DUNLAP – The Warsaw football team put itself in a position to play for a Northern Lakes Conference championship.
A handful of turnovers, however, left the Tigers in no position to challenge Concord for that title Friday night.
An opportunistic Minutemen squad made the most of its chances to blank the Tigers 28-0 in the NLC and regular-season finale at Jake Field.
Concord, ranked No. 8 in Class 5-A, claims its fourth straight conference title and seventh in the last 10 years at 6-1 in league play. The Tigers finish at 5-2 to tie Northridge and Plymouth for second place in the NLC. Northridge beat Elkhart Memorial 27-0 and Plymouth defeated NorthWood 21-14 in conference games Friday night.
Concord cashed two Tiger turnovers into 14 points in a 23 second span late in the opening half to take command.
The Minutemen, who improved to 7-2 overall, got a 63-yard interception return by senior linebacker Jake Kronk on a fourth-and-four play for a score to make it 14-0 with 1:48 left until halftime.
Concord then recovered a fumble on the ensuing kickoff and two plays later, lightning fast Jerrell Pointdexter raced in from 24 yards out on a reverse with 1:25 on the clock for a 21-0 halftime lead.
“You can’t do that against a good team like Concord, heck you can’t do that versus any team on our schedule,” said Warsaw coach Phil Jensen of the five turnovers. “Three of them were turned into points. We’re not geared to come back from 21 down. That’s not our style.”
The speedy Minutemen used a huge, 58-yard kickoff return by Chris Martin to open the game to set up a quick score. Senior quarterback Trevor Wilmore danced in from 17 yards out just 2:30 into the contest to cap a 40-yard drive.
The Tigers, who lost 34-9 at home to Concord with a share of the NLC title at stake in 2012, marched the ball behind the running of Tristan McClone on their first drive to the Concord 15. Then, disaster struck as a lateral attempt to McClone was scooped up by senior Nick DeFreese and returned to midfield.
“That first turnover was my fault and that’s on me,” Jensen said. “I tried to get cute.”
The Minutemen turned another Warsaw miscue into the final score of the night late in the third period. An interception by DeFreese gave the hosts the ball at the Tiger 29. Despite a tough stand by the Warsaw defense, senior Jackson Marlow scored on a fourth-and-goal play from the one for the 28-0 final.
“I thought this game was about identical to the Northridge one (a 24-0 Warsaw loss),” said Jensen. “Our defense played tough tonight. We just put them in real bad spots.
“I’m proud of these guys. They’ve come so far. But, our mentality has to be we want to win an NLC championship. Not that we are happy to be playing for it and we get complacent.
“It’s all survive and advance now in the sectional. It’s about how bad do you want to play in November. We got knocked on our tails tonights. What are we going to do about it?”
Longtime Concord coach Tim Dawson, now in his 25th season, was understandably a pleased man.
“To win four in a row in the NLC is pretty darn special,” said Dawson, whose team has beaten Warsaw in eight of the last 11 meetings. “Winning championships never gets old and I’m extremely proud of our guys and our coaching staff.
“Our defense was fantastic and it’s fitting that we got the shutout tonight. Warsaw goes as McClone goes and that was our challenge to stop No. 20. This is two years in a row that our defense did a great job on him.”
McClone, who was averaging 154 yards rushing per game, picked up 67 on 21 carries Friday night. He had 64 yards on 26 rushes a year ago versus the Minutemen.
“We knew if we got some turnovers tonight we would be fine,” added Dawson. “Guys making plays for us set the tone. That second touchdown (on the interception return by Jake) gave us momentum.
“We had a bump in the middle of our season with losses to Jimtown and Plymouth. The challenge to our kids was to bounce back at home these final two weeks versus Northridge and Warsaw. We still controlled our own destiny and they responded.”
Wilmore, who shredded the Warsaw defense last year for 308 total yards, was just 3-8 passing for 29 yards and had seven carries for 37 yards. He did not play in the second half after suffering a leg injury.
“Trevor is okay, he’s going to be fine,” said Dawson. “It’s not his knee. It’s a good thing though that we have two weeks until we play again. We have some guys with some bumps and bruises.”
Concord managed 212 total yards of offense, while Warsaw had 189.
Warsaw’s Austin Head was 6-15 passing for 89 yards with the two interceptions. Tanner Balazs had three catches for 37 yards, Thomas Hickerson two for 18 and Conner McCammack two for 12 for the Tigers.
Gabe Furnivall led the Tiger defense in tackles. Ben Plummer, Ethyn Bradley and Kyle Heckaman were also among the top tacklers. Plummer also had a fumble recovery.
Warsaw plays at Fort Wayne Northrop (2-7) in a Class 6-A sectional opener at 7 p.m. next Friday night. Concord is off until hosting Elkhart Memorial (2-7) on Nov. 1 in a first-round sectional game. The Minutemen beat Memorial 38-7 at home in week two of the regular season.