TIPP CITY — After guiding Troy to three straight Greater Western Ohio Conference American North Division championships, coach Matt Burgbacher returned to his alma mater, Tippecanoe, in 2019 as the Red Devils and the rest of their division rivals made the jump to the new Miami Valley League.
And while it was a rough season for the Devils, going 4-6 overall and finishing fourth in the MVL’s Miami Division, it also had a number of highlights — including a record-setting place kicker — and a number of hints at good things to come in the future.
In three years in the GWOC, Tippecanoe went 16-15 overall and 6-9 in division play. And things would not get easier in 2019, with division rivals Troy, Piqua, Greenville and Butler all joining Tippecanoe in the Miami Division.
“There definitely won’t be an off week in the MVL,” Burgbacher said before the season began. “We know that every day, we’ll have to pack our lunch and go to work. From the time I got the job in February to know, that’s exactly what we’ve been doing. We know what we’re going to be up against. We’ve got to be the best we can be every day, and if we do that, we’ll be giving ourselves a chance. And that’s what we want — a chance on Friday nights.”
Week 1 proved to be the grueling test that Burgbacher expected as Tippecanoe took on Cincinnati’s Mount Healthy. A short second-quarter touchdown run by senior Cade Beam gave the Devils an 8-0 halftime lead, but the Fighting Owls wore the Devils down from there and handed them a 22-8 defeat.
“Our kids played hard,” Burgbacher said. “We couldn’t complain about how hard the kids played. In the fourth quarter, though, we just kind of ran out of gas, and they made a couple more plays than we did.”
Week 2 wasn’t any easier as the Devils traveled to Springfield Shawnee — one of three playoff teams Tippecanoe would end up facing — for a Thursday night game. And while Tippecanoe kept it close for a half, trailing 21-18 at the break, Braves quarterback Robie Glass and a series of Red Devil injuries proved too much to overcome in a 42-24 loss.
“We knew that Glass is a great athlete and phenomenal quarterback. He threw the ball well tonight, ran the ball well, and their running backs ran hard,” Burgbacher said. “This isn’t an excuse, but once Cade Beam went out of the game, we had one kid on offense with varsity experience. We’re going to get there.”
The Devils returned home in Week 3 for their first MVL matchup against Fairborn, and things began to turn around. Beam scored a pair of first-half touchdowns and kicker Ben Sauls booted a school-record 49-yard field goal to give Tippecanoe a 17-7 lead, and then Sauls broke his own record in the second half with a 55-yarder to wrap up a 20-7 victory, Burgbacher’s first with the team.
“I’ll tell you what, it feels great,” Burgbacher said. “We got that off of our back and can move on now. This was the most complete game we’ve played so far, but we’ve still got a very long way to go.”
Next up was a slugfest against reigning three-time division champion Troy. A second-quarter touchdown by Beam put Tippecanoe up 7-0, but Troy quarterback Brayden Siler threw a 27-yard touchdown pass to Austin Stanaford to tie the score at halftime, and then he scored on a 15-yard run in the third to put Troy up 14-7. From there, Sauls hit a punt that pinned Troy at its own 1-yard line with 5:00 to play, but Siler and the Trojans killed the clock with a lengthy drive to keep Tipp from getting the chance to tie the score in a 14-7 win.
“Give Troy credit — they executed a bit better than us,” Burgbacher said.
“We knew they would do that (put the ball in Siler’s hands at the end of the game,” Burgbacher said. “It’s a great luxury to have a kid like Brayden Siler. It was tough leaving Troy, and Siler was a big part of that. I’ve got so much respect for the kid. But I couldn’t be more proud of our kids. They left everything on the field.”
From there, the up-and-down season continued. Thanks to a four-touchdown night by Beam, the Devils won a Week 5 shootout against West Carrollton, 57-34. In Week 6, a much-improved Greenville team held off the Devils for a 21-7 division win, but Beam and Jackson Subler each had two touchdowns in a 28-19 win at Stebbins that got Tippecanoe back to within one game of the .500 mark at 3-4.
The next two weeks were tough, though. In Week 8, the Devils traveled to Xenia, the eventual overall MVL champion, and could do little to slow the Buccaneers down in a 37-3 loss. And in Week 9, Tippecanoe hosted Piqua, which had a career milestone on its mind as long-time Indians coach Bill Nees earned his 200th career victory in a 28-14 win over the Devils. Tippecanoe finished the year with its strongest showing, though, routing Butler 41-3 to finish the season 4-6 and 4-4 in MVL play. Beam — who finished the year with 1,035 rushing yards — had three touchdowns in the win.
“I am really proud of the kids,” Burgbacher said after the Piqua game. “They go out and play hard every week and they did again tonight. This kind of feels like my first year at Troy. We have got the culture in place, which is the big thing.”