COLUMBIA CITY – Tristan McClone made his first-ever varsity start one to remember Friday night.
In the process, he almost made it one for the Warsaw football record books as well.
McClone ran for 295 yards and three touchdowns to lead the Tigers to a hard-fought 20-14 season-opening win at Columbia City.
McClone, a 5-11, 200-pound junior, ran over, around and past the Eagles all night long with 43 carries of the pigskin. He just missed the school single-game mark of 310 yards rushing set by former star Brad Seiss versus Wawasee.
“Just to be mentioned in the same breath as Brad Seiss is incredible,” said McClone of the WCHS standout who went on to play at Ball State. “I just went out and played. It never would have happened without my offensive line. They gave a great effort. I love those guys and I love our quarterback.”
It was appropriately enough McClone who iced the win, which was No. 100 in the coaching career of Warsaw’s Phil Jensen. Faced with a fourth-and-one at the Eagle 40 with the clock winding down, McClone bulldozed for four yards on his final carry of the night for one final first down that allowed the Tigers to then run the clock out.
“Coach had faith in us on that play and let us call it,” McClone said. “This win tonight is very good for our season. It’s good to set the tone. Tonight, we finished.”McClone, who ran for 101 yards a year ago, eclipsed that total in the first quarter Friday night. He ran for 123 yards on 15 rushes in the opening period, including a gorgeous 63-yard touchdown jaunt with four seconds left in the period. He added a one-yard scoring run early in the second quarter after Josh Hueber scooped up a fumble and rambled all the way to the Eagle one.
Warsaw led 14-0 at halftime, but the lead could have been much bigger. The Tigers, who did not punt the entire game, controlled the clock with its ground game. Warsaw, however, came up empty three times inside the Eagle 20 on drives. The Tigers lost a pair of fumbles and did not convert on a fourth-and-nine after possessing the ball for 8:25 on a 16-play drive to start the game.
The Tigers did answer the bell though when it mattered most.
The Eagles, who won 34-14 at Warsaw a year ago, took their first drive of the second half and marched 79 yards. A short touchdown run by Adam Neely, who rushed for 153 yards on 30 carries, cut the Tiger lead to 14-7 with 6:59 to play in the third period.
Warsaw turned to McClone again and he didn’t disappoint. He carried the ball six times for 66 yards in a seven-play, 78-yard scoring march. He raced the final 33 yards off the left side to make it 20-7 with 3:09 to play. The hosts scored with 4:27 to play on a 10-yard run by Neely, before the Tigers ran the clock out.
“That drive was extremely important for us,” said McClone of the gut-check march that gave the Tigers a two-score lead in the third stanza. “We said to each other that hey we have to get this done or we’re not going to win this game.”Jensen, in his 17th year overall as a head coach and in the fifth year of his second stint at WCHS, saw plenty to like.
The Tigers, who started 0-3 last year en route to a 4-6 finish, got great play upfront blocking from the likes of Anthony Hendrickson, Stuart Wagner, Cameron Shepherd, Chris Dausman, Jorge Carrillo on the offensive line and receiver Taylor Cone. The Warsaw defense completely took City standout Jared Murphy out of the game. The senior do-it-all receiver/defensive back, who totaled over 1,100 yards rushing, receiving and passing with 14 touchdowns in 2011, was held to just four receptions for a measly 13 yards yards by a physical, double-teaming Tiger defense.
“There were a lot of good things tonight and it was just a big team effort,” said Jensen, now 71-56 at WCHS. “We’re 1-0 and that means everything. It goes back to the offseason and the commitment of this group. It shows that their hard work paid off.
“We just decided we’re going to go back to what I believe in and that’s running the football. We’re weren’t planning on 43 carries for Tristan, more like 20-25. But, when the horse is running, you saddle him up and go. He’s going good like Tristan was and the plan goes out the window. Our line did some great things.
“The thing is that we still have a lot to work on. But, we overcame our mistakes tonight. We took Murphy out of the game. We had a great game plan and the kids executed it.”Junior quarterback Austin Head was efficient for the Tigers as he went 5-7 passing for 57 yards. Senior Justin Miller had an interception for the Tigers.
Warsaw hosts Homestead next Friday at 7 p.m. and then begins Northern Lakes Conference play at Plymouth Aug. 31.