ANGOLA – The rallying cry on the sidelines at Angola Friday night was “we’re a second half team”. They weren’t kidding.
Coming up with big play after big play, the Hornets outplayed NorthWood in the second half to claim the Class 4-A No. 19 title, 27-26, in a stunning conclusion to the Panthers’ season.
“We’ve been doing that all season, it doesn’t surprise me we won that way,” said Angola head coach Andy Thomas. “These kids just dug down deep and made some big plays in the second half.”
In what was shaping up to be an offensive shootout in the first half, the second 24 minutes turned into quite a defensive tussle, especially for the Hornets. NorthWood took an 18-15 lead into the locker room, and were running on all cylinders behind Bronson Yoder’s 35-yard touchdown run along with a 95-yard kickoff return for a score. Jaden Miller added a 61-yard touchdown run of his own, at the time giving NorthWood an 18-8 lead.
Angola would counter with a Luke Honer one-yard burst for a score and a nice pitch and catch from Jarrett Gibson to Joel McCurdy for 15 yards to keep the Hornets around.
The Panthers looked like it was on its way to pulling on its first possession of the second half. Angola fumbled a snap on third down inside the NorthWood 20 and had to settle for a field goal try. The kick was missed, giving NorthWood the ball at the 20. One play, one touchdown as Yoder went around end, made two Hornets miss and rumbled 80 yards. At 26-15 it seemed like NorthWood had the cushion it needed.
That’s where the rallying cries started for the purple and gold.
Angola came right back and had Gibson hit Antonio Luevanos for a 45-yard touchdown pass, but missed the two-point try to leave the score at 26-21.
Yoder again busted off another huge run, but was called back on a holding call, which negated possession inside Angola’s 10. The Panthers later had to punt, which became the point where Angola started to dig in defensively.
On the ensuing possession, the Hornets marched down the field, and had Honer carry it in from five yards for a 27-26 lead after missing the two-point try again.
“They just made a couple plays,” Andrews said of Angola. “They made more plays than we did. We turned the ball over a few times.”
Depending on the slant of fandom, Angola either held NorthWood stone cold on two fourth down attempts. Or NorthWood failed to convert a pair of golden opportunities. Or the Panthers decided not to kick a field goal in either occasion because it has one of the best players in the state.
“Six points is worth more than three points,” was one way NorthWood head coach Nate Andrews validated both calls.
NorthWood had fourth and two from the Angola three to open the fourth, but Yoder was stuffed behind the line of scrimmage on fourth down.
On its next possession with 2:46 left in the game, the Panthers had fourth and one at the Angola 17, but again, Yoder couldn’t get out of his backfield as Honer shot the gap and made a nice stop to force the turnover on downs.
NorthWood would get the ball back with 20.2 seconds left, but had two passes go awry, and its final heave to Yoder was intercepted by Ryan Brandt, sending Angola to the regional for the second year in a row.
“I think we use every moment as a teachable moment like this or small ones,” offered Andrews, whose team came into the night ranked No. 1 and finishes its season 11-1. “That’s why we play this great game, that’s why we coach it. I wish we would have made some better calls. I wish I would have done a better job. The kids absolutely played their hearts out.”
No. 5 Angola (12-0) moves onto the regional for another rematch at No. 6 Fort Wayne Dwenger (11-1), which rallied to beat Fort Wayne Wayne 14-13. Dwenger knocked Angola out of the regional last year, 34-0.