By Mike Deak
WARSAW – Finally!
The burden of near misses, what-could-have-beens, and over 100 years of agony of the state tournament finally were dashed as Warsaw won its first-ever sectional title in football in November.
It solidified the proposal of a statue of head coach Bart Curtis for at least two schools, Curtis also being the architect of Mishawaka dethroning Penn twice to end decades of frustration in 2009. Now, for at least one year, Warsaw can celebrate a football championship and a trophy that has likely seen Stanley Cup levels of adulation.
In the long and storied history of Warsaw athletics which pre-dates two World Wars and 18 presidents, 335 Tiger and Lady Tiger teams have won a sectional title, the 2019 football team adding its first in what was likely the most anticipated championship the school has had since boys basketball made a run to semi-state with the M&M Boys (Kyle Mangas and Paul Marandet) back in 2016.
Warsaw found itself working through a wild first month, where Harrison Mevis’ 51-yard field goal in the fourth quarter allowed Warsaw to escape at Michigan City, but only to lose a week later to Plymouth. The Tigers also needed every one of Juan Jaramillo’s 249 rushing yards a week later to hold off Elkhart Memorial in a shootout.
The win at Memorial would start a five-game win streak for the Tigers, where for the four games after the Memorial win the team would average a 38-14 margin in wins over Northridge, Goshen, Wawasee and NorthWood. That would set up Warsaw playing for a slice of the Northern Lakes Conference title in a visit to Concord.
After a shocking Concord start to the game, blowing out to a 34-7 lead at the half, Warsaw made a game of it to pull within six at 34-28 and had the ball in the fourth quarter with a chance to take the lead. But the Minutemen held on a fourth down try and gave itself a share of the NLC title with Plymouth.
“Disappointing week after the Concord defeat,” said Warsaw head coach Bart Curtis. “Losing our opportunity to be NLC champs, obviously, we did not deserve to share the title or we would have taken care of business in game three versus Plymouth and game nine versus Concord. All due respect to both those programs, John Barron and Craig Koehler do great things at their respective schools.”
The loss did not deter Warsaw, though, as it would travel to Chesterton for its sectional contest and come away with a 35-28 win, setting up a home championship game against bitter rival Penn.
While Warsaw has been open for over 100 years, the state tournament has seen Warsaw play in sectional tournaments since 1985. In that time, Penn had played and beaten Warsaw in all eight tournament meetings. And after Penn had knocked out Warsaw from the past two sectionals, the Tigers felt like it was their year.
And it was.
Warsaw, however, found itself trailing 18-12 in the third quarter as the Kingsmen were putting maximum pressure on the hosts. But that all changed when Jaramillo rattled off a 77-yard touchdown run and Blake Marsh added another score to put Warsaw up 10. As the clock would ceremoniously hit triple zeroes, you could hear Roger Grossman’s voice from miles away echoing thousands of alumni’s wails and cheers of joy. Somewhere The Rev, Roy Blake, was smiling. The team had finally done it.
Warsaw beats Penn, 35-18. Sectional champs!
“Following the game it was difficult to get the field cleared from happy and celebrating fans,” recalled Curtis. “Lot of tears from people I had never met, yet were invested for years in Tiger football. We enjoyed the win for 24 hours and started prep for regional football the next morning.”
The historical season would end a week later at Merrillville, 42-28, as the Pirates took advantage of Warsaw turnovers and turned a 21-7 deficit into a 28-21 halftime lead it wouldn’t relinquish.
The Tigers would end its campaign 9-3 and found itself consistently among the Class 6-A rankings.
Jaramillo would lead the Tigers in rushing with 1,567 yards and 18 touchdowns and Wyatt Amiss combined for over 1,300 yards of rushing and passing yards and 17 total touchdowns. Warsaw as a team rushed for a team-record 3,801 yards and averaged 365 yards per game.