By David Fong
TIPP CITY — It was, without question, the most shocking moment of the season.
And, for the Tippecanoe football team, it may also turn out to be the most important one, as well.
Six weeks ago, an undefeated Tippecanoe football team played host to a 1-4 Springfield Shawnee team. It was supposed to be a no-brainer, a mere blip on the radar for the Red Devils before they moved on to bigger, more important games in the second half of the season.
A not-so-funny thing happened to Tippecanoe on the way to the the blowout, however, as the Braves shocked the Red Devils 35-28, handing them their only loss to date as they head into Friday’s Division III regional semifinal against Trotwood-Madison at Wayne High School.
“We had some hard times and some good times this season,” first-year Tippecanoe coach Joel Derge said. “We let one slip away midway through the season. In that moment, we told the kids, ‘All of our goals are still obtainable.’ We were sitting at 5-1 that week and something really seemed to click with us in practice that week following the loss.”
A wake-up call for a team that has made playoff trips a yearly expectation as opposed to a pleasant surprise, perhaps?
“You never know what’s going on for sure in the mind of a 17- or 18-year-old kid,” Derge said. “The week before we were down 13-3 to a good Indian Lake team and had to come from behind to win. I thought that would have woke them up. Then we lose the very next week. It seems like we had tons of wake-up calls during the season.”
As things would turn out, however, it would be the loss to Shawnee that stuck with the Red Devils, who have been nearly untouchable ever since.
Tippecanoe would breeze through the final month of the season, outscoring opponents by an average score of 41.0 to 8.3 the final four games. Included in those four wins was a 38-19 win over a Stebbins teams that finished the season 7-3 and a 40-0 blowout of Kenton Ridge in the season finale that secured an outright Central Buckeye Conference Kenton Division title for the Red Devils.
Kenton Ride would finish the season 7-3, qualify for the postseason and win its Division IV regional quarterfinal playoff game last week. Tippecanoe, meanwhile, opened its playoff run last week with a 37-12 win over Piqua.
Ever since that stunning loss to Shawnee, it’s been nothing but good fortunes for the Red Devils — something for which Derge is quick to credit the leadership of the senior class.
“We let the kids vote for team captains — and when we did, it was almost a six-way tie,” Derge said. “Usually we only have four captains, but we allowed six guys to be captains because that’s how much their teammates thought of them as leaders. And it’s not just our team captains — all of seniors are leaders. We’ve got a great group of 21 seniors who have led this team.”
Contact David Fong at [email protected]; follow him on Twitter @thefong