WARSAW — It’s been a good start for Warsaw football, the best in a decade as a matter of fact.
But the Tigers’ 2-0 start — the program’s best since 2008 — as exciting as it’s been, hasn’t come with any real stakes. That will change with the start of Northern Lakes Conference play this week at Plymouth. Bart Curtis and his staff aren’t making any major overhauls to the way Warsaw is approaching each week, but still, there are potential conference championship stakes on the line from here on out.
“The first two games they didn’t hand you a trophy if you won, and it didn’t end your season if you lost. This is a week where every game here on out, every game in the conference is a trophy game,” said Curtis. “We’re not going to approach it — like I said — any different than last week. We want to practice well, prepare well, execute well. And we want to play with a great deal of passion. I think that’s what we did last week that we didn’t do the week before is play with a great deal of passion.”
The Tigers are coming off a 17-10 thriller in their home-opener last week. As with the team’s Week 1 win at Columbia City, the defense was able to bail the offense out when there were hiccups on that side of the ball. Warsaw’s offense has turned the ball over four times over two games this season, but the Tigers’ defensive unit has turned opponents over a combined 10 times in that same span and the team has benefitted from some of those short fields.
“First and foremost if you don’t have a quality defense you’re not going to compete in any contest,” explained Curtis.
“We’ve bent but haven’t broken, and it seems like when we need to make a big play our kids are making big plays on defense.”
And the offense is making strides, too.
East Noble out-gained Warsaw last week 267 offensive yards to 204, but Warsaw out-rushed their guests 190 yards to 154, including a big 52-yard touchdown run by quarterback Josh West that pushed the Tigers out to a 17-7 advantage with a little over 4:30 left on the game clock, essentially sealing the deal. Curtis was happy with what he described as West taking ownership of the offense, and he’s seeing his team’s O unit make other strides alongside its quarterback.
“For the first time this season he checked us out of a bad play and into a good play. Although we were able to utilize some of his skills — obviously the long touchdown run that put us up two scores was big. That was a big play for us and for him personally,” said Curtis of West’s TD run.
“In some regards I’m not concerned really about offense and defense or picking games as much as I am about how we practice, how we approach things, how the program is being built from the ground up. Those are my biggest concerns more so than any particular phase of the game. Obviously you want to score points. It helps you win, but there’s a lot of confusion that’s involved with what we do, and I feel like we’re getting a little better at it.”
Plymouth (1-1) represents a perennial challenge for Warsaw, and the Tigers are likely going to need to execute a little more cleanly than they did last week. Last year, the Rockies put a 42-7 shellacking on their neighbors to the east; in fact, Warsaw hasn’t earned a win in the series since 2013.
But Curtis’ kids are playing hard, and the results are showing on the field. They’ll need to continue to summon that same energy as they open NLC play with the Rockies on the road this week.
“Their coaching staff does a tremendous job utilizing their speed, getting them the ball in the right ways, keeping you on your heels, and defensively they’ve only allowed 16 points the first game and 19 the second game. So they’re a team that is solid all the way around. Coach (John) Barron is a longtime friend of mine. I respect him and the way he runs his program,” Curtis said.
“We’re going to have to match their intensity, we’re going to have to match their physicality, and we’re going to have to play really well to be in it.”
Kick-off is scheduled for 7 p.m.
NORTHWOOD (2-0) VS CONCORD (1-1)
Like Warsaw, NorthWood is unbeaten through the first two weeks of 2018, and, also like the Tigers, the Panthers are putting it on the line with an NLC-opener this week as Concord comes to Nappanee for NorthWood’s home-opener.
The Panthers have outscored their opponents by a combined 97-0 margin in the past two weeks, including last week’s absolute passing of Fairfield by a 71-0 final. That’s got the team feeling confidence, but they’re also not taking anything likely, says coach Nate Andrews.
“I think that the team handled their business last week in a professional manner. The coaching staff did a great job through the week and it carried over by their actions in game,” he said. “I think that the kids are confident but respect all opponents.”
NorthWood stacked up a whopping 378 rushing yards at Fairfield last week, including 114 by Bronson Yoder on just four carries. Nate Newcomer rushed for a pair of TDs, and Ben Mestach, Cooper Wiens and Alex Walker also recorded scoring runs in a versatile run game by the Panthers. Still, Andrews wasn’t totally satisfied.
“The offense needs to clean some things up going into NLC play. I know that it seems silly after a performance like that, but the special teams and defense put them in great position,” he explained.
