TIGERS TAKE DOWN TROJANS IN 35-28 SHOOTOUT

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Written By Ink Free News / Sports on Saturday, November 2, 2019

Warsaw players celebrate their nip-tuck victory in Chesterton Friday night. (Photos by James Costello)

CHESTERTON — With Friday’s Sectional 2 semifinal tied up late in the fourth, Warsaw coach Bart Curtis had an unusual reaction to Juan Jaramillo’s breakaway touchdown run. Instead of celebrating that go-ahead score by his junior running back, Curtis kind of regretted it.

That’s because, with 3:14 still remaining, the Trojans’ high-powered offense still had plenty of time to answer, as it had done over and over already.

But the Tigers defensive unit came through in the closing minutes, holding the hosts on fourth and 8 at the Warsaw 21, and that Jaramillo score proved to be the game-winner at the close of a 35-28 shootout, earning the Tigers the right to play Penn in next week’s sectional championship game back home at Fisher Field.

“I’m yelling ‘Don’t score! Don’t score!’ But he can’t read my mind,” chuckled Curtis of Jaramillo’s game-winner. “He wasn’t aware of what was going on in my head. And the reason why was OK, we are in field goal range. Let’s just eke this thing out and kick it with under 30 seconds to go and get out of here. It didn’t work out that way, but you can’t tell a kid not to score, you know? Especially in a tight game. I think they realized too at some point after they used all their timeouts to give themselves some time that their best bet was to have us score and get the ball back.”

Chesterton’s defense did seem to pump the brakes once Jaramillo got free in space on the way to his 30-yard scoring ramble, and for good reason.

Juan Jaramillo breaks away for the eventual game-winner while Chesterton defenders stop pursuing late in the fourth quarter.

The Trojan offense had failed to score on just two of its previous six possessions at the game — a punt on the game’s opening series and a very close failed fourth down conversion attempt early in the third period. The home team was marching on its final drive, too, but the Tigers came up with a big sack on third and 3 at their own 13, a false start penalty moved the ball backwards again to the Tiger 21, and the Trojans ultimately turned over on downs when scrambling sophomore quarterback Chris Mullen was brought down at the Warsaw 18. The visitors set up in victory formation and wound down the game’s remaining 1:50 before celebrating enthusiastically in Chesterton.

“I’m proud of the kids,” said Curtis. “I know the Chesterton coaches. I’ve known them for a long time, and they’ve got a class group of kids. They were 6-3 for a reason. They ain’t chopped liver. They’re a good team, and it feels good when you beat a good team. We’ll take it, and we’re going to practice Monday when a lot of people in the state of Indiana are unfortunately putting their gear away.”

Curtis and his staff were hoping to avoid a shootout in Chesterton, but that’s exactly what they found themselves in against a Trojan offense averaging better than three touchdowns a game. The Tigers never trailed, but they were never comfortable, either.

Chesterton wound up punting on the game’s opening possession — the only possession by either team not resulting in a score in the first half — giving the Tigers a short field at the Trojan 40, and the visitors quickly capitalized with a seven-play touchdown drive capped off by senior quarterback Wyatt Amiss’ 5-yard keeper around the right side at the 7:31 stop of the clock. But the home team answered with an 80-yard drive of its own, senior wide receiver Ben Slatcoff beating Warsaw corner Luke Adamiec on a jump ball in the near corner of the end zone at the 2:06 mark of the quarter. The Tigers promptly began marching again on their next offensive series, eventually scoring on the very first play of the second stanza — a 1-yard plunge by Jaramillo just three seconds into the period. But again Chesterton responded, this time in just three plays as Mullen hit senior wideout Jacob Warren for a 63-yard catch-and-carry up the Warsaw sideline less than 30 seconds into the second quarter. A fourth down conversion helped extend the Tigers’ next drive, and Jaramillo eventually ran it in from 4 yards out at the 5:15 mark. But once again, Chesterton tied it back up with an 8-yard scoring drive capped off by a Mullen-Warren connection, this time from just 2 yards out, knotting the game up at 21-21 at halftime.

Wyatt Amiss celebrates the Tigers’ first touchdown of the night.

The Trojan defense got its first stop of the night on the opening possession of the second half, holding Warsaw to three and out, and the Tigers were able to return the favor when they stopped Bryce Pickering a yard short on fourth and 3 at the Warsaw 31. At that point, Warsaw went on its longest drive of the night — a grinding, 19-play, 69-yard campaign that bled more than 10 minutes of game clock and culminated in Amiss’ 1-yard sneak into the end zone at the 8:33 stop of the fourth. But Chesterton had the answer yet again following a big return on the only Harrison Mevis kickoff that wasn’t a touchback, Mevis actually recording a tackle himself on the big Michael Williams return to the Chesterton 42. The Trojans needed just seven plays — and a questionable targeting penalty on the Tigers — to score, Ryan Klespies’ 1-yarder with 6:41 remaining that knotted the score at 28-28.

But Warsaw would march 76 yards on its next drive, Jaramillo would score his third and final touchdown of the night from 30 yards out, the visitors’ defense would stand tall on the ensuing possession, and the Tigers would ultimately advance to the Sectional 2 title game in Warsaw next week. It was a thrilling conclusion to a thrilling game featuring a contrast of styles between a pass-heavy Chesterton offense that saw Mullen complete 21-of-37 passes for 308 yards and three scores and a punishing, run-first Warsaw game plan that saw the Tigers attempt just two passes and amass 296 yards in 62 rushes spread across five backs.

And it was a win that ranks right up there for Curtis, whose coaching career spans 35 years.

“The older you get, the worse your memory gets, so you rely on how you feel inside after the game. My feeling inside after this game rivals any feeling I’ve had in the past two decades, where you’ve got that feeling that, hey, we just accomplished something really good with some really special kids,” he said. “And we did it in an odd fashion. We didn’t want to get in a shootout with them, and we ended up getting in a shootout with them. One style versus another style. So yeah, it ranks right up there. A lot of fun.”

Jaramillo finished with a game-high 180 rushing yards in 34 carries with three touchdowns. Amiss ran for 48 yards and a pair of scores and completed both of his pass attempts for 30 yards. Blake Marsh ran the ball four times for 44 yards and caught one of Amiss’ two pass attempts for 12 receiving yards, while Keagan Larsh recorded 21 yards on another four carries and caught the Tigers’ only other pass of the night to finish with 18 receiving yards.

Warren finished with seven receptions worth 126 yards and two scores, and Slatcoff pulled in five catches worth 50 yards and another two touchdowns. Gunner Burkhart tallied 54 yards in four catches, and Colby Bullock caught three passes for 59 yards — his last for 34 yards on a highlight backwards somersault reception that left him down on the field for several moments before leaving the game with a little over three minutes remaining. Chesterton closes at 6-4.

The Tigers improve to 8-2 and will host Penn — a 13-6 winner over Portage in Friday’s other Sectional 2 semifinal — next Friday at 7 p.m. Warsaw is playing for its first-ever sectional title.

“It’s a great feeling to beat somebody good and an honor to be coaching next week for a sectional championship,” said Curtis. “We put ourselves in position to get in position to battle for some hardware, and you know what? You can’t ask for more than that.”

Ben Slatcoff and Ryan Klespies pursue Blake Marsh.

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