TIPTON — The priority was more team than scheme in the beginning.
First-year Tipton football coach Mark Langenfeld was concerned more with the attitude and approach off the field than devising new plays and coverages on it. After all, he planned to delegate the X’s and O’s to his future coordinators.
He wanted to change the culture around the Tigers’ football program.
“The biggest thing was I wanted to establish the right mentality,” said Langenfeld, who served as a Tipton assistant the previous three seasons and earned all-state offensive line honors as a member of Harlan’s 2009 Class 3A state title team. “I preach attitude, effort and discipline.
“If you can have 11 guys with a positive attitude in any situation, give 100-percent effort and you’re disciplined, doing your job and reading keys, it doesn’t matter how talented those 11 guys are when you play as a team. That is how you win games.”
The Tigers have bought into the team-first mission, resulting in a second straight season with at least six wins in more than 12 years. Tipton (6-2, 4-0) also has a chance for its first postseason berth, entering Friday’s Class 2A District 5 title game at home against West Liberty (5-3, 3-1).
“We have a group of seniors and we realize this is our last shot,” Tipton’s leading receiver and defensive end Frank Biermann said. “We have a common goal of getting to the playoffs and making a run.”
Tipton’s individual statistics are respectable, but don’t jump off the page. Langenfeld doesn’t mind, since it means everyone is contributing. The players don’t care who produces as long as the team is successful.
“We have the mentality that if one eats then we all eat,” Biermann said. “If someone does something good, we all benefit. It’s a pack mentality.”
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Just look at the rush game that ranks third in 2A with 2,191 yards, including Austin Lenz with a team-high 705 yards and nine touchdowns. Four Tigers have surpassed 350 yards on the ground and five with at last three scores.
Biermann has 531 rushing yards and leads the Tigers with 833 combined rushing and receiving yards. Connor Hermisten adds 372 yards on the ground. Quarterback Blake Wilkins has rushed for 352 and thrown for more than 500 more.
“We do have a balanced team and a lot of good players,” Langenfeld said. “That is something offensively we have tried to do. We have a lot of weapons.
“These guys have really bought into the idea of a team. They’ve seen individuals, but individuals can’t always win you games. It has to be done with all 11 guys on the field. I think what has turned this team around and has gotten us where we are right now.”
The Tigers feast on a steady diet of runs, rushing the ball a little more than five times more than passing. They average 273.9 rushing yards per game, which climbs to 304 in district contests.
Tipton has allowed just 10 points and less than 197 total yards per district game. They thrive with a strong run game and stout defense.
“I wouldn’t even call it bread and butter (because) bread and butter are just an appetizer,” Langenfeld said. “That is meat and potatoes. That is the whole meal. It is exactly what we want to be known for.
“I truly believe in what they say about offense wins games and defense wins championships.”
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Biermann, Lenz and Hermisten are among a senior class that have developed into strong leaders, dating back to summer weight training. They have fostered good chemistry between upperclassmen and underclassmen.
In addition to one of the top offensive options, Biermann is tied for fourth in tackles. He also sits atop the district with 13 solo tackles for loss and six solo sacks. Biermann has 18 extra-point kicks after teaching himself how to kick to help fill a void for the Tigers.
“He’s a total freak athlete,” Langenfeld said about Tipton’s career leader in rebounds for basketball and a school record-setting hurdler.
“Without my line, I can’t rush (and) without my teammates on defense I can’t get tackles for loss,” Biermann said. “It’s a team effort.”
Langenfeld said the 14-7 victory against Mount Vernon in Week 6 was a turning point in the season, reversing last year’s 68-8 thumping from the Mustangs. This week could be another sign of progress.
Tipton traveled to West Liberty with a chance to win the district last year. The Comets prevailed and the Tigers were left out of the top 16 of the RPI. Once again, this year’s winner gets in and the other must hope for the best.
“It’s definitely one we’ve circled on the calendar,” Biermann said. “We still know that if we can go out and do our thing it will take care of everything else.”
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