By Josh Brown
Troy Daily News
COLUMBUS — Always on the doorstep but never allowed in.
The Tippecanoe boys soccer team had been in the state semifinals three other times but never reached the title game. And in recent history, it had made it to the regional final three times in the last four years but had only broken through to the state tournament this year.
Well, Red Devils, welcome to the party. In fact, you’re the guest of honor.
“When you look at the crowd here today and when you look at all the players, it’s something that we’ve always wanted,” Tippecanoe coach Scott Downing said. “It just seemed like we couldn’t get past that last hurdle. And we did this year.”
Tippecanoe capped off an undefeated season Sunday afternoon in the Division II state championship game against Warren Howland, getting the game-winning goal from an unlikely source in the final 13 minutes and wrapping up a 1-0 victory over the Tigers to celebrate the boys soccer program’s first ever state title.
The Devils (23-0-1) had reached the regional final in 2016 and 2017, falling both times to Alter. But in their final season together, Tippecanoe’s nine seniors — Eil Hadden, Corey Abney, Ben Sauls, A.J. DeCamp, Clayton Snider, goalie Adam Trimbach, team captains Jake Rowland and Matt Hinkle and Sunday’s hero Aaron Davis — got past Alter with a 2-1 overtime victory in the district final, and then they broke through a regional tournament made up of four undefeated teams, beating Wyoming in a shootout to win the region and reach the state semis for only the fourth time in the team’s history.
“They’re a close-knit group,” Downing said of the seniors. “We consistently get better out there. They’re enjoying it and playing hard and having fun. And they didn’t stop. To go this far in the tournament and still be upbeat, keeping that dream alive and believing we can do this, with the route we had to take — I’ve said it before, it’s one of the toughest routes in the state — and we did.”
Warren Howland (21-1-1) was making its first ever appearance in the state tournament, with someone guaranteed to win its first state title. And though the Tigers began strong and controlled the opening 10 minutes of the game, the Devils began to take charge more and more as the game went on.
“I thought we came out and pretty much controlled the game,” Downing said. “And then we finally got that goal. I thought we were playing well, and as the half went on we were controlling it more, getting more and more chances. Something’s got to fall for us here.”
“Coming in, we knew they were a defensive team,” said Rowland, who had scored the game-winning goal in both the Devils’ regional final and state semifinal wins. “So if we could just keep the heat on them, we knew they’d have to break down at some point.”
And with 12:27 left in the game, that breaking point finally came.
A Tippecanoe throw-in into the Howland box led to a massive scrum, where the ball bounced off of a couple of Howland defenders and Red Devils — and eventually bounced to Davis.
“I just saw it right in front of me, and I knew I had to finish it,” Davis said. “I just can’t believe it even right now.
“I was in shock. I just knew what we’d been practicing every single day, and I just knew I had to get it in.”
With Howland goalie Lucas Brill screened by a couple of Devil teammates and Tiger defenders, Davis knocked the ball out of the air on a bounce, sending it into the open corner of the goal and giving Tippecanoe a 1-0 lead. Jonny Baileys and Keaton Jackson were both credited with an assist on the play.
“Once it went in, first thing I said was, ‘Was that Aaron Davis?’” Downing said. “Because he is good at getting on that back side and being in the right spot at the right time. We’d had a few scrums like that in the game, but he was in the game, it came to him, and he’s just good at being composed and getting on it.”
“To have a guy like him, that came in when people couldn’t do what they needed to do and we’re going through the lineup waiting for the next guy to do their job, knowing that we can get to a point where he was in the game and could put it in, it’s just great to know that we’re a team together and there’s not just one person that’s going to do it,” Rowland said.
And once Tippecanoe had the lead, it wasn’t about to let it go. Howland had one final chance with two minutes to go, but Trimbach punched a 35-yard direct kick out of the box and let his defense clear it, then he intercepted a long pass with one minute to go and covered up the ball. After that, the Devils controlled the ball for the final minute and wound down the clock before celebrating.
Tippecanoe outshot Howland 12-6 in the game, with both Trimbach and Brill making three saves on the day. But in the end, it was the Devils’ ability to keep their cool in their first time on the state’s biggest stage that led to them bringing home the prize.
“I think we learned a lot in the last game (the state semifinal against Columbus Academy),” Downing said. “We came out there and played absolutely horrible. We panicked in the first half. This game was much different. We were playing to feet, we weren’t panicking, we were switching fields — and that’s what we were hoping for. We’d hoped they learned. You’ve just got to play the game.
“You can’t let the fans and all the activities going on around you get to you. You’ve got to focus and play your game, and that’s what we did, we finally got our chance and we put it away.”
“It feels great. It’s an unbelievable feeling,” Davis said. “This was our goal all season, to win state. We said all year that we were going to do it. And, well, we did it.”
Contact Troy Daily News Sports Editor Josh Brown at email@example.com, or follow @TroyDailySports on Twitter.
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