NorthWood’s defense has been arguably even better than its offense so far, surrendering only 168 total offensive yards to Jimtown in Week 1, then containing Fairfield to just 108 yards last week, including minus-3 on the ground.
“The defense is playing hard, not afraid to make a mistake, which is something that we continue to work on as a staff. We will need to shore up some assignments as we strive to play our best ball,” said Andrews.
The Panthers’ speed on defense should be an asset this week as they attempt to match the Minutemen’s speed on the edges. Up front, Concord is big, and NorthWood will need to be stout there too.
“Concord is big up front with plenty of speed on the perimeter. We will need to dictate the pace of the game, make a few plays in the kicking game and play mentally tough while responding positively to sudden change,” said Andrews.
Kick-off is at 7 p.m.
WAWASEE (0-2) VS NORTHRIDGE (1-1)
Wawasee will have its work cut out for it as it plays host to defending Northern Lakes Conference champ Northridge Friday.
The Warriors need something to break their way this week after tough losses to Lakeland and West Noble over Weeks 1 and 2. They’ve scored just twice in that span and have struggled to convert extra opportunities into points — last week Wawasee’s defense created five turnovers, but none of them resulted in points. On the bright side, quarterback Evan Eshbach did throw for 231 yards against West Noble, but the Warriors will need to finish those drives against the Raiders, although they aren’t lighting up the scoreboard either with just three touchdowns this year, all scored in a 21-12 win over Adams in Week 1.
Defensively, Wawasee will need to contend with a three-back attack led by senior Tug Modglin as well as senior quarterback Julius Graber and junior Caid Lacey under the direction of former Warriors coach Tom Wogomon.
Start time is 7 p.m.
TRITON (1-1, 0-1 HNAC) AT CASTON (0-2, 0-1 HNAC)
Triton entered last week’s Hoosier North Athletic Conference-opener with LaVille in hopes of reprising a disappointing sectional championship loss to the Lancers last year. Unfortunately, the Trojan offense wasn’t able to get much going, and instead they suffered a tough, 19-0 loss at home in Bourbon.
While the team may be 0-1 in the HNAC and the loss was a difficult one, Triton still has plenty to play for, and the Trojans are putting it in the rearview this week.
“We are on to the next game, and we are focusing on what we can control. And right now, that means us working on us,” said coach Ron Brown.
Most surprising last week was the Trojans’ offensive performance. Triton finished with just 93 total offensive yards after putting up 303 in a win over South Central in Week 1. The Trojans will have to rediscover some of their swagger on that side of the ball this week, and on paper, Caston looks like a good opportunity to do so, having given up a combined 128 points to its first two opponents.
“We learned that LaVille has a very good defense, and we are going to be working the rest of the season to improve our scheme,” said Brown.
“Their effort on that Friday night was greater than ours, and we are working to bring enthusiasm back this week to rally to plays.”
Start time is at 7 p.m.
TIPPECANOE VALLEY (0-2) VS NORTH MIAMI (0-2)
Tippecanoe Valley and North Miami both enter Friday’s contest in Akron still searching for a first win of the season.
The Vikings trailed a talented Culver Military Academy team just 7-0 after the first quarter last week but gave up 30 points in the second quarter on the way to a lopsided 51-0 loss. Turnovers cost Valley a second straight week — they coughed the ball up twice on three fumbles and have surrendered a total of six turnovers over the first two weeks — and they’re focused on ball security. Coach Steve Moriarty also thinks the Vikings’ ability to move the ball through the air will go a long way towards helping his team’s run game, which has amassed just 160 rushing yards so far.
“The turnover bug got us again. We need to protect the ball better than we did the first two games,” he explained.
“The offense is coming along. We just need to make sure that we can have positive plays in on first downs. We also need to improve on our passing game to loosen the defense up a bit. But I think we have a good line, and we can move the ball.”
North Miami was knocking on the door in last week’s 28-20 loss to Central Noble, a game in which the Warriors battled back from a 28-7 deficit in the second half, so presumably there’s some positive momentum to build off of there. The key for the Vikings in containing their Three Rivers Conference South Division foes this week will be in limiting quarterback Tristan Working, who is a dual threat through the air and on the ground.
“I think we match up well with North Miami,” Moriarty said. “they have a very talented quarterback and wide receiver. To win the game we are going to have to contain those two. But if we come out and control the line of scrimmage and play good defense in the secondary, we should be OK.”
Kick-off is slated for 7 p.m.