TIPTON, Mo. — Tipton's regular-season finale is something of a tuneup.
Locked into the No. 5 seed in Class 1 District 4, the Cardinals know they'll open postseason play next week at Appleton City. Still, that doesn't change the opportunity they have in front of them tonight when they visit winless Concordia.
"It's big because it will give the seniors a chance to go out on a positive note," Tipton coach Tony Braby said. "With some of the struggles that we've had through the season, if we can win two of our next three, it would really make the season look a little more enjoyable."
With tonight's game, Tipton (2-6) will officially bookend its regular season with trips to Concordia. After opening the year with a 30-6 loss to St. Paul Lutheran, the Cardinals will again make the roughly 90-minute trip northwest to face the Orioles.
Concordia shares a pair of common opponents with Tipton this season. One is St. Paul, the other is Cole Camp, which has defeated both teams as well.
Though Concordia has yet to crack the win column, their history with Tipton suggests tonight will not be an easy game for the Cardinals.
Having crossed paths a dozen or so times in Braby's tenure, the teams have had several close games, often meeting in the postseason. Tipton leads the series overall and last beat the Orioles in a 2012 district semifinal game.
"It's always a really good, physical game," Braby said. "They're always well prepared and I don't expect anything different. They're 0-8, but they play hard and they've played against some very good teams."
While Tipton's low numbers in football have in part led to its struggles this season, Concordia will roll out an even smaller squad tonight, with only about 15 kids on the varsity roster.
"Their numbers are way down, but they're still plugging away," Braby said. "They've had a hard go of it as well and I'm sure when it gets into the fourth quarter, they start wearing down a bit more than other teams.
"I give them all the respect that I can, because they always give us a good, hard-nosed game."
Though many teams are what they are at this point in the season, Braby still believes the Cardinals still have room to improve, particularly on the offensive side of the ball. Penalties and turnovers have prevented Tipton from fully breaking out thus far.
"We're still trying to find that game where we basically play error-free," Braby said. "I think we're going to be a pretty tough opponent if we can get some things in our favor. It just seems like we get bit by the penalty bug or the fumble bug."
Tipton is still in search of a second major weapon offensively alongside Dakota Pace. The junior typically gets around 20 carries per game and has gone over 100 rushing yards several times this season. Even in this current three-game skid, Pace has been able to find the end zone each game.
"There's no secret anymore," Braby said. "People look at (Dakota) on film and know that he's a typical ground-and-pound fullback. He's got good speed once he gets out in the open and he's very strong with his running. He's done a tremendous job."
Defensively, tonight will be a great chance for the Cardinals to get back on track. In its losses to Lincoln, Cole Camp and most recently Lighthouse Christian, Tipton has allowed an average of 48 points.
In their three games prior to this losing streak, the Cardinals did not allow more than 12 points in any contest, two of which were wins. They key for Tipton will be shoring up a struggling secondary.
"We're very solid in our run defense, but we do have some tendency to get a little lax in our pass defense," Braby said. "If we can bring all that stuff together, we're going to be a tougher opponent than what we were the first half of the season."
Preview podcast: Tipton Cardinals Football Podcast [Concordia preview, Oct. 14, 2016]