Tippecanoe football ready for ‘big’ challenge Friday against Bloom-Carroll

TIPP CITY — There is plenty excitement at Tippecanoe High School and the community and around the football program for good reason.

The Red Devils knocked off top-ranked Hamilton-Badin, the D-III state runnerup a year ago, 20-17 last Friday to earn its first trip ever to the Final Four for the football program.

Tippecanoe, 13-1, will face 13-1 Bloom-Carroll at 7 p.m. Friday night at London High School for an opportunity to play for the D-III state championship.

“The biggest thing I wanted the kids to understand is we have earned this and we deserve to be here,” Tippecanoe football coach Matt Burgbacher said. “We have earned the right to compete for the state championship.”

And if Burgbacher had any concerns about his team getting caught up in the moment, they were answered Friday night.

“You look at all the distraction there are during the season,” Burgbacher said. “And you can add three or four to that in the postseason. But, when we got back to the school Friday, all the kids told me they are not satisfied yet.”

But, Burgbacher knows it will be another challenge.

The Bulldogs are in the state semifinals for the third straight year, although they have moved up from D-IV to D-III this season.

“They are an outstanding football team,” Burgbacher said. “They are extremely fundamentally sound. They don’t make mistakes. When you get to this level, every game is a tough game.”

On offense, Bloom-Carroll likes to “ground and pound” with two outstanding running backs.

Dylan Armentrout (5-9, 185, junior) provides the speed and has 220 carries for 1,165 yards and 15 touchdowns.

Andrew Marshall (6-3, 220, senior) brings the power.

He has rushed for 956 yards and 14 touchdowns on 141 carries and both rushed for more than 100 yards in last week’s win over Columbus Watterson.

The offensive line averages 285 pounds, including a 6-10, 305-pound tackle and a 330-pound guard.

“They are a big, physical football team,” Burgbacher said. “This is probably the 15th straight week where we have gone up against a team that is bigger than us, so we are used to it. Their two backs are kind of like Thunder and Lightning. They like to get the ball to Dylan Armentrout, but when Andrew Marshall comes in, you know he is going to be running downhill.”

Sophomore quarterback Ethan Thanthanavong (6-0, 190) does a great job managing the game.

The Bulldogs threw eight passes in last week’s game, which is typical.

“They have a younger quarterback,” Burgbacher said. “They have a guy in the slot they like to throw to. And they like to throw to the running back. They will throw enough to keep you honest.”

Marshall leads the defense from his middle linebacker position with 146.5 tackles.

The Bulldogs will play a 3-3 stack on defense.

“Their three linebackers do a great job getting to the ball,” Burgbacher said. “And when they get there, you know it.”

Tipp senior quarterback Liam Poronsky has taken his game to another level in the postseason.

After running for 237 yards in the win over Western Brown two weeks ago, he passes for 184 and rushed for 63 against Badin.

“He knows this is it,” Burgbacher said. “One loss and it is over. Liam (Poronsky) has kind of taken our offense and put it on his back. But, we have had different kids step up every week.”

Poronsky has completed 156 of 226 passes for 2,142 yards with 24 touchdowns and four interceptions.

He also has rushed 841 yards on 133 carries and scored eight touchdowns.

Evan Liette, Stanley Clyne and Lukas Walker have combined for 22 touchdown receptions.

Liette had 46 catches for 730 yards and 10 touchdowns and Clyne has 42 catches for 763 yards and eight touchdowns.

Xavier Jones has 1,342 yards rushing and 23 touchdowns on 232 attempts.

“You look at the last drive (against Badin),” Burgbacher said. “We had to move the ball 83 yards and Liam (Poronsky) did that.”

Tipp took a 20-17 lead with less than three minutes to go on a 23-yard field goal by Jackson Kleather.

Kleather, who kicked a 42-yard field goal earlier in the game, has made six field goals longer than 40 yards this season.

He is 12-for-15 on field goals and 64-for-64 on PATs.

Kleather also averages 41.2 yards per punt.

“Having a kicker like Jackson (Kleather) is a huge asset,” Burgbacher said. “We had a fourth-and-goal on the one and I didn’t hesitate to bring him in. We took a penalty to move the ball back for a better angle. He pins people back with his kickoffs and can flip the field with his punts.”

Carson Robbins had a monster game on defense with 12 tackles, two interceptions and a blocked field goal.

Josh Dietz had 14 tackles and Jackson Davis blocked a punt.

“Carson (Robbins) just had a huge game,” Burgbacher said. “Jackson Davis only gets in on kickoffs and punt blocks and he made a huge play. But, it is different kids every week.”

The final play of the game summed it up.

On Badin’s last chance, Eli Moore pressure the quarterback. With Blake Thompson coming in, Christian Hartman made the sack — starting the Tippecanoe celebration.

Cale Liette leads the defense with 155 tackles and seven sacks.

Dietz has 141 tackles and Hartman has 4.5 sacks.

“That was just such an awesome play at the end of the game to clinch it for us,” Burgbacher said.

Now, the Red Devils venture into uncharted territory.

“The most things to me is for the players to enjoy the experience,” Burgbacher said. “I know I have experienced this before (the state semifinals). This is a once in a lifetime opportunity.”

And Tippecanoe is determined to make the most of it.

You can reach Sports Editor Rob Kiser at [email protected]