SYRACUSE – A fine defensive effort from Wawasee saw the Warriors make a pair of clutch stops late to hold off Elkhart Memorial, 7-6, Friday night at Warrior Field.
A scoreless ballgame with 5:41 to go had Wawasee finally break the tie with a 29-yard touchdown pass from Aaron Evans to a wide open Jacob Hand. Wawasee got in the position to make the score a few plays earlier when punter Brayden Johnson pinned Memorial inside its own one on a booming punt. Hand then picked off a Tyler Lehner pass and returned it to Memorial’s 24. To that point, the touchdown was the longest play of the game.
Wawasee’s lead was challenged immediately, and almost like clockwork. Given both teams struggled all night to get much momentum, Memorial stole Wawasee’s on a third-and-two play when Mark Brownlee found a seam in Wawasee’s defense and whistled 78 yards for a score.
The key to the game was written in the details of the next play, where Memorial was forced to go for two by way of not having a reliable placekicker. The two-point try had Brownlee race to the edge, only to be met by a swarm of Wawasee defenders, keeping Memorial from taking the lead.
“Our defense has faced a lot of very good offenses of late, and they have seen their fair share of adversity,” said Wawasee head coach Mike Eshbach. “We felt like we had a good scheme going into tonight. We put guys in good position. Ultimately, those guys have to make plays. We got to their quarterback a couple times when we needed to, and I felt like that was just as important as stopping runs. You keep getting whacked and you’ll start to press some throws and I felt like the interception was one of those.”
While the game was absent of scoring, Memorial actually had several chances to at least put itself in position to score. The Chargers went for it on fourth down six different times, but the big one was fourth and goal at the four in the third quarter, to which Wawasee tipped a pass incomplete to thwart a drive. Memorial also had fourth and goal at the Wawasee five in the first quarter but again threw an incomplete pass.
Counting the failed fourth down tries by Elkhart, the two teams combined for nine turnovers.
“For us, the hard part was sustaining drives,” Eshbach said. “We still aren’t where we want or need to be. But you don’t complicate winning and we made a play when we had to. At the end of the day, you ask the kids to make plays when they have to. That’s what was important for us.”
Elisha Tipping led the Warrior defense with nine tackles and two for loss in Memorial’s dive running scheme. Hand made eight stops and Alec Rosbrugh had six tackles, and on the other side of the ball, led Wawasee with 18 carries for 82 yards.
Offense was at a premium, with Wawasee accumulating just 122 yards total while Memorial used Brownlee’s long run to pad its 270 total yards.
The win on senior night for the Warriors brings them out of the Northern Lakes Conference basement at 1-5 and 2-6 overall. Memorial drops to 0-6 with Northridge left next week, the Raiders 6-0 after clinching at least a share of the NLC title with a 28-21 won over Concord. Wawasee sits in a tie with Goshen, and the two will decide who is sixth and who is seventh next week at Foreman Field.
“We’ve told our kids to hang tough, fight, fight, fight, and they’ve done that,” Eshbach said. “Whether the scoreboard is indicative of that is something else. Our kids have never quit and have fought and fought. We just have to put things together and want to play better at the end of the year.”