WARSAW – It was only fitting that the Warsaw football team donned camouflage National Guard jerseys for their regular-season home finale Friday night.
It was even more fitting that the Tigers lived up to the billing with the special look in honor of National Guard Celebration Week by defending their home turf with a thrilling comeback win full of plenty of heart.
Caleb Klusman hit a 27-yard field goal as the Tigers rallied past Concord 24-21 in two overtimes in the Northern Lakes Conference finale.
Warsaw, which erased a 14-0 deficit in the second half to force overtime, improves to 5-4 overall and finishes 4-3 in the NLC.
More importantly, the Tigers snap a two-game losing streak and build some momentum for a first-round sectional game at home next Friday night versus undefeated and Class 6-A No. 6 Carroll.
The Minutemen, who were ranked No. 1 in Class 5-A three weeks ago, fall to 6-3 overall with their third straight loss. Concord, which also had its four-game winning streak over the Tigers snapped, finishes at 4-3 in league play.
“What a great win,” said Warsaw coach Phil Jensen. “I’m so proud of all of our guys and all of our coaches. The kids just showed a lot of heart and perseverance.”
“What a great effort by our defense to keep us in the game that first half. They forced turnovers and did not give up points. Just what a huge performance by our defense and our defensive coaches tonight.”
“We talked about defending our house tonight with the National Guard jerseys and the kids got it done. We are undefeated at home this year (4-0). These kids just seem to rise to the occasion.”
“We have three huge wins now this season and two of them at home. And it’s big for our seniors to finally beat Concord.”
Warsaw got big plays from a plethora of players. The Tigers stepped up despite having a slew of players out, 13 to be exact including five starters, due to injuries.
“We had 18 players, including 10 starters, out of practice on Tuesday,” Jensen said. “What a great night for others to step up and they did. It’s just an incredible win for us.”
The Tigers trailed just 7-0 at halftime thanks to its defense, which forced three turnovers. Ethyn Bradley came up huge with an interception and a fumble recovery for the Tigers in the first half. On the night, Concord had five turnovers, to three for Warsaw.
Warsaw trailed 14-0 after Josh Emerson grabbed a tipped pass and returned an interception for a touchdown on the second play of the second half.
The Tigers, who sputtered in the first half as Concord blitzed repeatedly, got within 14-7 with 5:09 to go in the third period as Jake Mangas hit Brock Riley with a four-yard touchdown toss.
Warsaw drew even with just 3:19 to play in the regulation as Mangas again hit Riley, this time from nine yards out.
Riley had a huge game with five catches for 51 yards and his two scores. That coming with top receiver Riley Rhoades out for the second straight week due to a concussion.
“What a night by Brock,” said Jensen. “He had some big catches. And so did Jeremy David.”
The Minutemen had one final chance to win in regulation but a 51-yard field goal try was short on the final play.
Warsaw quickly made it 21-14 in overtime as Mangas hit Jeremy David from seven yards out on the second play.
The Minutemen answered as Matt Fragale raced in from 10 yards out on Concord’s first play in overtime to tie it at 21-21.
The Tiger defense then came up with the play of the night as Mason Faas picked off a Concord low pass in the end zone on Concord’s first play in the second overtime.
The Tigers then sealed the thrilling comeback win when Klusman, after a pair of timeouts, cooly and calmly drilled his 27-yard field goal for the game winner.
Senior Mangas was 21-26 for 144 yards to lead the Warsaw comeback. He set the single-season records for both attempts and yards Friday night after establishing the mark for completions in a season last week.
Bradley rushed for 63 yards on 19 carries for the Tigers. Riley and David each had five receptions.
Concord lost despite out gaining the Tigers 330-199 in total yards. Senior quarterback Cullen Fisher was 18-29 for 153 yards and Fragale had 18 rushes for 100 yards to lead the Minutemen offense.
Warsaw will host Carroll next Friday night in sectional play. Concord will play at Elkhart Memorial in its sectional opener on Oct. 31.