Loeffler's Link - 'It seems like forever'

The number to remember is 68.

Not as in 1968, although the opponents of the Tipton Cardinals must think this streak goes back 45 years.

"Hopefully," Tipton coach Tony Braby said, "we'll keep that winning streak going."

The Cardinals have won 68 straight games in the regular season --- they haven't lost such a game since the first game of the 2006 season.

That would be the second year of the second Bush administration. The year the Cardinals, the St. Louis Cardinals, won their 10th World Series Championship, not No. 11.

"It seems like it's been forever," Braby said. "We talk about it; there are some people who would like to see it end, but I see nothing wrong with a little bit of pressure on the kids.

"It's something the kids take a lot of pride in and no one wants to be the senior group to see it end."

This senior group, however, numbers just four. If you weren't sure, that's not small, it's miniscule, even for a Class 1 team.

"We've got a lot of new personnel, but players are starting to grasp things," said Braby, who's 134-40 entering his 16th season at the Tipton helm. "The tempo of practice is increasing, so it's starting to come together and smooth out."

Of the 2013 graduated seniors, none will be more sorely missed than Dallas Peoples. The 5-8, 180-pound running back --- who's now playing at Lincoln --- was something else.

"You can't replace him; I can't wait to meet the young man who CAN replace him, because he was just phenomenal," Braby said. "It's very unusual to not have him around this year and hear his voice."

A four-year starter, Peoples totaled 106 career touchdowns and nearly 7,000 yards rushing.

"He was just phenomenal; he's the best running back I've coached in my career," Braby said. "Guys like him don't come around very often, and I'm just glad I was around to be a part of it."

The cupboard is not bare, however, as the Cardinals --- like most good programs --- have some talent coming up.

"We've got several very fine skill players, especially for the Class 1 level," Braby said. "They can flat run."

Included in that group are Ryan Wood, Nigel Mertgen, David Richardson, Logan Hirst, Chad Stover, Dylan Cooper and Grant Huhman, and senior lineman Levi Parker.

"We have a lot of interchangable parts,' Braby said, "which I like. We're really blessed to have these players.

"What you do, you tweak some things with the personnel we have now. We don't have that go-to player that Dallas was, so we're using a little more smoke and mirrors. And we want to bring the throwing game into it a lot more than we have in the last couple of years.

"It's taken us a while to get to this point, but we now have a great, strong tradition. The kids know what we expect of them; everything's in line and we have such a great fan following."

The winning streak may be in jeopardy this season, however, as the Cardinals face another rugged schedule, including dates with North and South Callaway.

"What happens if we go 7-2 one year? That's a pretty darn good year, but people are spoiled with how things have been going," Braby said.

Never forget 68. But there are also two other numbers worth remembering --- six and zero. Six recent trips to the semifinals for the Cardinals --- including last year --- but zero trips to the state championship game.

"One of these years," Braby said, "everything's going to go nice and smooth and we're going to get there. I really want to get there so bad, so it hurts me when we don't. But it's going to happen, sooner or later.

"Then again, we feel bad about it, but most schools would give anything to be in just one semifinal. We'll take what we can get, I guess."