MIDDLEBURY – It was fun while it lasted. The last remaining Northern Lakes Conference team still alive in the IHSAA State Football Playoffs was eliminated Friday night.
The Northridge Raiders have had a magical season, and that’s probably an understatement. The program picked up its first sectional and regional titles in school history but a matchup with a very talented New Prairie team would prove to be too much for the history making Raiders. The visiting Cougars claimed a 28-10 victory over host Northridge in the IHSAA Class 4A North Semi-State Championship.
The scene was what everybody had expected. The community that had supported Northridge all season long did not disappoint when the team played its biggest game in program history. Fans started to fill the parking lot an hour and a half before the gates even opened. By the time kickoff rolled around, there was not an empty seat to be found on either side of the stadium.
The energy was felt from the Raiders on the game’s opening drive as the Northridge defense held the powerful Cougar triple option offense to punt. The Raider offense used practically no time after getting the ball, scoring in just two plays. It was Cam Ridenour that broke the 0-0 tie with a 27-yard scoring run. The Raider defense continued its dominance for the rest of the first quarter and New Prairie continued to show no signs of life.
The Cougars had the ball fall their way, literally, after a Northridge fumble set New Prairie up with a short field. Tyler Weller, who would end having a great night, ran in the first Cougar score of the evening from six yards out, but a missed extra point attempt would leave New Prairie trailing 7-6.
Northridge got back into a groove on the ensuing drive. A big run set the Raiders up inside of New Prairie’s two yard line but the Cougar defense held strong for three straight plays and forced the Raiders to kick a field goal. Not getting six on that drive is something Raider head coach Tom Wogomon knew was huge.
“We needed to put the ball in the end zone there,” Wogomon stated. “Between only getting a field goal on that drive and then the fumble we had earlier, we really hurt ourselves in the first half. We needed to cross the goal line.”
New Prairie ended its half offensively with a trick play that worked perfectly. Weller, a running back, took a toss then chucked it down field to a wide open Drake Dierdorf who would complete the 29-yard scoring play. The Cougars went for two and were successful to make the score 14-10 at the half.
Both teams continued to ground and pound in the third quarter and solid defense on both sides left the score stagnate heading into the fourth quarter.
New Prairie started the fourth quarter with a bang. The Cougars completed a pass on fourth down that seriously changed the momentum in the game as junior quarterback Nick Brassell found Dierdorf wide open for a 32-yard score. Dierdorf appeared to have his man beat, but it didn’t matter after the defender fell to the ground with an apparent injury.
Northridge was faced with a fourth down of its own near the 50 yard line with just over eight minutes remaining on the ensuing drive but instead of going for it, the Raiders elected to punt.
New Prairie made Northridge regret that decision as Weller would score once more, this time on a 50-yard rush to the right side to put the game out of reach at 28-10. Weller finished with 264 yards on the ground. The Raiders never gave up the fight but it is the Cougars that will be playing for immortality in Indianapolis next weekend.
Despite the loss, what the Raiders accomplished this season should not be overlooked. Northridge finishes the season with two trophies to boast from the sectional and regional and an 11-3 record. To put the record into perspective, from 2009-12 the Raiders won a combined 11 games.
Wogomon spoke about the team and community and what this season has meant.
“We were one step away from really accomplishing some dreams,” Wogomon said. “But this stinging feeling will wear off and there is a whole heck of a lot that, once the dust settles, we can look back and think about what a team this is.
“This has been special. There’s been no drama. This is a group of men that was all in from the start, all hands on deck for the common good. It’s just truly been a pleasure working with these young men and this coaching staff. What I’ve been able to work with over this last half year has been special.”
New Prairie will play New Palestine for the Class 4A State Title next Friday.