By Josh Brown
TIPP CITY — A week ago, the Tippecanoe football team watched as a late seven-point lead slipped away in the final seconds in a one-point against Piqua.
Friday night, the Red Devils did not allow a repeat.
Tippecanoe capitalized on a first-half fumble recovery to take the lead and then scored an insurance touchdown early in the second half. Butler answered with a fourth-quarter score to close to within six, but the Devil defense held off the Aviators from there in a hard-fought 20-14 victory in Friday night’s regular-season finale on Senior Night in Tipp City.
The game was mostly played for pride, with Tippecanoe having already been mathematically eliminated from playoff contention for the second straight season and Butler having already clinched a playoff spot — but it still could have implications for the Aviators depending on a number of other results. Butler finished the season 6-4 overall and 3-2 in the Greater Western Ohio Conference American North Division. But entering the night, it sat in fourth in the Division III, Region 12 playoff standings, so the loss could theoretically cost the Aviators a home game in Week 11 — although that won’t be made official until Sunday and it didn’t appear likely. Tippecanoe, meanwhile, finished the year 5-5 and 2-3 in the GWOC American North.
“Butler’s a great football team,” Tippecanoe coach Joel Derge said. “They already clinched a playoff spot before tonight, so they’ll get to play another game next week. This is always a big game around here, and the last three years it’s been real close. It’s rivalry week for us every year.”
For the third straight week, the Devils had to play in a constant downpour, and early on that caused problems for both offenses. The ball slipped out of Butler quarterback Mason Motter’s hands twice on the game’s opening possession, including a fumbled snap on third down that led to a punt. But Tippecanoe’s Troy Taylor threw a third-down interception to Butler’s Brad Daily, handing the ball right back to Butler on the Tippecanoe 48-yard line.
The Aviators’ drive stalled on fourth-and-7 from the Tipp 23, though, with a pass falling incomplete in the end zone — but on the ensuing Red Devil possession, Butler’s Nicholas Coyle stripped the ball from a Tippecanoe ballcarrier and ran it back 60 yards for a touchdown to give the Aviators the lead, 7-0 with 2:42 remaining in the first quarter.
Tippecanoe forced a fumble on the first play of the second quarter, though, with Grant Heatherly recovering it on the Butler 33. And on third-and-7, Ben Ambos took the ball off the left tackle and found daylight, streaking 23 yards for a touchdown to put the Devils on the board — but a missed extra point, which proved costly in the one-point loss to Piqua the previous week, allowed Butler to maintain a 7-6 lead with 8:47 left until halftime.
That lead didn’t last long, though.
A big hit by Ambos on the ensuing kickoff return sent the ball flying, and the Devils recovered again to set up shop on the Butler 25. A 23-yard run by Jackson Yeager on the first play set up a 1-yard touchdown run by fullback Cade Beam two plays later, and the Devils held their first lead of the game at 13-7 with 7:28 left in the second quarter. The teams traded punts the rest of the half, and Tippecanoe maintained a tenuous six-point lead.
Josh Burritt gave the Devils some much-needed breathing room, though, scoring on a 15-yard run in the third quarter to put Tippecanoe up 20-7. Butler’s Ryan Martin punched in a 2-yard touchdown with 4:09 left in the game to get back to within one score, but the Devils were able to bleed off enough of the clock to hang on for the victory.
Butler’s offense outgained Tippecanoe 293-231 on the night but only found the end zone once against the Red Devil defense. Motter led the Aviators with 123 rushing yards on 31 carries, but the Devils’ secondary shut down the passing game as Motter was 9 for 24 for 78 yards. Martin added 92 yards and a touchdown on 92 carries.
Tippecanoe, meanwhile, had four different running backs with 40 or more yards: Burritt had 65 yards on five attempts, Yeager had 62 on seven carries, Ambos had 54 on six carries and Beam had 40 on 11 carries.
Contact Josh Brown at (937) 552-2132, or follow @TroyDailySports on Twitter.