The offseason application of Competitive Balance caused Division III, Region 12 to become one of the state’s toughest high school football homes. Two schools fighting to place their names on the eight-team bracket in Week 11 met Friday as visiting Tippecanoe outlasted Bellbrook 21-14 in the season opener at Miami Valley South Stadium.
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Play wasn’t pretty.
The teams combined for 11 turnovers. The last of those — an interception by Tipp’s Russell Ramsey with 1:22 to play — decided the final score.
“I’ve never been in a game like this where the ball just went back and forth,” Tipp coach Joel Derge said.
Said Bellbrook coach Jeff Jenkins: “I’ve never seen anything like that.”
Both teams flexed familiar wing-T offenses.
Tipp’s worked a little better.
Despite losing a significant amount of their backfield to graduation, the Red Devils continued their march toward a 13th straight postseason appearance with a new weapon in junior Josh Burritt. A perfect complement to senior bruiser Cole Barhorst, Burritt continually came up with big plays when needed. Burritt ended with 159 yards on 13 carries and a 73-yard first-quarter touchdown run. Last season he had three carries total for 10 yards.
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“There were butterflies, but we’re trained every day to step up and make the play when called upon,” Burritt said. “It’s a ‘next-man up’ mentality.”
Said Derge: “He’s a home run threat every time he touches it. He has a lot of speed and he showed it on that first touchdown run. It’s good to see him come in and fill some holes.”
Burritt’s touchdown followed a missed 21-yard field goal by Bellbrook and gave Tipp a 7-0 lead. Barhorst’s 9-yard touchdown run on the Red Devils’ next possession increased the advantage to 14-0.
Ahead 21-0 in the second quarter following Brendan Hadden’s fumble return for a touchdown, Tipp had a chance to bury Bellbrook before half. A would-be 1-yard touchdown run by Barhorst was called back due to holding and Tipp fumbled the next snap. Bellbrook scored on the first play following the turnover via a 94-yard run from Sedrick Ferguson. Tipp blocked the extra point.
Bellbrook closed to within 21-14 with an 11-yard touchdown pass from Brendan Labensky to JR McCormick on the final play of the third quarter.
In the final three minutes of the game the teams combined for three turnovers. Bellbrook didn’t run a play in Tipp territory in the fourth quarter.
The Golden Eagles ended with six turnovers. Tipp had five.
“Defensively I thought we played very well, especially in the tough situations our offense put us in,” Jenkins said. “Defense kept us in the game and gave us an opportunity to do something, but offensively we just never got it going.”
The host Golden Eagles, members of the Southwestern Buckeye League, went 7-3 last year, beat two non-league D-II teams and still finished 14th in Region 12 computer points.
The Red Devils, members of the Greater Western Ohio Conference, went 7-3 and finished eighth in computer points. They lost to SWBL champion Franklin 41-40 in the Region 12 quarterfinals.
Looking to enhance resumes, Bellbrook and Tipp replaced D-IV opponents with each other. The Golden Eagles beat Waynesville (which went 0-10) in Week 1 last year, while Tipp handled Graham (finished 2-8).
Friday’s outcome will carry season-long postseason implications.
The Region 12 pool also includes local heavyweights Trotwood-Madison, Alter, Franklin, Butler, Wapakoneta, Wilmington, Piqua, Dunbar and Chaminade-Julienne.
“I don’t even know who is on our region,” Derge said. “Honestly. People think I’m funny, including my coaches, but I don’t look at the regions. We just want to worry about one team at a time. I’m dead serious. I don’t look.”