Tipton senior quarterback Austin Hooker watched from the sidelines when his Blue Devils lost at Rensselaer back on Sept. 13.
The four-year starter, at the time just beginning his recovery from a broken bone in his right, non-throwing arm, thought he might face the Bombers again.
“I know there’s no game he wanted to play more than this Rensselaer game,” Tipton senior linebacker Josh Snider said. “After the first game he told us, ‘Boys, don’t worry, I think we’ll see them again.’ “
A healthy Hooker rushed for four touchdowns on Friday night, leading Tipton to a 27-0 Class 2A semistate victory and spoiling Rensselaer’s dreams of a first state championship appearance. The Blue Devils advance to play Ritter, which beat Paoli 49-16, in the state title game on Nov. 30.
Rensselaer, which suffered its third semistate loss in five years, finished 11-3.
“He’s obviously a game-changer,” Rensselaer senior linebacker Beau Boswell said of Hooker. “He’s a playmaker and he’s their go-to guy. They like to run with him and he’s a hard guy to stop. He can run and pass, so it’s hard to defend him.”
Friday’s game was the culmination of a memorable Hoosier Conference season. West Lafayette also played for a semistate championship, Delphi and Twin Lakes reached sectional finals and Tipton needed to get past perennial state power Central Catholic in its sectional semifinal.
Hooker, who missed four mid-season games with his injury, scored on runs of 11, 1, 2 and 5 yards while rushing for 79 yards and throwing for 163. But the true difference-maker was a Tipton defense that became the first to shut out Rensselaer this season. The Bombers came up short on their only two trips to the red zone, one of which came when trailing 21-0 late in the third quarter.
“All week we stressed so much about reading our keys,” Snider said. “We knew their guards would pull and take us to the ball. We stressed so much of ‘trust your teammates.’ I feel tonight we were able to take it to a new level.”
Rensselaer junior running back Rylan Arihood rushed for 111 yards on 11 carries. Trevor Hill, who rushed for 116 yards in a regional victory over Bremen, carried just once on Friday and was targeted on a handful of incomplete passes. Bombers coach Chris Meeks said the tricky footing on a muddy field limited Hill as a possible weapon on jet sweeps.
Bombers quarterback Dylan Wright, who had completed 53 percent of his passes for 1,080 yards coming in, finished 2 of 23 for 24 yards with two interceptions.
“We’d get some running plays going, and then we’d have to hit some play-action pass and we just couldn’t hit any passes,” Rensselaer coach Chris Meeks said. “I’ve always said big-time players make big-time plays in big-time games, and our big-time players just didn’t step to the plate tonight.”
Rensselaer punted at the end of the first series, but Tipton’s Cory King fumbled the return and the Bombers recovered at the Blue Devil 30. An 18-yard holding penalty killed that potential scoring possession, and later in the quarter, Tipton drove 72 yards in five plays to take a 7-0 lead.
Hooker carried eight times on a 55-yard touchdown drive in the second quarter, and Tipton took a 14-0 lead into halftime. He also sparked second-half touchdown drives with first-play completions of 31 and 28 yards.
Meeks referenced Hooker when asked what Rensselaer needed in order to break through next season behind many returning starters.
“Tipton had their go-to player tonight,” Meeks said. “We were looking for our go-to player, and someone’s got to emerge and develop next year. That has to happen.”