WARSAW – Warsaw football coach Phil Jensen has talked the last three weeks about not wanting to fall behind in the Northern Lakes Conference.
The Tigers did just that on Friday night.
A rejuvenated Northridge team put a damper on Homecoming by whipping Warsaw 24-0 in NLC action.
The resurgent Raiders, who improve to 4-1, served notice that they are a force to be reckoned with under first-year coach Tom Wogomon.
Northridge, more importantly, is now 2-1 in the NLC to sit in a tie with Warsaw for second place currently. Concord, ranked No. 1 in Class 5-A, leads the league at 4-0.
A Warsaw team not built to play catch-up was not able to right the ship on a soggy night.
The Tigers managed just 119 total yards on the night and four first downs. Warsaw also shot itself in the foot with shoddy play on special teams, snapping the ball over the punter’s head twice in the opening quarter and losing a fumble on a short kickoff.
Jensen, his team now 3-2 overall, put the blame for this loss squarely on his broad shoulders.
“I’m in charge of our special teams and our offense and it’s on me,” said Jensen. “I have to come up with a better plan and figure out how to fix this.”
“Coach Hueber and our defense played an outstanding first half to keep us in it. They played a great game. They just wore out in the second half.”
Warsaw was very fortunate to be down only 10-0 at intermission.
The Tigers gave the Raiders the ball at the Warsaw 18 and two yard lines in the opening stanza after snaps on punt attempts sailed over the punter’s head. Northridge managed just a field goal from those two possessions.
The Raiders did turn a Tiger fumble on a short kickoff after the field goal into a touchdown. Northridge went 30 yards in four plays with quarterback Tanner Love scoring from three yards out.
“I told our team at halftime that as bad as things went in the first half that the good thing was that we were only down 10,” said Jensen.
The Tigers could not generate any offense all night long against the physical front four of the Raiders.
Northridge put the game away in the final period with a pair of scores. Love hit Sam Ahonen with a 23-yard scoring strike with 10:20 to play to make it 17-0 and then Travis Schlabach busted free for a 59-yard touchdown run with 7:48 to play.
Warsaw star tailback Tristan McClone was held to 70 yards on 23 carries with 25 of those coming on one run. McClone ran for a school record 322 yards a year ago in a 35-21 win over Northridge.
“Northridge has always played us tough and they did again tonight,” remarked Jensen. “They are to be commended. They have elevated themselves in the NLC. Coach Wogomon does a great job.
“Their defense executed and played downhill. Coach Logan (Northridge defensive coordinator Mike Logan) does a great job. He has them playing with a passion.”
The Raiders, who won a total of five games the last three seasons, rushed for 239 yards. Schlabach led the ground game with 12 carries for 101 yards. Cam Ridenhour had 41 yards and Love 36.
Wogomon, who spent the last six seasons as the Wawasee coach, was understandably pleased.
“This was one of those games where every phase played well for us,” said Wogomon, who has now beat Jensen four straight times. “Our special teams guys stepped up and set things up for us.
“Our front four on defense was phenomenal tonight for us. We kept No. 20 (McClone) in front of us. We talked all week about matching their physicality. You know when you play Warsaw it’s power football.
“I thought a big difference was in the field position. Our punter did a great job with that to give us the edge there. In the second half, we were able to establish the run.”
Wogomon said it’s all about a belief for the Raiders, whose program has been down for a decade.
“We’re going to enjoy this, but we know NorthWood is up next,” Wogomon said. “I’m not surprised to be 4-1 now with the way our kids worked in the summer and the way they have listened to the coaching. More importantly, they believe in each other.”
Warsaw plays at winless Goshen (0-5, 0-3) and Northridge hosts NorthWood (3-2, 1-2) in NLC action next Friday night. Goshen lost 49-21 to Concord and NorthWood dropped a 21-16 final to Wawasee in league games tonight.