SYRACUSE — It’s not often that a punter makes the difference in a game, or at least gets the notice for making the difference. But rivalries have a way of changing the landscape of your otherwise normal gridiron matchup. During Friday night’s 38-14 victory over arch rival Wawasee, Warsaw received its winning boost from one of the game’s most underappreciated positions to help spoil the Warrior homecoming.
Wawasee forced the Tigers to punt deep in their own territory late in the second quarter. Warsaw held a 14-6 lead but Wawasee had controlled the game for much of the first half. Tiger punter Andrew Mevis awaited the snap only to have it soar over his head and land near the goal line.
Here it was, the game-changing play that the Warriors had been searching for in the first half.
Mevis hustled back towards the ball, as Wawasee defenders started to break Warsaw’s protection. Elisha Tipping led the pressure for Wawasee while Warsaw fans collectively held their breath.
Mevis grabbed the ball, scanned the field and decided to give it a go. The senior blasted a punt from his own goal line with Tipping’s just a fraction of a second away from earning the block. The punt soared into Warriors territory. Wawasee would be held scoreless on the ensuing drive. Mevis’ punt had saved the Tigers from total disaster.
“He’s a tremendous athlete,” Warsaw head coach Phil Jensen said of Mevis. “That’s why he’s big time and has a big time leg. He’s got some big time composure as well. Last year he had one snapped over his head in the end zone against Wawasee and ended up running it out for 40 yards and a first down. I’d run fakes with him, but he’s too dang valuable to risk it. He makes all the difference for us in field position.”
“Oh he’s good,” remarked Wawasee head coach Josh Ekovich when asked about Mevis. “That’s a good team and he’s a big part of that. The NLC has a lot of good kickers and punters and he’s one of the best. He had some big plays tonight.”
Mevis was difference maker on more than just that one punt. He had multiple kickoffs soar out of the back of the endzone. But, of course, it was a kickoff where he did not boot it that made a huge difference.
After capping the game’s opening drive with a 38-yard touchdown run from Will McGarvey, Warsaw lined up for the ensuing kickoff. Mevis popped a high kick that was fielded and then fumbled by the Warriors. Warsaw capitalized by capping that drive with touchdown pass from Michael Jensen to D’Andre Street. The Tigers led 14-0 before Wawasee’s offense ever took the field.
Once the Warriors finally got a crack at running some offensive plays, they only needed one. Noah Wadkins went 74 yards to the house on the first offensive play for the home team. A missed extra point left Wawasee down 14-6.
Wawasee was unable to score again in the first half, having two consecutive drives halted inside Warsaw’s 25-yard line. The Tigers led 14-6 at the break.
Warsaw was able to build up a 31-6 lead before Wawasee would score again. McGarvey picked up his second score of the night to give the Tigers that 31-6 lead after a muffed punt by the Warriors set Warsaw up on Wawasee’s two-yard line in the closing seconds of the third quarter.
Wawasee’s Tyler Smith punched in the home team’s final score and threw for a two-point conversion to make it 31-14, but it was far too little, too late. Smith had 65 yards rushing on the night. Wadkins led the team with 93.
McGarvey led all players with 122 yards on the ground. Michael Jensen threw for three scores and 178 yards. Street had two receiving touchdowns, Tristan Larsh had the other.
Ekovich said the key for his team to win would be doing the little things right. The Warriors had five penalties, two turnovers and forced zero takeaways.
“Penalties and fumbles, we can’t keep having so many,” Ekovich stated. “Warsaw’s a good team, but I think we have a good team too. This is four weeks in a row and I don’t know what we need to do differently to fix it.
“It will be the same goal for this week with Memorial, do the little things right. Our coaches are doing a great job, our boys play hard. We’re just making it hard on ourselves right now.”
Coach Jensen knew his team would have its hands full with Wawasee’s offense and was ecstatic with how his team performed.
“Our defense played great,” Jensen stated. “He (Tyler Smith) is a good quarterback. Wawasee has strong guys up front that gave us trouble. They made adjustments that hurt us in the first half. Thankfully we had that fast start.
“This was a great game. I love the ‘W’ Trophy, I love the Reiff family and everything they stand for, everything the trophy stands for. This means a lot to me.”
The Reiff family presents the winning team of the annual match up between the two county schools with the ‘W’ Trophy and has every year since its inception in 1986.
Warsaw (5-2, 4-1) will go into an NLC showdown with NorthWood (7-0, 5-0) in Nappanee next Friday while Wawasee (3-4, 1-4) travels to Memorial (2-5, 0-5).
Before Friday’s contest Wawasee held a moment of silence for the late Hal Traviola who passed away last week. Traviola served as athletic director for Wawasee from 1981-1996.