By Rob Kiser
It is a game local football fans have been waiting for.
And a year before Tippecanoe moves into the GWOC North, they will get it when the Piqua football teams travels south to play the Red Devils in the opening round of the D-III playoffs at 7:30 p.m. Friday night.
“I think there is a lot of buzz,” Piqua football coach Bill Nees said. “I think there is going to be a lot of excitement Friday night.”
It is a contrast of two teams when it comes to playoff experience.
Tippecanoe, 9-1, is in the playoffs for the 11th straight year and 12th overall.
The Red Devils have a 5-11 record in the postseason have yet to advance to the state semifinals.
Piqua is making its 11th playoffs appearance, but first since 2007.
The Indians have advanced to the state semifinals six times, were state runnerup in 200o and D-II state champion in 2006. Piqua has 19-9 record in the postseason.
And while the Indians may have no playoff experience, just remember the state championship team in 2006 didn’t either and faced defending state champion Toledo Central Catholic in the opening round on the road and won convincingly.
“We have faced every situation — low seed, high seed,” Nees said. “None of that matters. It just comes down to who plays the best Friday night.”
The Red Devils will give Piqua plenty of challenges Friday night.
The offense is led by senior running backs Jakob Prall and Cameron Gibbs, who both average over 10 yards a carry.
Prall (6-2, 179) has 1,100 yards rushing and 13 TDs on 88 carries, while Gibbs (5-8, 172) has 701 yards an 11 TDs on 65 carries.
“They run out of a base wing-t, with a lot of jet sweeps and double handoffs,” Nees said. “They do a good job of attacking externally, but they do a good job attacking internally as well.”
Senior quarterback Brandon Gotthardt has completed 52 of 98 passes for 780 yards, with 12 TDs and six interceptions.
Prall is the leading receiver with 16 catches for 262 yards and senior tight end Boddy Hopkins (6-0, 195) has 12 catches for 224 yards.
“Like every wing-t team, they do a good job of switching into a different offense, which is a shotgun, spread formation type of look,” Nees said.
On defense, junior defensive back Cade Rogers (5-8, 159) leads the team with 100 tackles, while senior defensive lineman Jack Peura (5-8, 162) leads the pass rushers with 4.5 sacks.
Senior defensive back Riley Hadden (5-11, 142) has picked off seven passes, while junior defensive back Trevor Staggs (5-11, 170) has four.
“They play a 50 defense,” Nees said. “They roll the corners some, but not a lot. They don’t blitz a lot, but they are very mobile and do a great job of running to the ball.”
Piqua will counter with an offense led by junior running back Darien Tipps-Clemons (6-1, 213).
Clemons has rushed for 1,565 yards and 24 touchdowns on 213 carries, while junior Allen Schrubb (6-0, 223) and senior Elijah Hudson (6-1, 186) have combined for 10 touchdowns and 650 yards rushing.
Quarterback Rupert Delacruz has completed 86 of 159 passes for 1,253 yards, with five TDs and four interceptions.
Senior wide out Noah Lyman (6-4, 188) has 35 catches for 674 yards, while junior tight end Nathan Monnin (6-5, 249) has 14 receptions for 178 yards.
Nees, whose team is plus-13 in the turnover ratio, felt the 26-7 win over Troy may have been Delacruz’s best game of the season.
“I think it was Rupert Delacruz’s best game of the season,” Nees said. “He made some runs when we needed him too. He has a great job of limiting the turnovers this season. Now, it is the playoffs and he needs to step up and I think he will.”
Defensively, senior linebacker Jarrett Toopes (6-1, 211) leads the team with 57 tackles.
Sophomore linebacker Ben Schmiesing (6-0, 199) has 55, junior safety Dylan Cole (5-11, 190) has 53 and Tipps-Clemons has 50 from the linebacker position.
Piqua brings pressure from the defensive ends, with sophomore Derek Hite (6-2, 248) having 5.5 and Monnin adding 3.5.
At the same time, Piqua has come up big in the middle with junior defensive tackles Tristen Cox (6-4, 333) and Josh Potter (6-2, 320).
Cole and senior defensive back Alex Nees (5-10, 176) lead the secondary with three interceptions each.
“You can’t just worry about stopping Tipp externally (on the edge),” Nees said. “There is a lot of east-west and north-south conflict. They you have to worry about the middle and over the top. That is what the wing-t is all about. You think you have something covered and they switch to another area.”
Piqua has survived four tough losses.
“This is a resilient group,” Nees said. “They stick together and never quit. Lima Senior and Vandalia-Butler are playoff teams. Northmont only won three games. But, if you look at the schedule they play, they were in every game.”
With rain predicted Friday, Nees isn’t overall concerned about field conditions on the grass field at Tipp.
“Both teams have to play in it,” Nees said.
In the end, it just comes down to who executes the best when it counts.
Rob Kiser is Sports Editor for the Daily Call. He can be reached at (937) 451-3334.