DUNLAP – Football is a game of inches. That certainly was the case Friday night at The Jake.
Warsaw’s furious rally came up an inch short as Concord held on for a 34-28 Northern Lakes Conference win.
The Tigers, which were all but dead and buried at the half, trailing 34-7, completely flipped the script and not only had Concord in its heels, but had the ball with a chance at the win. After surviving a 70-yard screen play to Carter Neveraski that was called back on a holding penalty, Warsaw forced Concord to punt with just over three minutes left.
Warsaw had 69 yards to get to pull off one of the craziest comebacks of the season, and were facing fourth and three on their own 38. Juan Jaramillo got the call and drove up the gut, but the nose of the football was about an inch short of the stick on the measurement, turning the ball over on downs and sending a weary Concord defense to celebrate their share of the NLC title.
Concord earned the NLC split with Plymouth after the Rockies were beaten at NorthWood, 40-20, both teams finishing 6-1 on the campaign.
“When a game is going like that and you get a lead, you are just hanging on,” stated Concord head coach Craig Koehler. “I don’t know if we did anything to get them focused, but it worked. But I will tell you, we are going to celebrate in that locker room tonight.”
A tale of two halves doesn’t even begin to explain how the contest at The Jake went. Concord scored on all six of its possessions in the first half, scoring 17 points in each quarter. Logan Wittmer and Jack D’Arcy each had touchdown catches, Jamyris Rice and Neveraski each scored rushing touchdowns, and Ariel DeLaPaz added field goals of 31 and 44 yards as Concord may have stunned the entire NLC with the halftime score.
But whatever Warsaw head coach Bart Curtis and his staff said to the Tigers at halftime woke the visitors.
Warsaw scored on its first three possessions of the second half. A Keagan Larsh dash for 33 yards put the ball at the one, which Wyatt Amiss punched in for a score. After Warsaw recovered a Concord fumble, Mason Martz slipped behind Concord’s defense for a 57-yard touchdown catch. All of a sudden, the score was sitting at 34-21.
Warsaw forced Concord into a punt, which DeLaPaz pinned at the one. Warsaw, however, went on a seven-minute, 99-yard drive. The ground and pound Warsaw offense ran over 20 straight plays, capped by Jaramillo’s one-yard touchdown. At 34-28, all bets were off as the Tigers put itself in play for its shot at the NLC title, one it hasn’t held since 2001.
“We had the football with a chance to win it late,” said Warsaw head coach Bart Curtis. “We gave ourselves a shot late, it didn’t work out for us. Disappointing for the kids, particularly because they have worked so hard.”
The night was also full of some what-ifs as well. Warsaw had a Mason Martz kickoff return for a touchdown wiped off by a holding call. Neveraski’s screen play late in the fourth would have ended any drama if not for the holding call. Blake Marsh was also stuffed on fourth down near midfield late in the second quarter that resulted in Concord going down the field and finding D’Arcy for the late touchdown, which gave them the eventual winning score.
“I had a good idea, yeah, we were talking at halftime that NorthWood was kinda taking over, taking control of their game,” admitted Neveraski. “As the captain, that’s great what they are taking care of, but we have to take care of what’s in front of us right now or else none of that matters.”
Warsaw finishes the NLC slate 5-2 and tied with NorthWood for third place.
Warsaw and Concord combined for over 725 yards of offense in the game (366-360). Amiss had 95 yards rushing and 85 yards passing while Jaramillo rushed 17 times for 82 yards and had two catches for 26 yards. Jaramillo also rushed for Warsaw’s only score of the first half. Neveraski had 167 total yards and Wittmer added six catches for 66 yards.
“Concord hit us in the mouth and had their way with us and the first half we gave little to no resistance in any facet of the game,” Curtis said. “There are no 27-point plays. That’s what we told our kids. You have to understand if you are going to rally, you chip away, hope for a break. The defense has to get a stop or two and they did. They shut them out in the second half.”
Warsaw (7-2) will visit Chesterton (6-3) in two weeks to begin sectional play in the Class 6-A tournament. Concord (8-1) will play the winner of Elkhart Central (7-2) and South Bend Adams (0-9) in two weeks.