MIDDLEBURY – How many heroes can a high school football team have?
It was too many to count for Warsaw Friday night.
The Tigers got big plays from a plethora of players to notch the biggest win of the season.
Warsaw kept itself in the top half of the Northern Lakes Conference by stunning host Northridge 24-21 in a league thriller.
The contest, which Warsaw led from start to finish, was not decided until the Tiger defense stopped the Raiders on downs at the Warsaw 11-yard line with just 77 ticks left on the clock.
The Tiger defense, which was tough all game long, stopped Northridge back Christian Miller on a fourth-and-five play. The Raiders, who have not attempted a field goal all season, had sent out their field goal unit, but then called time out and decided to go for it. Miller gained three yards, but was met by a host of Warsaw defenders.
Warsaw, which lost 24-0 at home to the Raiders last season, improves to 3-2 overall and goes to 2-1 in NLC play. Northridge drops its second straight league game at home to fall to 3-2 overall and 1-2 in the NLC.
Warsaw got brilliant play in all three phases of the game, offense, defense and special teams to nip Northridge.
A trio of huge plays proved to be the difference in the contest.
The Tigers got a blocked punt by Ross Armey after Northridge’s opening possession of the game to set up a six-yard scoring drive.
Warsaw also got an interception return for a touchdown in the second quarter by Landan Perry.
The Tigers got an electrifying 67-yard touchdown catch and run by Riley Rhoades early in the final quarter to put them up two scores.
“I’m just so happy for our guys and super proud of them,” said Warsaw coach Phil Jensen. “They are growing up a lot. It’s a big win to stay at one loss in the NLC. We just have to stay focused and keep working to get better.”
Jensen opted for a basically pass only attack all game long against a big, physical defensive front for the Raiders. The Tigers, who have gone to a passing attack this season anyway, threw the ball from start to finish Friday night.
Warsaw quarterback Jake Mangas spread the wealth to a host of receivers as he connected on 25-40 attempts for 268 yards with two touchdown throws and no interceptions. The senior did a superb job with quick decisions as he carved up the Raiders with a controlled passing game for four quarters.
Mangas hooked up with seven different receivers on the night. The 6-4 Rhoades and the 6-2 Riley, both juniors, were his favorite targets. Rhoades snared 10 catches for 157 yards and Riley had five.
“Northridge is very good and big and strong and physical,” Jensen said. “In a big game like this my natural instinct is to run the ball. But, Jake is a smart quarterback and our strength is our athletes we have at receivers and getting them in space.
“Everyone just did a great job executing our game plan tonight. Our receivers made big plays. We had to take care of what we do and we did that.”
Warsaw led 14-7 at halftime as Mangas hit Brock Riley on a nine-yard touchdown toss after Armey’s huge punt block and Perry went 26 yards with his pick six. The Tigers had one running play, a sneak by Mangas, the entire first half. Mangas went 16-22 for 129 yards in the opening half.
The kicking game once again was huge for Warsaw. Caleb Klusman hit a 42-yard field goal in the third period to make it 17-7. The Raiders got within 17-14 before Rhoades caught a short pass, shook off a defender and raced in to make it 24-14 with 10:18 left in the game.
The Tigers did manage to make things interesting though. A bad snap on a punt attempt with 6:52 left gave the Raiders the ball at the Tiger 12. Miller then raced in from 12 yards out to make it 24-21 with 6:48 remaining.
The Warsaw defense shut the door at the end for the thrilling win.
“Our kids were resilient on defense,” noted Jensen, whose team had a grand total of 11 rushing plays on the final stat sheet, including three at the end to run out the clock.
Northridge played without senior running back Travis Schlabach. The standout injured an ankle in a 35-19 loss to Plymouth a week ago and could not go Friday night.
“My hat’s off to coach Jensen and Warsaw tonight,” said Northridge coach Tom Wogomon. “They played a whale of a game. They came out ready to go and outplayed us. They played more physical than we did.
“Their quarterback did a great job. We can talk about all three phases of the game that we did not take care of tonight. This is a defining moment for us. It’s check time to see what we are made of. We’ve got to come out and play better from the start. We had an emotional less start tonight.”
Northridge, boasting a huge senior class this season, rushed for 244 yards. Miller had 96 and a touchdown and Cam Ridenour 92 and a score.
Warsaw hosts Goshen (0-5, 0-3) and Northridge plays at NorthWood (3-2, 1-2) in NLC action next Friday night. Concord beat Goshen 55-7 and Wawasee topped NorthWood 27-21 in league play Friday night.