WARSAW — Warsaw couldn’t have scripted a better start to Friday’s Northern Lakes Conference-opener: The Tigers won the coin toss, quickly turned Plymouth over deep in its own territory and punched it in to take a 7-0 lead just over three minutes in.
But the visiting Rockies flipped that script just as quickly, and Warsaw couldn’t catch another break all night in a lopsided, 42-7 loss to 4-A, No. 9 Plymouth at home at Fisher Field.
“Right the way we drew it up: We defer, kick it off, get a turnover, get a score,” said Warsaw coach Phil Jensen of Friday night’s start. “Everything you wanted against a Plymouth team, but that just shows their ability, their coaching staff. It didn’t faze them a bit; they came right back at it, make some adjustments on how they’re doing things and put it to us.”
The table was set for the Tigers’ opening score when Jack Tucker recovered a fumble on a bad snap to Rockies QB Cole Filson at the Plymouth 20 after the visitors tried to go for it on fourth and 1 from their 29. Tristan Larsh hit Zach Riley for a 17-yard completion that set the home team up on first and goal, and, two plays later, Will McGarvey plunged it home from a yard out to stake the home team to a 7-0 advantage with Harrison Mevis’ kick at the 8:51 mark of the first frame.
“I believe in our kids. We needed to have a mentality that we were going to try to take the game away from Warsaw,” said Plymouth coach John Barron. “Warsaw is always a tough opponent, always well-coached, always have great athletes. I just felt like punting the ball down there — with Cole’s leg the way it was, I didn’t really want to punt it. A bad snap, and good for Warsaw, they capitalized on it.”
But the Rockies needed just three offensive plays and a total of 47 seconds of game clock to erase that advantage when junior fullback Blake Reed got around the edge and rambled 82 yards for the first of his three touchdowns in Warsaw, knotting the score at 7-all with the first of five point-after kicks by Jeremy Drudge at the 8:04 stop of the quarter.
The Tigers had few answers for Reed as the 6-foot, 185-pound fullback ran amok for 227 yards and three touchdowns in 23 carries. Two of those TDs and a full 165 of those yards came in the first quarter alone as Reed racked up 50 of the Rockies’ 55 total yards on their second touchdown drive of the night, capping it off with a 9-yard run that gave Plymouth a lead it would never relinquish with no time remaining in the opening stanza.
“Option football can be hard to defend sometimes, and when we’re reading it correctly and we’re getting the perimeter blocks like we are, Blake Reed can run. He’s a fast kid; he’s a big, strong kid, and he had a breakout game,” Barron said. “I’m sure Northridge is going to watch the film and try to take away the fullback next week, so we have to be ready on all facets of our offense.”
Meanwhile, there was nothing the Tigers threw at Plymouth that the Rockies didn’t have an answer to.
Warsaw finished with just 90 yards of total offense — 54 rushing and 36 passing yards — and star back McGarvey was limited to only 27 rushing yards in 11 carries, falling nearly 70 short of the 96 yards the senior needed to reach the 2,000-yard career mark at the start of Friday night’s NLC showdown. Bryce Garner led the Tigers with 40 yards in eight carries.
Larsh finished 5-of-13 passing for 28 yards but recorded negative 17 net rushing yards in his third start under center.
“They did a really good job of taking away the inside, and they’ve got the team speed to run you down when you go to the outside. And that’s the difference in the game,” said Jensen. “We couldn’t find any way to get an advantage, and that’s a credit to their kids and their coaching staff.
“We’ve got to execute better. We’ve got to execute on offense, and I’ve got to find a way to help Tristan better manage the game because there’s a lot being thrown at him right now and that’s on me.”
Warsaw had a touchdown called back late in the third quarter when Zach Riley scooped up a Reed fumble at the Tigers’ 28 and returned it the length of the field for a score that could’ve cut Warsaw’s deficit to 35-14 but was called back for illegal participation with 1:02 remaining in the period. Plymouth had a touchdown of its own nullified on a holding call on the very next play but eventually punched it in on a 3-yarder by Benji Nixon that pushed the score to its final margin at the 11:23 stop of the fourth as the Rockies denied Jensen his 100th head coaching win.
“I get asked all the time: Is Plymouth-Warsaw a rivalry? It’s a healthy rivalry. I love Phil like a brother,” said Barron of his former Butler roommate. “I want Phil to win every ball game but tonight. The Warsaw community to me has been a great community. I think they do things right here. Their athletes are tremendous, and we respect them. It’s always a little anticlimactic for me. Our kids played well, and their kids played hard. Nobody got hurt, and it was a good, clean game.”
While Plymouth moves to 3-0 with a 1-0 NLC start, Warsaw slides to 1-2 and 0-1 in the NLC. The Tigers get another chance to help their coach reach the career century mark for head coaching wins when they travel to Elkhart Memorial (0-3, 0-2 NLC) next week.
“It’s how you respond. It’s easy to be a frontrunner; it’s easy to be a leader when things are good. Now we’re licking our wounds a little bit. Not the way we wanted to start, so how do we go from there? What do we do tomorrow when we show up? What do we do Monday?” Jensen said.
“I’m proud of them, and we’ll just keep getting better.”