Tippecanoe football’s senior class has been forced to listen to all the talk for a long time.
“They won’t be as good as the 2002 or 2009 class.”
“They play a weak non-league schedule. They won’t match up against the better teams.”
“They might get to the playoffs every year, but once they see that real competition, they won’t be able to hang.”
Competition doesn’t get much more real than Trotwood.
And Tippecanoe did a lot better than simply “hang.”
The Red Devils, long looked at by the area’s football pundits as overrated, proved that, yes, you should believe the hype. They went toe-to-toe with the Rams — who have been to three straight state championship games and won it all two seasons ago — and even had a chance to win the game in the fourth quarter. And even though Trotwood was able to make the play it needed exactly when it needed it, Tippecanoe still showed that they were on the same level and belong in the same conversation when it comes to great football teams.
Led by a senior class that has achieved since they took over the varsity team as sophomores, the Red Devils won more games and went farther into the playoffs than any Tippecanoe team ever has. The Devils won their first 12 games in a row — including a perfect regular season — and won their first Central Buckeye Conference Kenton Trail Division title since 2009, as well as their first outright one since 2007.
But that wasn’t good enough for some, who still look at the CBC as a top-heavy league. And even when the Devils won a first-round playoff game for only the third time ever, they still beat a division foe, Kenton Ridge.
It wasn’t until a thrilling 30-13 victory over an athletic and explosive Thurgood Marshall team in the Division III, Region 10 semifinal round that people outside of Tipp City proper began to realize and admit just how good the Devils were. But still, the spectre of Trotwood-Madison — which flat-out embarrassed teams most of the season — and the regional championship matchup hung over their heads.
To the Devils, though, none of it mattered. They were happy that they had reached the first regional title game in the program’s history — but they also knew they were capable of more.
Now everyone does.
Trotwood was easily bigger. Athletes all over the field. Speed, size and raw talent the likes of which no Tippecanoe team has ever faced before. But the Red Devils did what they’ve always done — played their game. They marched down the field on the game’s opening drive, not even once giving the ball to leading rusher Jacob Hall, and Cameron Johnson capped off an 80-yard all-rushing drive with an 11-yard touchdown to give the Devils a 7-0 lead.
Trotwood — which never truly looked like the devastating world beaters that everyone made them out to be — finally got things going in the second quarter. Once they figured out how to stop the Tippecanoe offense, they got a couple of consecutive scores to take a 12-7 lead at the half. And while the Ram defense remained tough in the third, they simply couldn’t put Tippecanoe away.
And late in the third and early into the fourth, that giant defensive line began sucking wind, not being used to being on the field for so long.
The Devils had worn them down, and Hall began to do what he does — take over the game.
Tippecanoe’s offensive line cleared the way, and Hall broke off nice run after nice run, 22 yards here, 16 yards there, 8 and then 10 more — and the Devils were knocking on the door, second-and-6 at the Ram 16-yard line, fully ready to take a 14-12 lead with roughly 10 minutes left.
And that’s when it happened.
With Hall fighting as hard as he good against the pile, fighting for one or two more yards, fighting to put his team up, fighting for the respect his team deserves, a Trotwood defender reached in, grabbed the ball directly out of his arms and took it 84 yards the other way for a momentum-swinging touchdown.
It was one of those plays where things could have been blown dead at any point due to the stoppage of forward progress — Hall was pushing the pile for a good three or four full seconds before the ball was stolen from him — and all the fans packing the stadium were shocked when they saw Kei Beckham running the other way with the ball, no whistles having been blown. But it was a judgement call, and a legitimate one, and Tippecanoe was left desperately trying to find a way back into it.
A Trotwood interception on a hail mary and a meaningless touchdown made the final score, 25-7, deceiving.
The Rams were not 18 points better than the Red Devils.
Only one play better.
One way or another, Charlie Burgbacher’s team proved to everyone what it is capable of. The Devils validated all of the work they’ve put in and all of the accomplishments they’ve piled up over the years — even if they already had done that in the eyes of those closest to the team.
And most of all, they earned everyone’s respect.