By Mike Deak
WARSAW – In a game that saw 729 yards of offense, 72 points and no punts, it was a handful of defensive plays that made all the difference.
A pair of fourth down stops by Warsaw in key moments and an interception with the game on the line led the Tigers to a 40-32 win over Mishawaka Friday night.
The game was dripping with back stories heading into the night. Afterwards, all the talk became what no one thought would be at the forefront.
Mason Martz made two huge stops on Mishawaka, one somewhat anonymously in the first half in what was the only drive to not end with a touchdown, and the other in crunch time as Mishawaka was looking to take the lead late in the game.
Martz’s stuff of Justin Fisher on fourth down with 48 seconds left in the first half kept the Cavemen from building a bigger lead, sitting at 24-19. The Cavemen had scored on all three of its possessions – and two-point tries – prior to the stop.
Martz’s encore came on third down with Mishawaka driving and the Tigers holding a very tenuous 33-32 lead. Zach Ransbottom backed up Martz’s play with a huge tackle on fourth down to turn the ball back to the Tigers.
“We knew what they were going to do the whole time, but stopping them is something else,” offered Martz. “We finally did our jobs in the second half and started making good plays. On that fourth down, it was a safety blitz and the play just kind of came to me and I made the stop.”
Following the Cavemen turnover on downs in the fourth quarterf, Warsaw then plowed down the field, finishing off the drive with some insurance after Aaron Greene busted through the dogpile for one yard and the touchdown, putting the Tigers up 40-32 after the extra point sailed through.
Warsaw head coach Bart Curtis’ call for one more stop came when Caden Silveus picked off Fisher in what was the only physical turnover of the night for either side.
“What a nice night. I’ve got all the respect in the world for those guys,” said Curtis, who took the game ball with him off the Fisher Field turf Friday night. “They coach hard, their kids play hard. And every now and then, though, you’ve got to strike one up for the elderly.”
All of the buzz heading into the night was surrounding Curtis, who led the Cavemen from 2008-17, winning six sectional titles and doing the impossible – beating Penn not once, but four times including twice for sectional titles. The statue-worthy success in the Princess City was well documented, and toss in Mishawaka joining the Northern Lakes Conference for its first-ever game after being the charter member of the Northern Indiana Conference over nine decades of service, there was a lot going on.
All of the pageantry of the off-the-field stuff quickly ended when Mishawaka’s Davonn Parker took a misdirection handoff and sped 55 yards for a touchdown on the second play of the game.
Warsaw answered with a six-yard run from Patrick Zollinger for a score, but Mishawaka countered with a Fisher one-yard capper on its next drive. Juan Jaramillo then broke off a pair of big runs and finished off the Warsaw drive with a six-yard score to get Warsaw back within three at 16-13.
Mishawaka needed just over a minute to answer back, with Fisher sprinting 41 yards for a score and calling his number for the two-pointer.
On a fourth and four from the Mishawaka 38, Curtis called on Julius Jones, who got to the edge and raced to the end zone for six.
Warsaw caught a huge break on its first possession of the second half, having a fumble on fourth down waved off in lieu of a personal foul call on the Cavemen, which kept the drive alive for Greene to close out a one-yard touchdown dive.
Parker scored again, taking a slant 33 yards for a score, to which Warsaw again countered when Jaramillo ended another drive with a 17-yard score, giving Warsaw a 33-32 lead.
Jaramillo led the Tigers with 145 yards on the ground, Greene finishing with 82 and Jones with 71. Fisher had 127 rushing yards for the Cavemen, Parker had 93 total yards, Andrew Mason had 83 yards rushing and Milan Burris added 70 on the ground.
“We’ve got a lot of things to talk about after this one,” Curtis said. “I knew this wasn’t going to be easy, not at all. But we can walk out of here tonight feeling really good. Good win for the team, for the community. I’m just glad it’s over.”
Warsaw moves to 3-1 overall and 2-0 in the NLC, with a date at 3-0 Northridge next week. The Raiders haven’t allowed a point in three games this season. Mishawaka drops to 0-3 for the first time since 1993 and lose its inaugural NLC contest. Its game last week against Goshen was canceled due to COVID-19. The Cavemen will have another long drive next week when it visits the Rock Pile and the also-winless Plymouth Rockies.