“We’ve had a tough week, no doubt about it,” started Wawasee head coach Tom Wogomon, “As far as not playing particularly well against St. Joe. We’ve had to deal with some adversity off the field. Quite frankly, I think it got a hold of us a little bit. We have not, as of yet, played a quarter of really confident football yet.
“We are 2-1, and I thank the good Lord to be 2-1, but we have got to begin to play with confidence on both sides of the ball.”
The overtime series is what most fans will walk away from in memory lane, where a Travis Schlabach eight-yard touchdown reception gave Northridge a stunning 23-17 lead, but Schlabach missed the critical extra point try.
Wawasee struck back with a pair of runs from Derrick Sorensen, who toted the rock from seven yards out on the second run to tie the game. The extra point by Jordan Acton was good. Ball game. But the back story may have created the drama.
It had been a tough week for Wawasee football. Having to lick its wounds after a thumping last week against South Bend St. Joseph, Wawasee found out it would be without senior starting quarterback/safety DJ Semon for the remainder of the season for violating team rules. To add to the gloom, starting receiver/cornerback Jake Sumpter injured a hamstring at practice and would be out.
Northridge, well, they could have cared less, and showed it with a brand of football Wawasee hasn’t seen from the Raiders in quite some time. Having just three wins over Wawasee since 1998, and having not won in Syracuse since 1998, the Raiders brought more at times than Wawasee could handle.
Following a Wawasee 21-yard field goal by Jordan Acton to open the game, Austin Lutz picked off a Payton Carson pass at the goal line to end a Northridge drive. Well, that was until Wawasee fumbled the next snap and Northridge pounced on Gabe Rhodes for a safety.
The ensuing play after the free kick had Carson scamper 51 yards to the Wawasee five. Craig Kasten finished the drive with a four-yard run to paydirt, and Northridge were up 9-3.
Wawasee responded with a score before half, when new signal caller Gage Reinhard, just a sophomore, slinged a laser across the middle to Austin Lutz, who finished off a 36-yard touchdown.
The game looked all but locked up when Wawasee held Northridge to a field goal try. As Austin Healey lined up to give the Raiders a 12-10 lead, Austin Grove broke through the line and blocked the attempt. A fortuitous bounce landed the ball in the hands of Sorensen, who scooted 79 yards for a touchdown.
It was meant to be, right?
“I was thinking about it before the ball was snapped, if there is a block I need to get it and run it back,” Sorensen said, who picked up 100 yards rushing on 25 carries, but his 79 extra on the blocked field goal were gold. “I didn’t know it was going to happen. Once I got to the 20, my legs started cramping up. I just went for the corner and dove.”
After each team traded possessions, Northridge faced do or die with 65 yards of real estate facing them with just over two minutes to go.
Just one played netted the Raiders 48 yards when Carson found Samuel Stahley. Six plays later, Northridge were on the goal line, and punched in when Cameron Ridenour scored on a dive with just 59 seconds to go, the extra point sent the game into overtime.
Carson finished the night with 116 yards in the air and 95 yards on the ground, while counterpart Reinhard racked up 189 passing yards of his own, 105 of those going to Rhodes. Lutz added 45 yards receiving.
So how does a team that had been outscored 94-27 in its first two games nearly walk out of Syracuse with a win?
“It’s nice to be able to walk away with a win, but I’ll tell you what, those guys outplayed us. Plain and simple,” stated Wogomon. “Coach (Jon) Kirkton, he has the player’s eyes where they need to be. They are going to win some ball games. No doubt about it.”
Regardless of the outcome Friday night, or the week in general, the dictations will have to come swift and forceful as Wawasee will load up the buses and head to Dunlap for a meeting with 3-0 Concord. While Northridge were rightly frustrated with the loss, Wawasee has had its own frustrations with the Minutemen.
Just ask anyone about DuWhan Alford.
Or that it has been nine games in a row that Concord has beaten the Warriors, and nine years since Wawasee has knocked off Concord in Northern Lakes Conference play. Wogomon made those messages loud and very clear following the game.
“We are going to Dunlap next week,” Wogomon said. “If we can not pull together as a football team, it’s going to be a long evening. We have got to find it, no doubt about it.”