By Mike Deak
NAPPANEE – Most football coaching staffs don’t have many backup plans for losing their starting quarterback. Very few, if any, can replace five voids on one play.
NorthWood was faced with that dilemma in the first quarter when Nate Newcomer was lost to an apparent concussion. The do-it-all senior for the Panthers wasn’t the reason Class 4-A No. 9 NorthWood fell short of Class 4-A No. 2 East Noble, 15-14, but it certainly put a lot of scrambling into motion on the NorthWood sidelines.
“Not only is (Newcomer) the quarterback, but he’s also our safety, he’s our punter, he’s our kicker and he’s our deep returner,” NorthWood head coach Nate Andrews said. “So, now what it does is it throws about five guys that aren’t ready to play into the game. Those guys that were thrown into the game, they did a great job.”
Newcomer was knocked out of bounds during the first drive of the game and didn’t get up for several minutes, and later was carted into the lockerroom. Kaden Lone, who took several varsity snaps last season as a freshman, filled in admirably and finished off NorthWood’s first drive. His keeper from five yards out, along with his sneak to the corner for the two-pointer, had the Panthers up 8-0.
The two-point try would come into play later in the game with Newcomer not available to kick.
Meanwhile, the defending state runner-up from Kendallville would make a big play to get itself back in the game. An errant pass from Lone on a fake punt try was picked off by Jake VanGorder and returned to the NorthWood 15. One play later, Dalton Stinson would find his huge wideout, 6-5 junior Rowan Zolman, for a 15-yard pitch and catch in the corner of the endzone for a score.
The two would connect for the two-pointer to tie the game.
Following a NorthWood punt, the Stinson to Zolman connection ended a quick drive that had Zolman race 23 yards for a touchdown just over a minute into the second quarter.
NorthWood would come back and score at the five-minute mark of the second quarter, Ethan Evers finishing off a five-yard scoring plunge. But without the service of a kicker, NorthWood had to go for two and fumbled a reverse attempt.
The Panthers had a golden opportunity to take the lead back in the third quarter after Kyle Sellers broke deep into Knights territory on a swing pass, then Evers plowed to the East Noble one. But a false start penalty on the next snap moved the ball back, and on a Tim Tebow-esque jump pass by Lone, Zolman stepped into the window and ended the scoring threat with an interception.
NorthWood again was in business with the ball midway through the fourth quarter, getting all the way down to the Knights 15. But facing fourth down and no kicker to line up a go-ahead field goal, the Panthers had to call a play. And waiting for a scrambling Lone was Bryce Charles, who sacked Lone and ended the drive.
Justin Marcellus would ice the game with four first down runs to allow the Knights to run out the clock and pull off its second win over a Northern Lakes Conference team after shutting out Plymouth, 35-0, in week one.
“I thought we played really well on defense,” Andrews said. “They won a couple jump balls down here to get their first score. And then the two-point conversion. Coach Wilson did an unbelievable job of dialing those guys in and deserves a lot of credit for it. Unfortunately, they found a weak spot on their side of the field on that drive, and we couldn’t get a stop.”
Lone led NorthWood with 91 yards on 26 carries. The Panthers ran for 196 yards in total in its season opener and Lone threw for another 68 yards, 43 of those to Sellers. Marcellus had 71 yards rushing and Zolman had five grabs for 66 yards.
NorthWood, which didn’t play in week one due to Elkhart County’s health restrictions, will enter NLC play next week in hosting Concord. East Noble will visit Huntington North.