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Written By Ink Free News / Sports on Saturday, October 10, 2020

NorthWood assistant coach Dave Wilson (center) celebrates with Panther defenders Lester Ellison (59) and Eddie Hildebrant (29) following a fourth down stop late in Friday’s game against Warsaw. InkFreeNews photos by Nick Goralczyk

By Nick Goralczyk

NAPPANEE – The game could have been a let down. Reality rarely lives up to the hype in high school football. Two proud teams. Two polarizing coaches. Perfect weather. All of the ingredients were there and the main course was as satisfying as any football fan could have hoped.

The only downside to Friday night’s game between NorthWood and Warsaw was that one team had to lose. Four quarters of tightly contested football came to a thrilling completion as the Panthers held on for a 22-21 victory at Andrews Field.

“I’ll tell you what,” began NorthWood head coach Nate Andrews, “Back and forth. Up and down. Good plays and bad plays on both sides. It means a ton that we made one more play at the end. We’ve had three ball games this year where that wasn’t the case, where we could not make one more play than the other team when it counted.”

Clinging to a one-point lead with just five minutes to play, NorthWood punted and pinned Warsaw on its own 13-yard line. The Tigers milked the clock down to 2:32 as they slowly but surely made their way down the field and just into Panther territory. It was there that Andrews’ defense made a series of stops to stall the driving Warsaw offense. The “one play” that Andrews referred to came on a fourth-and-15 where NorthWood forced an incompletion to help seal the team’s third win of the season.

NorthWood controlled the game early, scoring the first touchdown of the night and led 14-7 at halftime, but Warsaw turned up the heat to start the second half. A six-minute Tiger drive out of the locker room ended with a Juan Jaramillo touchdown. Colton Wampler then channeled former Colts punter Pat McAfee as the senior placekicker recovered his own onside kick. The Tigers cashed in on their stolen possession in just three plays as Julius Jones broke off a 22-yard scoring run to give Warsaw its first lead of the night, 21-14, with 4:23 left in the third quarter.

Warsaw’s Russ Winchester was fired up after the Tigers recovered a fumble Friday at Andrews Field.

“That could’ve been a backbreaker,” Andrews said of Wampler’s crafty onside. “We had our kids prepared for the onside but (Warsaw) executed flawlessly. Like I said, it could’ve been a backbreaker. They stole a possession. Warsaw is good enough that when they steal a possession, you usually don’t have a chance. So, we’re fortunate.”

The two teams traded the next four possessions, building the anticipation for something big to happen. That big play came from Ethan Evers as the Panther sophomore sprinted for a 65-yard touchdown. Facing a 21-20 deficit NorthWood lined up Tanner Feenstra at quarterback to try for the two-point conversion. Feenstra took the snap out of a shotgun formation, ran to the left side and was met by a host of Warsaw defenders. The senior refused to let the play die and pitched it to Evers who ran it cleanly into the end zone. NorthWood led 22-21.

“No,” Andrews said when asked if the pitch was a designed play call. “(Warsaw) made another good play. They stymied us up front on the goal line. We thought (Feenstra) would be strong enough to get it in but (Warsaw) put up a wall. (Feenstra) just made a football play in a situation that allowed him to take a chance.”

Evers had the first score on the night and would run for 109 yards. Kaden Lone had NorthWood’s second touchdown of the night. Lone, who split time with Kyle Sellers at quarterback, ran for 114 yards and three for 12 yards, both team highs. Sellers started the game under center and ran for 42 yards while adding eight yards through the air.

Jaramillo scored the first two touchdowns on the night for Warsaw and led all players with 141 rushing yards. Aaron Greene added 86 rushing yards and 42 passing yards for the Tigers. Warsaw totaled 309 rushing yards, edging out NorthWood’s 275.

The story of the game for Warsaw would boil down to a lack of execution. The Tigers left empty-handed on three separate possession in which they took a snap inside NorthWood’s 30-yard line. Not finishing drives and making the big plays when needed are a good way to lose ball games. There was no need to remind Warsaw head coach Bart Curtis of that, he already knew.

“We didn’t deserve to win, (NorthWood) deserved to win and (NorthWood) won,” Curtis said bluntly following the loss. “That’s really what it comes down to. We played really hard the second half, you can’t get the ball inside the 30 multiple times and come away with no points.

“We had some untimely penalties, (NorthWood) had penalties as well. But, you know, we did not play well enough to win tonight and (NorthWood) did. We’ve got a chance to go 1-0 again next week.”

The loss makes things very interesting in the Northern Lakes Conference going into the final week. Warsaw (6-2, 5-1) will host Concord (4-3, 2-3) and will either need a win to clinch a share of the conference crown to keep pace with the winner of Northridge (6-1, 5-1) versus Mishawaka (4-3, 4-1). NorthWood (3-3, 3-2) was scheduled to play at Plymouth next Friday but that game has been cancelled due to COVID-19 issues with Plymouth. NorthWood is actively searching for an opponent to replace the Rockies.

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