NAPPANEE – Long after the final horn of the 14-13 NorthWood win over Warsaw Friday night in a classic football game, Warsaw head coach Bart Curtis sat by himself on a curb behind NorthWood High School. Likely pondering a series of ‘what if’s’, the ultra-competitive ball coach decided on what can only be dubbed a ‘gutsy call’.
Deciding to pull nationally-regarded junior kicker Harrison Mevis and the kicking team off the field and go for two after pulling within one point with 1:40 to go, Curtis was going for the upset.
The try was stuffed nearly before it could get started, as Jaden Miller rushed quarterback Josh West before the play could materialize, making the tackle and preserving the one-point win.
“It was going to be a counter pass, the one where Josh has the option to run or dump it to the fullback,” Curtis stated. “They brought number seven unblocked off the edge and by the time the quarterback turned around, it was too late.”
Noted Miller, who tackled West for a loss on the play, “I had no idea what they were going to do. I was just worried about my job, and doing it for my brothers.”
Warsaw had the ball for most of the fourth quarter, embarking on a nearly 10-minute drive that had all the drama that a Game of the Week TV production should have. The TV-46 crew filmed West come off the field after getting drilled in the midsection on a second down, then have Blake Marsh keep the ball twice to gain the first down. West would return after the first down and find Wyatt Amiss for a 19-yard touchdown pass on fourth and six. The Tigers originally had a fourth and one, but had a false start penalty move them back.
The touchdown set up timeouts by both sidelines as Curtis waited until the last moment to go for two. NorthWood head coach Nate Andrews thought Curtis might go for it, but felt like the scenario presented itself.
“I was so confused why we weren’t lining into defense and I was so confused why they weren’t lining up in offense,” Andrews said. “I didn’t know if they were taking more time to think about what they wanted to do, if they knew they would take a timeout so they could go for two. My goodness, we knew it was going to happen. I kept saying it the whole drive.”
Warsaw’s domination of the fourth quarter really signified a tale of two halves. West added a one-yard keeper after busting off a 28-yard sneak late in the third quarter to finally get the Tigers on the board.
On the other hand, NorthWood looked poised to run away with the game in the first half. On its second possession, the Panthers called on workhorse Bronson Yoder time and again, and his Adrian Peterson-like shedding of tacklers had him break into Warsaw territory, then scamper in from seven yards. A reverse pass to Tanner Feenstra made it 8-0.
Yoder again found room to run and was brought down inside the Warsaw one, to which Miller finished off the drive with a nice read option run. The two-point try was no good, leaving the window open at 14-0.
“It was just an outside jet play and I saw Jason Borkholder get his block. I ran outside that and dove in,” Miller said of his eventual game-winning touchdown.
Miller made just three tackles on the night and gained just 22 total yards, but fit into a theme of Panthers being in the right place at the right time. Yoder also fit the description, batting away a fourth down pass just before the half and also falling on the onside kick after the successful two-point breakup. Nate Newcomer, who was the beneficiary of the added attention on Yoder, rushed 14 times for 39 yards and had a pair of conversions to keep drives alive, and also made eight total tackles on defense.
Yoder rushed 14 times for 112 yards, and had a remarkable punt return for a touchdown called back on a holding penalty. West led Warsaw with 106 rushing yards and completed four of five passes for 65 yards, 41 of them to Amiss.
The win moves NorthWood (8-0) into at least a share of the Northern Lakes Conference championship at 6-0. Its final test at Plymouth next Friday will decide the other half, the Rockies (6-2) sitting at 5-1 in the NLC with a chance to split with NorthWood with a win. Warsaw fell out of the NLC race with the loss, dropping to 4-2 in the NLC and 6-2 overall. Warsaw will host Concord in its regular season finale.
“This is the first time we’ve ever mentioned anything about being close, that’s just the way this group operates or we as a staff choose to operate,” Andrews said. “We just take one at a time, try to get better every day.”