Tipton will have tough tests to extend winning streak

Logan Hirst of Tipton looks for running room during Friday’s Jamboree in Wardsville.

Logan Hirst of Tipton looks for running room during Friday’s Jamboree in Wardsville. Photo by News Tribune.

The streak might be in jeopardy.

The Tipton Cardinals, owners of an astonishing 68-game regular-season winning streak, face another daunting schedule in a rebuilding year.

“If it’s going to come to an end, it will come to an end this year,” Tipton head coach Tony Braby said. “I think both the North and South Callaway schools will have something to say about that. Butler will definitely give us a run. If we’re fortunate to get past there, we’re going to make a good run into the playoffs.”

Tipton is coming off its sixth Class 1 state semifinal appearance in school history in 2012, a season that saw the Cardinals finish with a 13-1 record while bowing out to state runner-up Valle Catholic.

“Last season was just one of those dream seasons,” Braby said. “We’re still coming up just short.”

The Cardinals lost three first-team all-state players in running back Dallas Peoples, defensive back Riley Brant, who doubled as a solid quarterback, and offensive lineman Wade Wood.

Also gone are wide receiver Ethan Koechner, who made an appearance in SportsCenter’s Top 10 last season for an acrobatic touchdown reception, and lineman Ryan Elliott.

“We’re just not ready to replace those kids,” Braby said. “Ask me again next year and I think I can give you some names, just for the fact they’ll be seniors. That was a unique group.

“I don’t have anyone to replace them right now. I don’t even know if we’re close, but we’re getting there. They were so much farther ahead at the beginning compared to what we are, but I think this time next year I think I can give you some names that are going to stand up there and make a name for themselves.”

As talented as the group was as a whole, it almost paled in comparison to what Peoples brought to the table. He rushed 160 times for 2,370 yards and 42 touchdowns in 2012, and has 106 touchdowns and slightly less than 7,000 career rushing yards to his name.

“I’ve been 29 years as a head coach and he’s the best I’ve ever had,” Braby said. “I’ve had some awful good ones, but his balance and strength and speed was just phenomenal. He could take it to the house at any point. He was very fun, very exciting. His name will be mentioned for a long, long time at Tipton. It will take something unbelievable to get someone that’s even close to him.”

So thus the rebuilding.

“I would definitely say we’re rebuilding,” Braby said, noting he only has five seniors on the roster. “Now, we also got to play four more games than everyone else did last year. The backups got a lot of playing time in the second half of the varsity games. It’s just going to take a little while longer to gel offensively.”

Still, that’s not changing any expectations for the Class 1 powerhouse.

“Our goals are always the same,” Braby said. “We want to go undefeated, win districts and hopefully get back to the Final Four.”

Braby points to three players assuming starring roles for Tipton — junior quarterback Dylan Cooper, running back Nigel Merchant and senior running back/wide receiver David Richardson.

“Dylan has a good arm,” Braby said. “He’s very smart in the classroom. Good leader, we named him captain. ... Nigel is a hard-working running back. ... David, another senior captain, has had a phenomenal camp. He’s really working hard. He’s laying it all out there. I think he’s going to have a good year for us.”

Now it’s up to those three, along with the rest of the junior-laden squad, to keep the streak alive.

“I believe in the kids,” Braby said. “I think the kids believe in themselves. I think there’s a lot of people that kind of doubt us a little bit because of what we lost. I just feel like we’re going to get stronger as the season goes.”

Tipton will try to run the streak to 69 when it hosts Sedalia Sacred Heart at 7 p.m. Friday. The Cardinals opened last season with a 50-8 win at Sacred Heart.

“They haven’t typically been in a Jamboree before, so I’m hoping that will give us a little bit of a leg up on them,” Braby said. “We put in new lights on the field and we’re going to get to open up the year with that. I think everybody’s going to be excited to see what the new Cardinals look like in 2013.”

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