WARSAW — The Tigers were feeling no pain after four quarters of physical football in frigid, soggy conditions at Fisher Field Friday night.
Warsaw made big play after big play while racking up four scores in the second half, turning a tight, 7-7 ballgame into a 35-14 blowout of Class 4A, No. 7-ranked NorthWood on senior night.
“Credit to NorthWood. Their kids are fighters, man, and they get after you. Our kids did the same thing. What more can you ask for? Two physical teams getting after it,” said Warsaw coach Bart Curtis.
“It was a fun night. I’m proud of our seniors. Proud that we could send them out on senior night with this type of game.”
With the game knotted at 7, Warsaw used up more than six minutes of game clock with an 11-play, 93-yard drive capped off by Juan Jaramillo’s 3-yard touchdown plunge to take a 14-7 lead with Harrison Mevis’ point-after kick at the 5:56 stop of the clock. The Tigers held NorthWood to three and out on the ensuing Panther possession, and Blake Marsh broke free for a 51-yard scoring ramble that pushed the home team out to a 21-7 advantage with 3:58 remaining in the frame.
“That was huge, I think — the long, sustained drive at the beginning of the second half. They play a lot of kids on both sides of the ball. We are playing some, but that’s hard,” explained Curtis.
“That was huge coming out in a 7-7 game after missing a field goal and taking it the distance and punching one in.”
Suddenly facing a two-touchdown deficit, Nate Andrews and the Panthers reached into their bag of tricks with a double pass play at the start of the fourth quarter, Nate Newcomer lateraling the ball to Jaden Miller, who threw a deep pass downfield, but Gage Lyon came down with an interception to give Warsaw back the ball. Marsh ran it in from 51 yards out on a lateral from Amiss to give the Tigers even more breathing room at the 9:25 stop of the clock. Still not satisfied, Warsaw attempted its second onside kick of the night, this time successfully recovering the ball at the Wood 38-yardline. Four plays later, Amiss took it to the house from 3 yards out for the backbreaker with 6:20 on the clock.
NorthWood brought the score to its eventual final margin with an 80-yard scoring drive culminating in Newcomer’s 19-yard keeper into the end zone with 3:16 on the clock, but the Panthers’ ensuing onside kick attempt failed and the Tigers wound down the clock for their fifth straight win.
Amiss finished with 140 rushing yards and a score on his birthday, and Marsh went off for 164 yards and three touchdowns in his return from injury.
“He could’ve probably played last week and we didn’t play him, but he’s a bullet and he’s a playmaker. It was good to have him back,” said Curtis.
“We kind of felt like he might have a big night, and he did.”
“(His speed) didn’t surprise us at all. He hasn’t obviously played as much for different reasons, and they were able to use him tonight and it made them a much better team,” said Andrews of Marsh.
Warsaw’s defense held a usually-prolific Panther offense — one that came into Friday night’s Northern Lakes Conference contest with a 35.1 points-per-game average — to 291 yards and just two touchdowns in an inspired performance. Newcomer finished with 126 rushing yards and a touchdown, and Ben Mestach rolled up 111 yards on just four plays, his longest a 56-yard carry that gave NorthWood an initial, 7-0 lead at the 10:11 mark of the opening stanza.
“We had kids making plays. They are a great offense. They’ve been averaging 35, 38 points a game, and it was nice to hold somebody under their average. I thought our kids rose up and played all phases of the game as well as we’ve played this year,” Curtis said.
The Panthers were also severely hampered by penalties on the road with 13 penalties worth 119 yards — many of those coming at the most inopportune times.
“More than a couple silly penalties. It wasn’t supposed to be tonight,” said Andrews.
“It’s a shame because the kids work really, really hard and block really, really well.”
NorthWood dips to 5-3 overall and out of the NLC race at 4-2 behind 5-1 Warsaw and Concord and 6-0 Plymouth. The Panthers could play NLC spoiler to the Rockies when they host Plymouth in the regular season-closer in Nappanee next Friday night.
“We won’t think about that. We’ll think about improving, licking our wounds after this one and hopefully coming back stronger,” said Andrews.
Warsaw improves to 7-1 overall and stays in the NLC hunt — although the Tigers would need some help from NorthWood next week — with a big road game at Concord next Friday.
“It’s a big game. Credit to NorthWood — they’re a fine team, well-coached, play hard. They get after it,” Curtis said. “It was a great, hard-fought, physical football game. We were fortunate to come out on top.”