Warsaw football coach Phil Jensen has been sick this week.
The cause of his illness has not just all been from watching tape of a Concord team that he calls “sickening” good either.
Jensen, sick or not, is fired up for Friday night and with good reason.
The Tigers travel to Jake Field in Dunlap to clash with Class 5-A No. 8 Concord in a winner-take-all showdown for the Northern Lakes Conference championship.
“This is where we wanted to be,” said Jensen of the regular-season finale. “We’re still in it and it’s a winner-take-all game. It’s a chance to play the best team in the NLC.
“Being in this position is a credit to our kids. They have worked hard for this and gotten better. They are excited about the opportunity that we have.”
Both Warsaw and Concord enter the fracas Friday night with identical marks of 6-2 overall and 5-1 in league play. The Tigers beat NorthWood 28-7 at home and Concord crushed Northridge 35-7, also at home, in NLC play last week to set up the showdown. The Minutemen, who were ranked No. 1 earlier this season, bounced back in a big way against the resurgent Raiders after losing 35-14 to Jimtown and 42-39 at Plymouth in back-to-back weeks.
Jensen is understandbly impressed with a Concord team that has lit up the scoreboard again this fall. The Minutemen, who are led by do-it-all quarterback Trevor Wilmore, are averaging 37.5 points-per-game.
“They are just a really good football team,” Jensen said. “Wilmore is the complete talent. And he has great weapons around him, like the Pointdeter kid.”
The matchup will be a huge contrast in styles. The Tigers want to grind it out with a ball control offense, led by star tailback Tristan McClone. The athletic and speedy Minutemen want to turn it into a track meet.
“A big key is going to be what Warsaw gets on first down,” said Concord coach Tim Dawson, now in his 25th season. “The key for us is to make it second and third and long for them.
“Coach Jensen is going to have them ready to play. He’s not going to trick you. They are going to try and limit our possessions and we know McClone is going to get it 30 times. But, they are capable of throwing the ball too. They are big up front and they have some guys on defense like Fouts and Funivall.”
Warsaw has once again rode the broad shoulders of McClone. The humble star, who set the program’s single-season rushing record in 2012, has been a workhorse this fall. The 5-11, 210 pounder has rushed for 1,234 yards and 14 touchdowns. The Tigers as a team are averaging 21.4 points-per-game.
“Our offense has to limit their opportunities,” said Jensen, echoing Dawson’s thoughts. “We need to get first downs, get the fourth quarter as fast as we can and find a way to win the game then.
“Special teams play will be huge for us in terms of controlling field position. We have to win that Friday night. We have to limit their big plays. They have guys who can go the distance on every play.”
Concord has won six of the last nine NLC championships, including a streak of three in a row. The Minutemen won 34-9 at Warsaw in the season finale a year ago to share the NLC crown with Plymouth. The last league title for the Tigers came in 2001.
“We have an opportunity to make history with four in a row and our kids understand that,” Dawson remarked. “It’s a really big game in that the winner takes the title outright. Winning championships never gets old.
“Trevor has been great for us and we go as he goes. We still want to run the football, but the great thing with our offense is that we are always in games no matter the score.”
Wilmore can and will beat you with his arm and his legs. The star is 80-150 passing for 1,453 yards and 20 touchdowns. He was 10-14 for 185 yards and three scores in last week’s thumping of Northridge. Wilmore also has 92 rushes for 725 yards this season.
Wilmore accounted for 308 yards of total offense in Concord’s big win at Warsaw in 2012. He threw for two touchdowns and ran for two more in the 34-9 win. The Minutemen defense limited McClone to just 64 yards on 26 carries a year ago.
Jackson Marlow, who had a 62-yard touchdown run last week, is the top running back for the Minutemen, who racked up 223 yards on the ground versus Northridge. Top receiving threats include Pointdexter, Adam Glanders, Matt Wilmore and Chris Martin. Glanders, who has been slowed by an injury, had two touchdown catches last week.
Warsaw fullback Jason Taylor is second on the Tigers with 215 yards on the ground. Senior quarterback Austin Head is 39-89 for 520 yards and five touchdowns. Tanner Balazs has 18 receptions and Conner McCammack 12 with each snaring two touchdown grabs.
The Tiger defense, which has played inspired football, is led by senior Gabe Furnivall. The always in the mix Furnivall has 44 tackles, including 7.5 for loss. Also leading the defense are Kyle Heckaman, Caleb Wooldridge and Seth Fouts. Brett Fancil leads the Warsaw defense with three interceptions.
Concord has won seven of the last 10 meetings versus the Tigers. Warsaw, ironically enough, has won at Concord in each of its’ three wins in that stretch in 2003, 2005 and 2009.
The Warsaw at Concord contest kicks-off at 7:30 p.m. tomorrow night.