MISHAWAKA – There was an air about football in Indiana this past week, the state abuzz about Purdue’s win over Ohio State and all of the things that followed, including #tylerstrong, and the feeling that the little guy could win. Much of the talk around the Warsaw hiring of Bart Curtis was whether he could produce a result much like what Purdue did, taking the program no one would expect to win and slay the dragon.
That Curtis statue won’t be going up at Fisher Field just yet as Penn rallied to defeat Warsaw, 16-7, Friday night in the Class 6-A football sectional.
Curtis, who holds four wins over Penn during his tenure at Mishawaka, including back-to-back sectional wins in 2009 and 2010, had optimism high in Tiger Town that Warsaw would break through. The program, which dates games back almost 100 years ago, has an o-fer on its sectional mantle. With Penn now in the Sectional 2 pod, the Tigers were going to have to deal with the Kingsmen eventually. And after a dump pass from Josh West landed in Luke Adamiec’s hands in stride, 68 yards later Warsaw was leading 7-3 with 10:13 to go in the first half.
It wasn’t quite Ross-Ade Stadium in the fourth quarter Saturday night, but Freed Field’s west bleachers mirrored that of the scarlet and gray, the worried air about them.That gloom furthered when three plays later George Ohlson fumbled and Trenton Sands picked up the ball, the Tigers in business at the Penn 35.
The drive stalled and Harrison Mevis would miss the 34-yard field goal just right, which proved a pivotal moment in the game.
“We didn’t get one in there, didn’t go up 10-3, which was a concern,” Curtis said. “We left points out there, but a lot of that goes to Penn. They got us into trouble when they brought backers into the ‘A’ gap. They gave us a look or two we haven’t seen. But they play so darn hard down hill. They’re really good defensively.
“We had it going a little bit, but we didn’t finish drives.”
The 7-3 Warsaw lead went into the half, but it was all Kingsmen in the second half.
Penn gave the ball to Ryan Whiteman, who powered his team down into Warsaw territory on the opening possession of the second half. Penn quarterback Ron Powlus, son of former Notre Dame star Ron Powlus, hit Penn Brock Boynton wide open in the corner of the end zone for a 21-yard score.
“Here’s what it was,” stated Curtis with a rise. “Number 15 (Powlus) has a pretty good arm and number 17 (Boynton) is a pretty darn good receiver and he got behind our kid a little bit. Great throw and great catch.”
After forcing a pair of Warsaw punts, Penn upped its lead when a reverse pass from Boynton to Nick Favilla got the Kingsmen to the Warsaw 11. Trenton Horvath would punch it in from eight yards out, and despite missing the extra point, Penn all of a sudden gained some breathing room at 16-7.
Penn would have to come up with two stops on fourth down to keep Warsaw down as time ran down in the fourth. The Kingsmen had Warsaw stopped on fourth and 14, but a roughing the passer call kept the drive alive. Again facing fourth and two from the Penn 25, Penn corner Johnny Ho blew up Warsaw’s sweep, forcing the turnover on downs.
Whiteman then ran out the clock, almost literally, by gaining a pair of first downs on third down calls, sending the Kingsmen (8-2) onto the sectional championship game next week against Valpo, a 55-7 winner over Chesterton.
Warsaw (7-3) still hasn’t found the magic in the postseason, specifically against Penn. Warsaw is 0-8 all-time against the Kingsmen in the postseason and 0-12 overall, losing at Penn last year 40-0 in the sectional championship. Penn is seeking its 25th sectional championship and sixth in a row, Valpo (8-2) is looking for its 11th sectional title and first since 2010.
For Curtis, who had Penn trailing for the ninth time in its 10 games, seeing the lead slip away was tough.
“Obviously, they came out and proved a point right on the first drive, taking it down and got some big yardage and the touchdown pass,” Curtis said. “They answered the bell to start the second half.”