The Tippecanoe Red Devils fought hard but fell short to the Bellbrook Golden Eagles Friday night, breaking in some fresh faces on their new turf field.
By Andy Anders
They’d driven 64 yards in 10 plays to get down to the Bellbrook Golden Eagles’ 14 and now it was third-and-three. Sophomore quarterback Troy Taylor, playing in his first varsity game, took the snap and rolled left. Josh Walland broke wide open on his route along the goal line. Taylor fired a pass in his direction.
The football flew six inches above the senior tight end’s outstretched arms.
A sack by sophomores Alex Petry and Ethan Fryman the next play gave the ball back to the Golden Eagles (1-0) immediately after, and they kneeled out a 17-9 victory at Tippecanoe (0-1) Friday night.
“I think we lost focus there late in the fourth quarter,” Tippecanoe coach Joel Derge said. “We’ve got a young offense and a lot of new guys that we filled in.”
Bellbrook’s offense seemed predicated on creating space for senior running back Sedric Ferguson. The Golden Eagles ran constant counters and sweeps with the 6’1 speedster out of a Wing-T formation, stemming from short runs up the middle by senior quarterback Brendan Labensky and senior fullback Justin Sloan. Road grading tackles James Utacht and Ethan Knisley generated the lanes and Ferguson broke off a number chunk runs, finishing with 17 carries for 83 yards. He added eight tackles on the other side of the ball.
As much was clear on Bellbrook’s second drive of the game. Reciprocating three-and-outs opened the action, but after 10 plays and 56 yards the Golden Eagles got to third-and-goal at the Tippecanoe six-yard-line. Bellbrook coach Jeff Jenkins dialed up a play-action pass, completed to junior tight end Ben Borszcz for a touchdown. The whole thing was set up by a 16-yard burst from Ferguson and the drive took 8:32 off the clock. After the extra point the score stood 7-0 Golden Eagles.
Tippecanoe’s main weapon defensively to counter Ferguson was senior linebacker Mason Gostomsky. The man wearing number nine was all over the field Friday night, securing 13 tackles – four, count ‘em, four in the backfield bringing down Ferguson.
“[Gostomsky] hasn’t missed a workout since January,” Derge said. “He’s our leader on defense. Every time we needed a play he made one. He shot through those gaps, he reads his keys really well, he plays really hard.”
After another Red Devil three-and-out Bellbrook increased its lead on a seven-play, fifty-five yard drive completed with a 25-yard bomb by Labensky to wide receiver Cameron Brittain. Labensky finished 6/14 for 68 yards and two touchdowns throwing the ball with 31 rushing yards.
A number of Tippecanoe players started to go down with cramps at this stage, a trend that continued throughout the contest. This reveals one of the major issues with this Red Devil squad at this point in the season — the team’s cardiovascular endurance, or lack thereof.
Tippecanoe finally gained a few chain movements mid-second quarter on some tough runs up the middle by junior fullback Cade Beam. Going outside yielded less success, and they found themselves pinned for third and long at the Bellbrook 44. Such a down and distance called for the Red Devils’ first pass of the game, an under-thrown ball deep down the right sideline by junior running back Ian McCarty.
Senior wide receiver Adam Liskey reached around Bellbrook cornerback Braeden Gedeon, caught it against the defender’s backside, and brought it into his chest for a thirty-yard gain. Four plays later junior kicker Ben Sauls booted a crisp 34-yarder to put Tippecanoe on the board trailing 14-3.
After halftime the Red Devils came out with a new personnel package and drove right up the field on the back of four carries for 23 yards by Beam, who finished Friday with 16 carries for 66 yards. Taylor, who wrapped up his first game under center 4/7 for 65 yards, connected with Walland on this occasion for a 24-yard gain to set up a two-yard touchdown rumble by senior Josh Burritt and cut the lead to 14-9 after a blocked PAT.
Bellbrook responded with a field goal and the defenses traded stops for a quarter and a half until that final drive Tippecanoe came up short on.
Still, the Red Devils were never out of the game against a solid Bellbrook squad, and only look to improve as those new faces on offense get some experience.
“I just told the team, ‘Every play matters, every rep in practice matters,’” Derge said. “We’ve gotta move forward, we’ve gotta get one percent better every day.”
Tonight’s contest was the first on Tippecanoe’s new turf field, unveiled prior to this season.