SYRACUSE – Northridge football head coach Tom Wogomon stood on his old stomping grounds at Wawasee on Aug. 31 and made an interesting projection.
“If we lose No. 7 (Julius Graber), we’re in big trouble.”
Wogomon was proven wrong Friday night.
Fill-in quarterback Oliver Eveler, in just his fifth start at the position and first in the postseason, played admirably in Northridge’s 33-12 win at Wawasee in the Class 4-A Sectional 19 opener.
“(Eveler) really did a nice job throwing the ball,” said Wogomon, who coached Wawasee for six years before taking over Northridge in 2013, this year becoming the winningest coach in Raiders history. “One thing you can say about Oliver is he is not fast. I don’t know how athletic he is. He really does read what we want him to read. He really does a nice job with it. And the thing tonight that I loved is that he took the hand of the offense. It was his. You could even feel it on the sidelines. That’s his offense now. He really played well, I’m so proud of him.”
The reference at the time came in response to NorthWood do-it-all Bronson Yoder going down with an injury that night against Concord when Graber and Northridge were running all over Wawasee in week three. Graber would get injured two weeks later against Warsaw, and Eveler has been the quarterback ever since, ironically his first start came against NorthWood.
Friday night against the Warriors, after a slow start, Eveler and the Raider offense came alive to pull away.
After a scoreless and lackluster first quarter, Wawasee tried to spice the game up with a fake punt, but the Raiders snuffed it out and took over at midfield. It took two plays for the Raiders to open up the scoring, with Eveler coming up with a 36-yard touchdown run through the teeth of the Warrior defense.
The two teams would trade scores before the half, Wawasee getting three big plays from Dylan Hepler, his jet sweep going 12 yards to the corner of the endzone. Northridge then needed just 1:26 to answer, getting a 45-yard run from Caid Lacey on its first play, then Lacey taking two more totes to the house, the last for six yards, to give the Raiders the lead again.
A wild sequence saw Ridge get its third score. After the Raiders pushed the ball within the Wawasee two, a fumbled read option by Eveler had Wawasee recover the ball at the three. On the next play, Wawasee quarterback Even Eshbach fumbled and Ridge recovered just outside the goal line. A false start moved the ball back five yards, but still had Eveler drive the pile in from five yards for a 20-6 lead after the extra point was missed.
Wawasee’s sloppy play on offense continued, with a pair of mishandled snaps forcing a punt, and Northridge cashing in when Eveler ran the read perfectly, getting the defense to bite on the fake to Lacey and the quarterback taking it in himself from 15 yards for a 26-6 lead.
Eveler added a 34-yard touchdown pass to Aidan Berger late in the fourth. In all, Eveler was 9-13 passing for 131 yards and the score to Berger, and added 19 rushes for 104 yards and his three rushing scores. Lacey added 149 yards on 16 rushes, and in total, the Raiders hung 433 yards on the totem pole.
Wawasee’s struggles on offense, especially running the ball, were once again evident in its swan song. The Warriors were stymied toting the rock, shut down for negative-eight yards rushing on 28 attempts. Conversely, Northridge ran for 302 yards. Eshbach did throw for 224 yards, including a nice final drive that had Steven Hauntz catch two nice passes, his second a five-yard touchdown. Hepler ended with five catches for 120 yards and had 14 rushing yards on two carries.
“The first kid I grabbed when we shook hands was that kid,” Wogomon said of Eshbach. “He’s a good quarterback. He didn’t have a whole lot of time to throw, but when he does, he hooked up with Hepler, and he’s got some other receivers like (Hauntz). The wind, it just makes it harder to have consistency in the passing game. We just wanted to defend the run first, but we knew he wanted to throw it – I think he had 400 yards the other day – he’s just dangerous. Glad we don’t have to defend him again.”
Wawasee’s rushing troubles, combined with four bobbled snaps and two turnovers, saw its season end at 1-9 overall.
Northridge (5-5) will continue next week into the sectional semi-finals at Angola (10-0), a 27-7 winner at Culver Academy. On the top half of the bracket, NorthWood (10-0) blew out Plymouth, 40-7, while East Noble (9-1) got past DeKalb, 33-32. The Panthers will visit the Knights in the other semi-final.