coach Charlie Burgbacher said after the game. “We had an opportunity. We were right there. We were this close to making that dream a reality.”
After reaching its first-ever regional title game and needing one win against seemingly-insurmountable odds to reach the program’s first-ever state tournament, one play changed everything.
With Trotwood clinging to a slim 12-7 lead late in the third quarter, Tippecanoe began to wear down the stunned Rams — who thought they would walk right on by with little to no effort. Jacob Hall, the Red Devils’ senior who had led the team in rushing the past three seasons, had been stifled in the first half — but he continued to pummel the Trotwood defense until he finally found room.
Hall got the ball eight straight times and rushed for 64 yards on one nine-play drive at the end of the third and into the fourth quarter, setting up a second-and-6 from the Rams’ 16-yard line. All of the momentum was in Tippecanoe’s favor, the Devils were about to score and retake the lead … and there was simply nothing the weary Rams could do to stop them. Even the Trotwood side of the crowd was stunned into silence.
That’s when — with a big assist from a questionable call — Trotwood’s Kei Beckham turned it all around.
Hall plowed his way into the line and kept his legs pushing, but his momentum was completely stopped. Everyone seemed to give up on the play — the fans included — figuring that the officials had to say his forward progress had stopped and blow the play dead. But that whistle hadn’t come, and Beckham reached into Hall’s arms, ripped the football out of them and took it 84 yards for a game-changing touchdown. The Rams’ fans didn’t even react until Beckham was already at the 50-yard line, that’s how surreal the play was.
“That was the turning point,” Burgbacher said. “If we put the ball in the end zone there, that gives us all the momentum. We had them on their heels. We just didn’t capitalize on it.
“We didn’t have very many fumbles or interceptions on the season, but we had two big turnovers tonight when we had chances to score. But that fumble recovery was the huge turnaround.”
In the days that followed the game, as happens often in the modern age, difficult-to-refute video and photo evidence surfaced that showed Hall’s knee was down before the ball had been stripped. But high school officials don’t get the benefit of instant replay, and the call stood at the time. The play put Tippecanoe down 18-7 and forced it to take uncharacteristic risks the rest of the quarter, and Trotwood went on to win the game 25-7 and finished the season as state runner-up.
But that one play wasn’t the entire season.
The Red Devils began the year by blowing through their non-league schedule, pitching three shutouts and winning those five games by a total score of 284-20. Things didn’t change much in the first four games of Kenton Trail Division play, with the Devils winning those by a combined score of 189-46, with a fourth shutout thrown in.
That all led up to the regular season finale against fellow unbeaten, Springfield Shawnee, who had defeated the Devils each of the three previous seasons. But Hall ran for 219 yards and two scores, broke a 72-yard touchdown run on Tipp’s first play from scrimmage in the second half and the Devils won 21-7 to finish the regular season 10-0 and win the division title outright.
The Braves had been No. 2 in the D-III Region 10 playoff standings, with the Devils at No. 4. The win gave Tipp the top seed in the playoffs, and they drew division rival Kenton Ridge in the opening round of the postseason. After dispatching the Cougars again, this time 42-7, Tippecanoe found itself in the regional semifinal round against Thurgood Marshall — the farthest the team had been in the playoffs before. The Devils capitalized on a number or Thurgood fumbles, Hall had another big night and Tippecanoe won 30-13, earning a shot at Trotwood for the regional title.
And Tipp gave the Rams its best shot, too.
Hall finished his high school career with 4,501 rushing yards and 77 rushing touchdowns, was co-Athlete of the Year in the Kenton Trail Division alongside defensive lineman teammate Alex Demer and is headed to Brown University. All told, XX seniors — Hall, Demers, running back Cameron Johnson, kicker Taylor Clark, offensive lineman Tyler Hunter, defensive lineman Christian Carlson, linebacker Geordie Heddleston and defensive back Jarret Wasson — were given first team all-CBC honors.
But as that senior class departed, Burgbacher knew that what they had accomplished would also give those that follow this year and beyond something to aim for.
“This game shows the kids coming back and the kids coming up in the program that we can play. We can play in these games. This game was an indication of how close we were, how close we are. This group here can play in a big game like this.
“The kids played like they deserved to be here. They worked hard and earned this, and they didn’t disappoint anybody.”
Contact Josh Brown at email@example.com, or follow @TroyDailySports on Twitter.