ELKHART – It is a well-known saying in sports that defense wins championships.
While there was no championship to be had Friday night, the Wawasee Warrior defense gave a top notch performance for the second week in a row by stifling an athletic Elkhart Memorial offense en route to a 14-9 Northern Lakes Conference victory.
The Warrior defense set the tone early when senior defensive back Derrick Sorensen knocked the ball loose from Memorial wide out Jared Peek, and sophomore Maclain Herr jumped on the loose the ball to give Wawasee its first of three takeaways on the night.
The Warrior offense failed to make anything happen after the turnover. But following another good defensive series, Wawasee forced a punt which set up Wawasee with good field position. That would lead to a 27-yard touchdown rumble by junior Gabe Rhodes. Memorial blocked Jordan Acton’s extra point attempt leaving Wawasee with a 6-0 lead early in the first quarter.
The Charger offense was unable to find an answer to Wawasee’s defensive prowess and failed to put any points on the board in the first half. The Warrior offense, however did add to its lead late in the second quarter after sophomore quarterback Gage Reinhard orchestrated a long drive that ended with another Rhodes touchdown. This time the junior rumbled in from two yards out on third down. Rhodes would finish his night with 37 yards on the ground on 14 attempts. Wawasee head coach Tom Wogomon kept his kicker on the sideline and elected to go for two. Reinhard found receiver Clayton Cook in the back of the end zone as Cook made a stellar catch over a Charger defender to give Wawasee a 14-0 lead heading into the lockeroom.
After halftime, the Warrior offense disappeared. While some credit should be given to better defensive play from Memorial, Wawasee shot itself in the foot with several false start penalties. Wawasee would finish the night with 10 penalties for 85 yards.Wogomon commented about the team’s lack of offensive production in the second half, “Our offense really put us in some bad positions tonight. We had a tough time getting anything established in that second half.”
Thankfully for Wogomon, the Warrior defense did not stray too far from its stellar first half showing thanks to a pair of interceptions. Junior Austin Lutz had the first of the two and Sorensen continued his good defensive play with an interception of his own to stall another Memorial drive.
After giving up a 9-yard touchdown run to Memorial junior running back Kane Rickey, the Warrior special teams unit returned a favor from earlier in the game when senior Chad Eppley blocked the extra point attempt from Charger kicker Tommy Kendall leaving Wawasee with an eight point advantage going into the fourth quarter.
Memorial finally had momentum going on offense in the final quarter and drove the Warrior defense back inside of its own ten yard line. The Warriors would bend, but not break after denying the Chargers on three consecutive plays and held Memorial to a 28-yard field goal from Kendall.
After another punt from the Warrior offense, Memorial was once again given life. The Charger offense again drove the ball into Warrior territory as the game clock wound down inside of two minutes and threatened to take a late lead. That is, until the Warrior defense buckled down and again slammed the door on the Memorial offense, this time after a stop on fourth and long. After the turnover on downs, Reinhard would lead the offense back onto the field to take a knee and seal the road win for Wawasee.
After the game a very proud Wogomon praised his team’s defensive effort, “Our defense is just really starting to play some good football.”
Good could almost be an understatement when looking at the defensive effort Friday night. The Warrior defense held Memorial to just 121 yards of total offense all night, held the Charger offense at bay on two fourth down attempts, forced four punts, and three turnovers. As Coach Wogomon summed it up, the Warrior’s defense was able to capitalize and end Memorial’s drives on a consistent basis, “Tonight was just a night where our defense was able to finish.”
Sorensen rushed for 92 yards on 21 carries for the Warriors. Cook had three receptions for 29 yards.
First-year Crimson Charger head coach Bill Roggeman was not happy with the outcome but was pleased with his team’s overall effort, “We are getting better each week but we just are not there yet. We have to keep working on the little things.”
The loss drops Roggeman’s team to 0-8 overall on the season and 0-6 in Northern Lakes Conference play. Wawasee improved to 4-4 on the season and 3-3 in NLC competition. The Warriors will head back home to finish the regular season when they welcome in NLC rival Goshen as the two schools will play for the rights to take home “The Indian Trophy” next Friday night in Syracuse with kickoff set for 7:30 p.m.