WARSAW – Coach Phil Jensen saw a little bit of everything out of his Warsaw football team Friday night.
And some just plain ugly.
In the end, it all added up though to a 33-14 season-opening win over Columbia City for the host Tigers.
Warsaw used its tried and true formula from a year ago to start the season with a victory. Workhorse running back Tristan McClone picked up right where he left off in a record-setting season in 2012. The senior star, now a known commodity, bulled his way to 217 yards on 38 carries versus the Eagles with three touchdowns.
“We had some great moments and some awful moments tonight,” said McClone almost echoing the sentiments of his coach. “We were sporadic. We need more consistency. We can’t play like this versus East Noble next week.”
McClone, in his first start at tailback, ran for 295 yards on 43 carries with three touchdowns in the opener (a 20-14 win for Warsaw) at City last year. He went on to set the single-season rushing record with 1,718 yards.
“There was nothing wrong with our effort and there were glimpses of some really good things tonight,” said Jensen. “But, it was not the sustained mental effort we need with the schedule we play.
“We need to take a big step up for next week. We have a lot to work on. There were glimpses, but it’s good to get an ugly win tonight. This was a very good learning experience for us.”
Warsaw, with 23 seniors honored prior to the game, wasted no time in taking control. McClone carried five times on the opening drive of the night, a 51-yard march. He bulldozed in from nine yards out just 2:16 into the game to make it 7-0.
The Tigers had a great chance to really put the hurt on City early. The Eagles fumbled the ball away on their first offensive play of the night. Warsaw took over at the Eagle 36, but could not convert.
City, which finished 5-6 a year ago, tied the game when quarterback Travis Herbst hit Justin Bachelder with a 61-yard touchdown toss. Warsaw retook the lead just before the end of the opening quarter when McClone scored from 10 yards out.
Warsaw led 19-7 just 31 seconds into the second stanza after a nifty 82-yard punt return by Ethyn Bradley. The speedy 5-7 junior seemed to be stopped and then squirted free and turned on the jets down the far sideline.
“He’s got a motor and broke a couple of tackles,” said Jensen of the key return for a score by Bradley.
“The thing is that we had opportunities to be up 3-4 scores and put it over at halftime,” added Jensen. “We have to be able to do that. Part of it was on my. I was wanting it and kind of forcing the knockout punch.”
The Tigers got a break to start the second half. Kicker Jason Taylor drilled a shot off a City player and the hosts recovered near midfield. McClone then carried the ball six times on an eight-play drive, scoring again from nine yards out and then adding a two-point conversion to make it 27-7.
“Tristan does what Tristan does tonight and what everyone thought he would do,” Jensen said. “He’s just so strong and such a horse.”
The Eagles cut the lead to 27-14 just 14 seconds after McClone’s third touchdown. This time Herbst hit Bachelder with a 55-yard scoring toss. Warsaw got the final score with just 1:25 to play when Caleb Heckaman romped 24 yards with an interception.
The contest was delayed for about 10-15 minutes at the start of the fourth quarter. Sam Dailey, a senior wide receiver/linebacker for the Eagles, had to taken from the sideline on a stretcher to a waiting ambulance. No information on Dailey’s status or the reason for his illness or injury was available immediately after the game.
Warsaw rushed for 259 yards on 58 carries. Fullback Jason Taylor, the man who leads the way for McClone, had nine carries for 46 yards. Senior quarterback Austin Head was 5-13 for 55 yards with Tanner Balazs making all five receptions.
Herbst was just 5-21 passing for the Eagles for 150 yards with two scores and two interceptions. The Eagles managed only seven first downs in the game.
Brett Fancil also had an interception for the Tigers.
Warsaw (1-0) plays at East Noble (1-0) and Columbia City (0-1) hosts Whitko (0-1) next Friday night. East Noble defeated Fort Wayne Northrop 43-14 and Whitko lost 42-20 at Wawasee in their openers Friday night.