KENDALLVILLE – It wasn’t as if Warsaw played a “bad” football game Friday night.
It was simply a case that the Tigers ran into a really, really “good” opponent.
In a game that former Purdue football coach Joe Tiller would have loved, host East Noble outscored Warsaw 34-23.
The field turf got some kind of workout as the two teams combined for over 1,000 total yards and ran 162 plays in the three-hour donnybrook.
Warsaw coach Phil Jensen gave credit where credit was due.
“They are really good,” said Jensen of the Knights. “They’ve got some things going. They are a good football team.”
East Noble, which saw a 17-0 lead evaporate into a 25-24 loss at Warsaw a year ago, simply shredded the Tiger defense for the second time in three meetings. Two years ago, the Knights won 49-14 at home.
Sophomore quarterback Andrew McCormick, operating behind a physical and veteran line with four seniors starting, was unstoppable as the Knights moved to 2-0. He ran for two touchdowns, threw another touchdown and even had a receiving score. McCormick was 19-38 passing for 273 yards and had 18 rushes for another 181 yards as the Knights finished with 590 yards of total offense.
East Noble returned all of its offensive line starters this fall from last year’s team that finished at 7-4.
“Their quarterback played very well,” noted Jensen. “They are just so physical up front.”
Warsaw, now 1-1, led 14-7 midway through the second period. Senior linebacker Dylan Childers sparked the Tigers to a 7-0 lead as he pilfered a McCormick pass and raced 85 yards with the interception return for a touchdown on East Noble’s first possession. Sophomore Will McGarvey put Warsaw up 14-7 with a 29-yard touchdown run.
The pivotal moment came late in the opening half as the Knights scored two touchdowns in the final minute to take a 28-17 lead. The second score, with just four seconds left until intermission, came after an interception. East Noble converted on a fourth and 10 play with a 24-yard touchdown toss to McCormick from Zack Jenkins.
“The two things is that we can’t turn it over and we have to put the ball in the end zone,” Jensen said. “The turnover and their score right before halftime were big.”
The Tigers missed a great opportunity in the third quarter. Warsaw got the ball at the Knights’ 38 yard line after Jeremy David pounced on a fumble. The Tigers drove to the four yard line, but quarterback Michael Jensen was stopped at the two on a scramble on fourth and goal.
Warsaw cut the lead to 28-23 with 6:01 to play as Jensen hit Riley Rhoades with a seven-yard touchdown toss. The Knights responded to ice the game as McCormick raced in from 13 yards out with 2:13 to play.
“We have a lot of improving to do and a lot of growing to do, but I learned that we do not quit,” said Jensen. “The guys kept going after them until the end.
“It was not for a lack of effort on our part tonight. They are really good. We just have to get better and that means all of us, including coaches. I thought that we improved in some areas tonight.
“This is a great opportunity for growth, to see how the guys regroup with Plymouth coming to our house next week for the conference opener. I have all the confidence in our guys.”
Jensen was 27-52 passing for 321 yards for the Tigers, who finished with 440 yards of total offense. The junior set school records for both completions and attempts. Jake Mangas had set the marks a year ago with a 24-49 effort.
McGarvey had 14 rushes for 118 yards. Rhoades had eight catches for 54 yards, while Thomas Hickerson had seven receptions for 92 yards and Jeremy David five grabs for 99 yards.
Andrew Mevis showcased his booming right leg in impressive style. The Warsaw junior made a 34-yard field goal and his four punts averaged 50.8 yards per kick.
Top tacklers for the Warsaw defense, which gave up just three points in the season opener home win over Columbia City (which beat Whitko 10-8 Friday night), were Mario Flores, Jeremy David, Brock Riley, Landan Perry and Ross Armey,
Jake Torrie had nine receptions for 138 yards and Dylan Hunley seven grabs for 101 yards for the Knights.
East Noble, which ran 89 plays in the contest (Warsaw had 73), was a huge 4-5 on fourth down conversions.
Warsaw hosts Plymouth in its Northern Lakes Conference opener and East Noble hosts Huntington North next Friday night.
Plymouth, ranked No. 2 in Class 4-A, routed Rochester 43-0 Friday night to improve to 2-0.