There would be no better way to sum up how the Panthers played in a 35-21 win over Wawasee Friday night at Warrior Field.
NorthWood scored on three of its first four possessions in the first half, and really had very little opposition from a Wawasee defense ravaged by injury. The Panthers struck first with a nine-yard touchdown run by Will Kirkwood on its first possession.After Wawasee missed a 40-yard field goal attempt and a trade of possessions, NorthWood’s Blake Cleveland returned a Wawasee punt 40 yards inside the Warrior red zone. A couple plays later, Cleveland punched it in to give NorthWood a 14-0 lead.
Tanner Cleveland, who led the Panthers with 85 yards rushing, sprinted seven yards with 1:32 to go in the half. The Warriors, shellshocked and wounded having replaced several injured defensive starters, faced a 21-0 hole heading into the half.
“What can you say when you have a lot of sophomores playing football on Friday nights,” said Wawasee head coach Tom Wogomon, whose team were without five starters and a defensive secondary that had just one starter from week one, Austin Lutz, who was less than 100 percent with a gimpy ankle. “These kids are going to fight, but the lack of experience really hurt us tonight.”
Wawasee receiver Brandin McCulloch uses every inch of his fingertips to haul in a pass against NorthWood.Wawasee finally broke the spell when quarterback Gage Reinhard found Brandin McCulloch for 48 yards deep in NorthWood territory on its first possession of the second half. Gabe Rhodes would punch it in from short range, but Wawasee would miss the extra point.
The Panthers would respond as they had all night, with Kirkwood leading the option perfectly, drawing in the corners before pitching to Tanner Cleveland for a 28-yard play. After NorthWood’s Dylan Risser intercepted Reinhard and returned the ball to the Wawasee seven, Travis Bear carried the final six yards for a score, giving the Panthers more than enough room to salt the game away.
“I know these kids will go to work on Monday, and we have to keep getting better,” Wogomon said. “You can get a glimpse of the future with some of these kids on where we are headed. Gage and Clayton looked pretty good at times. But defensively, NorthWood picked us apart. We’ll have to address that in practice next week.”
Wawasee would post a pair of late scores, both touchdown passes from Reinhard to Clayton Cook. The first was a 53-yard strike with Rhodes catching a two-point conversion. Cook’s second touchdown catch went for 58 yards. Cook had seven catches for 147 yards while Reinhard threw for 228 yards. Rhodes led Wawasee with 75 yards on 20 carries on the ground.NorthWood finished with 343 yards of total offense, 212 coming on the ground and Kirkwood added 10 of 16 passing for 131 yards. The Panthers, after starting the season 0-3, are now 2-3 overall and 2-1 in the Northern Lakes Conference.
After taking one on the chin last Friday at Concord, combined with the loss tonight to NorthWood, Wogomon knows his kids need some resolve heading into a tough environment next week at The Rock Pile in Plymouth. His Warriors, now 2-3 on the season and 1-2 in the NLC, are reeling.
“We have to get better at playing assignment football, because Plymouth will stick to their game plan,” Wogomon said. “We had a lesson learned tonight playing option football that we’ll have to learn from if we want to have any success down (at Plymouth) next week.”