By Nick Goralczyk
PLYMOUTH – The moon hung low, glowing orange, just above the horizon late Friday evening. Maybe it was the light passing through the atmosphere that created the noticeable orange hue or maybe it was just Mother Nature’s way of showing her Tiger pride. Either way, it acted as a colorful beacon guiding the Warsaw football team home following a satisfying 28-14 victory over rival Plymouth.
It had been six years since the Tigers enjoyed a win over the Rockies, seven since walking out of The Rock Pile with a victory. On Friday evening Warsaw left very little up to chance and established itself as the more well-rounded team on the opening drive.
Julius Jones fired up the visiting sideline with the opening kick return as he set the Tigers up on their own 47-yard line. From there Warsaw engineered a 10-play drive that ate up nearly the first five minutes of the game. Aaron Greene capped the drive with a sneak across the goal line to make it 7-0 in favor of the Tigers.
Warsaw was able to convert twice on third down during the scoring drive, setting a tone for the remainder of the game. The Tigers would convert 11 third downs and two fourth downs in the contest. Those 13 conversion helped extend drives and keep Plymouth off the field.
“It’s huge,” Warsaw head coach Bart Curtis stated when asked about his team’s third down success. “We have to get in the right play, we have to make the right reads and tonight we were able to do that.”
Curtis’ squad racked up 304 rushing yards against the Rockies despite a banged-up unit in the trenches.
“I thought the O-line played really well,” remarked Curtis. “They’re down some guys. On the second series tonight we lost our center, Izak Leach. He’ll be back, but these guys are bare bones right now.”
Warsaw was able to spark another score before the half after converting a third-and-long with a perfectly executed wheel route pass from Greene to Mason Martz. Martz was able to pick up 26 yards on the play, down to Plymouth’s two-yard line. Colton Wampler put Warsaw up 14-0 with a scoring run on the next play.
Plymouth refused to roll over too easily before the break. The Rockies strung together a six-play drive and scored on a Hail Mary pass from Zach Masterson to Michael Sheely with one second left in the half. The Tigers took a 14-7 lead into the locker room.
Despite Plymouth’s impressive drive to end the half, the Rockies struggled to get any momentum going on the offensive side of the ball thanks to a strong effort from Warsaw’s defense.
On Plymouth’s eight drives the Rockies found pay dirt just twice while the Tigers forced four punts and two interceptions on the other six possessions.
“The defense played with some energy,” Curtis explained. “They got after people. Our tackling needs to improve a little bit but I thought we were flying around the ball having a good time.”
Caden Silveus earned Warsaw’s first turnover of the night with an interception on Plymouth’s second drive. Russ Winchester intercepted Masterson to stop a Plymouth scoring threat in the third quarter.
Winchester’s interception set up what was arguable Warsaw’s most impressive drive of the night. The Tigers took over possession with 3:22 remaining in the third quarter, leading 14-7. Warsaw would not give the ball back to Plymouth until the 6:57 mark in the fourth quarter. Greene led the Tigers on a 15-play, 80-yard drive and capped it off with his second rushing score of the evening. Warsaw converted four third down attempts on the drive. Greene finished the night with 51 yards on the ground and 26 yards through the air.
The Tigers extended their lead to 28-7 with just over four minutes to play as Wampler tallied his second score of the night on a nine-yard rumble. Wampler led all players with 126 rushing yards.
Plymouth scored in the closing seconds of the game on a screen pass from Masterson to Jake Reichard to give the game its 28-14 final score. Masterson threw for 157 yards on 32 attempts. Plymouth was held to just 15 rushing yards on 10 attempts.
Warsaw (2-1, 1-0 NLC) will host Mishawaka (0-2) next week. Plymouth (0-3, 0-1 NLC) will look to avoid the program’s first 0-4 start since 1934 when it travels to Northridge (2-0, 1-0 NLC).