WARSAW – Hollywood could not have written a sweeter script for the senior members of the Warsaw football team than the one that transpired Friday night.
The Tigers’ Class of 2015 may be small in numbers, but proved to be huge in heart on this evening.
The resilient Tigers rallied, led by the senior pair of Jake Mangas and Brett Fancil, for an improbable, heart-pounding 25-24 win over East Noble on Senior Night.
Mangas and Fancil made sure to make it a Senior Night to cherish as the hosts erased a 17-0 deficit for a huge victory at frenzied Fisher Field.
The rain and lightning stayed away, but the Tigers stormed back for an incredible victory.
The Tigers earned the win after Mangas calmly scored on a four-yard run with 1:45 to play and then rolled out and hit Brock Riley with a two-point conversion pass.
Warsaw’s defense, which came up huge in the second half thanks in large part to three interceptions by Fancil, then slammed the door on the Knights as senior standouts Darren Schaefer and Caleb Wooldridge combined on a sack.
The fantastic finish was set up after Fancil made his third pick of the final half. Ethyn Bradley had a huge play in the final drive as the shifty tailback turned a short pass into a huge 45-yard gain to the East Noble six-yard line.
“Never,” responded Fancil about the last time he had three picks in a game. “This really means a lot. We settled down and got it going in the second half. We said let’s do this and we did. It’s huge. This should give us more confidence and make us want it a lot more.”
The never-say-quit spirit of his team was not lost on Warsaw coach Phil Jensen.
“They never quit tonight and what a great effort,” marveled Jensen. “We talked at half about taking care of the things we can control. It was night and day different in the second half.
“Being 1-1 going to Plymouth next week is a heck of a lot better than being 0-2. These kids do not quit. They are a close group. They need to show up on Monday and be ready to elevate in practice and get better.
“Our defense played great in the second half. The three picks by Fancil were big. They really changed the field position for us too. Jake played better tonight. He stepped up. He kept his poise and made some big throws.
“Down 17-0, there was some doubt, but we are a young team. But, we righted the ship. They just never quit.”
Mangas was cool under pressure for the Tigers. The senior signal caller was 16-28 through the air for 271 yards. He threw a huge 62-yard scoring strike to Riley Rhoades late in the third quarter to make it 24-17.
“It was tough being down 17-0 early, but we kept our composure and believed in the game plan,” said Mangas. “I knew we had to keep scoring. Coach trusted me and let me keep it on the final touchdown and that means a ton. I think this shows how much we grew up this week. We showed a ton of composure tonight.”
East Noble, ranked No. 8 in Class 4-A, took advantage of two Tiger turnovers and a short field on three drives to make it 17-0 after the opening stanza. The Knights beat the Tigers 49-14 last season.
Warsaw cut the lead to 17-7 early in the second on a gorgeous 38-yard touchdown jaunt by Bradley. The Knights, now 1-1, made it 24-7 before Caleb Klusman hit a field goal with two seconds to go to make it 24-10 at halftime.
Fancil, one of 11 seniors for the Tigers, had interceptions on the first two drives of the final half for the Knights.
Bradley had a huge night on both sides of the football. The shifty senior had 14 rushes for 85 yards, caught three passes for 68 yards and had 10 tackles from his defensive back spot. Rhoades had six receptions for 148 yards and Riley caught three for 54.
Warsaw (1-1) plays at Plymouth (2-0) next Friday night to open Northern Lakes Conference action. The Rockies won 38-35 at Rochester Friday night.