SYRACUSE – Gage Reinhard was a true Warrior in every sense of the word Friday night.
The Wawasee standout, best known for his exploits at quarterback, came up with two huge plays on defense to seal a 21-10 win over rival Warsaw.
Reinhard pilfered a pair of Tiger passes from his safety spot in the final quarter as the Warriors made it a Senior Night to remember at rainy, cold and wind-swept Warrior Field.
Wawasee also got a huge game from its two-headed running back monster tandem of Nathan Katzer and Nic Wilson behind an outstanding effort from its offensive line to earn the “W” Trophy back from the Tigers, which had earned it with a 14-13 win last season.
Reinhard, a gutty senior, made big plays all night on both sides of the football.
“This is the Super Bowl for us,” said Reinhard on the field following the victory. “This is the game we always have marked on our calendars and it means a lot to us to win it on Senior Night.
“We all had the same goal tonight and all of us played as a team.”
Reinhard, making his first start of the season at safety, had two of his team’s three interceptions versus the pass happy Tiger attack.
Warsaw quarterback Jake Mangas completed 22-48 pass attempts on the night for 247 yards.
But, Reinhard intercepted one early in the fourth period and return it 32 yards to the Warsaw four yard line. Wilson then scored his second short touchdown run in a span of 1:39 to make it 21-10.
Reinhard sealed the win with 6:55 to play when he picked off an attempt by Riley Rhoades on a trick play by the Tigers.
“Gage is one of our best safeties and we had to get him on the field tonight,” said Wawasee coach Josh Ekovich. “His knowledge from playing quarterback helps him get a jump on balls back there. He made a couple big plays for us.”
The Warriors led 7-0 midway through the second period on a 51-yard scoring strike from Reinhard to Sam Clark. Clark raced the final 30 yards in on the play after the Warsaw defensive back slipped down.
Warsaw rallied to tie the game just 2:10 before halftime. Ethyn Bradley broke free on a 30-yard touchdown run on a fourth and one play for the Tigers.
Warsaw missed out on scoring chances in the opening half by having a field goal try blocked, throwing an interception in the Warrior end zone and coming up short on downs at the Wawasee 20.
“We didn’t score when we had opportunities,” said Warsaw coach Phil Jensen. “We were just not consistent enough offensively.”
“I can’t fault our effort. Our guys were trying. We just had some mistakes and some dropped balls.”
Mangas was 15-31 for 197 yards in the first half for the Tigers.
Warsaw took a 10-7 lead on its opening possession of the final half. Caleb Klusman hit a 32-yard field goal with 8:52 to play in the third quarter.
The Warriors then turned to their ground game for the win. With Warsaw opting to double team Wawasee star receiver Clayton Cook all night, the hosts chewed up the final quarter with a rushing attack. Cook, who has committed to Ball State, had one catch for six yards.
The Wawasee offensive line of Hunter Jones, Harrison Shortill, Cameron Adams, Jon Walker and Brock Spangle simply wore down the Tigers in the fourth quarter.
Wawasee got a two-yard touchdown run by Wilson with 8:49 left in the game to take the lead for good at 14-10. He then added the icing on the cake with his one-yard score with 7:10 left.
“We finally put together 48 minutes tonight,” Ekovich said. “I’m so dang proud of our offensive line. They are not the biggest, but they have big hearts. It was a group effort tonight.
“They double Clayton and it leaves seams and opens up everything. Our backs stepped up and Sam Clark did too with a couple of big catches.
“This is a huge thing for our kids to win this game on Senior Night. This is the game for them. This is a reward for our seniors.”
Reinhard was 8-22 passing for 177 yards. Katzer had 23 rushes for 121 yards and Wilson had 12 carries for 54 yards as the hosts ran for 194 yards.
Clark had four receptions for 153 huge yards for the Warriors.
The Tigers, who edged Wawasee 14-13 last season, see their three-game winning streak snapped. Warsaw is now 4-3 overall and 3-2 in the NLC.
Plymouth, which won 48-20 at Concord Friday night, leads the NLC at 5-0. Concord is 4-1 and Northridge 3-2.
Wawasee improves to 4-3 overall and 2-3 in league play.
Wawasee has now won four of the last five meetings with the Tigers. Warsaw leads the all-time series 28-17-1 and 17-12 since the Reiff family donated the “W” trophy to the winner of the country rivalry back in the 1980s.
Kyle Mangas had seven receptions for 81 yards, Brock Riley six catches for 67 yards and Riley Rhoades six for 50 for Warsaw. Bradley rushed for 53 yards on eight carries.
Warsaw plays at NorthWood and Wawasee travels to Elkhart Memorial for NLC contests next Friday night.