It came down to one play. Warsaw couldn’t make theirs while Wawasee did, allowing the Warriors to pull off the stunner to date in the Northern Lakes Conference, 14-13, in front of a house divided.
A gutsy call was made to go for two points by Warsaw head coach Phil Jensen after Taylor Cone hauled in a 20-yard touchdown pass to pull Warsaw with one point with just seconds on the clock. Originally, Warsaw lined up to kick the extra point, but Wawasee called time-out, and Jensen decided to make the switch and go for the win.
Back-up quarterback Jake Mangas, filling in for an injured Austin Head, could not handle the snap cleanly and was eventually swarmed by Maclain Herr and Austin Grove, setting off a wild celebration by Wawasee, which played by far its most complete game of the season.
“We just felt like we had the momentum, and I made the decision to go for the win,” Jensen said. “It didn’t work. Now we have to regroup and move on.”
The hold by Wawasee was the third time the Warriors had snuffed Warsaw in a critical situation. The first of which really set the tone for the remainder of the game.
With just over a minute remaining in the first half, Warsaw put together its best drive of the half, using a Tristan McClone 20-yard run to get to the Wawasee nine. Facing fourth and goal from the two and just 19 seconds on the clock, McClone’s number was called again. But defensive tackle Jake Schwartz grabbed McClone before he could hit the hole to end the drive and the half.
“My hat’s off to the team in the green and their coaching staff,” Jensen said. “They were ready to play and had a great game plan. They made all the plays in the first half and we didn’t. So there is no excuse-making here. They won this football game and they earned this football game. We just have to get better.”
Wawasee scored the only touchdown of the first half after originally shooting itself in the foot. A 10-yard holding penalty on third and five forced Wawasee to throw, which Gage Reinhard did, finding Clayton Cook along the sideline for a 31-yard touchdown pass.
Reinhard and Cook connected again on Wawasee’s first drive of the second half, ending with a six-yard touchdown strike across the middle. Cook would finish the night with 108 yards on five catches while Reinhard tossed for 137 yards on 9-15 attempts.
“That’s the specialness of this game, it really is,” said Wawasee head coach Tom Wogomon on a total team effort Friday night. “I hope this brought us out and we continue to play that way. The rivalry between the two of us, the spirit, it was very physical out there.”
Wawasee then bottled up McClone on a fourth and two at midfield on the Tiger’s next possession when Schwartz again found the star back behind the line of scrimmage.
McClone, however, would not be held down for long. The running back, who was averaging nearly 200 yards per game coming into the night, had racked up a quiet 84 yards in the first half. But as Warsaw moved down the field for its first score, McClone did most of the work. Carrying the ball inside the three, McClone’s prowess allowed Manges to find Cone open in the corner of the endzone for a two-yard touchdown pass to open the fourth quarter.
McClone would rush for 168 yards on the night, bringing his season total to 1,336 yards.
The Wawasee defense, which were porous at best the past three weeks in lopsided losses to Concord, NorthWood and Plymouth – which if Warsaw is included comprise the four teams all tied at 4-1 in the Northern Lakes Conference standings after Friday night’s games that included Plymouth beating Concord 31-28 in Dunlap – held Warsaw to just 303 yards of total offense.
“I can’t say how proud I am,” Wogomon said. “Our defense has just been getting pushed around and pushed around. We haven’t really had any stoppers all year on fourth down. To do that before the half and then again at the end; hats off to the kids.”
For Warsaw (5-2 overall), its back to the drawing board with huge games at NorthWood next week and Concord at home to conclude the regular season. Jensen knows there is still plenty at stake in spite of the gut wrenching loss.
“For the first time in five years, I see a lot of pain, true pain that hurts,” Jensen said. “Maybe that’s a good sign. Unfortunately, that had to come in the ‘W’ game.”
Wawasee (3-4, 2-3 NLC) will take its newfound energy to Elkhart next Friday to face a struggling Charger program that lost 27-24 to NorthWood Friday night. Goshen will visit Wawasee on Oct. 12 in the final regular season game for the Warriors.