By Mike Deak
SYRACUSE – NorthWood head coach Nate Andrews was a little concerned and a little more curious as to how his team would perform Friday night.
The Panthers showed the rust of a team that has had a lot of time off this season.
NorthWood, entering the night having had two bye weeks already in just week five of the high school football season, showed it’s a very talented team but needs to generate some rhythm despite shutting out Wawasee 39-0 Friday night at Warrior Field.
After missing the first week of the season to Elkhart County CDC rulings, then Goshen dropping out of last week’s game for COVID reasons, NorthWood played just its third game of the year. Wawasee has played all five weeks.
“This wasn’t very organized at all tonight, very sloppy at times,” Andrews said. “Last week, we tried to work on ourselves hoping we would get a game. That didn’t come to fruition. We were mentally ready to play tonight, we were mentally tough, but we didn’t execute very well. A lot of stuff we need to improve on.”
NorthWood’s defense was very stout, holding Wawasee to minus-nine yards rushing and creating five turnovers on the night. All three of the interceptions led to touchdowns.
After Tanner Feenstra picked off a Parker Young pass, Kaden Lone took a handoff and raced 47 yards to paydirt. Lone then found himself an interception, which kickstarted a 54-yard scoring drive that ended with a Nate Newcomer touchdown run to the corner.
NorthWood’s defensive line pressure flushed Young out of the pocket on the next series, which resulted in Ben Fattorusso jumping the route and getting the third pick of the half for the Panthers.
On the first play for the Panthers, Newcomer winged a pass to the end zone, which Wawasee’s Lucas Ringler tipped in the air but down to Parker Filley for a diving touchdown. At that point, it was 27-0 Panthers and all but academic.
“I challenged them at halftime, you’ve got to show some Warrior grit,” said Wawasee head coach Jon Reutebuch. “Who cares what the scoreboard says. You’ve got to come out in the second half and play with some pride. I felt like kids did that.”
Lone’s only other rush of the game had the sophomore weave 22 yards for another touchdown and Wes Yoder capped the Panther scoring with a seven-yard touchdown catch in the fourth.
As much as the Panthers stole most of the highlights, it missed three extra points, a two-point conversion and had a handful of penalties at inopportune times.
“We knew Wawasee had some weapons, especially in the passing game,” offered Andrews. “And they showed it, notably in the second half. I thought our defense did a good job getting to the ball, we knocked some balls down. I thought we tackled well. Our defense played well to the final whistle, keeping them out of the end zone, especially our young guys getting that shut out.”
Newcomer led the Panthers (2-1, 2-0 NLC) with 113 yards rushing and 69 yards passing and accounting for 21 of the 39 points. NorthWood as a team rushed 25 times for 283 yards.
Wawasee, on the other hand, had just 124 yards of total offense. Young was 20-31 passing for 133 yards, and did have what looked to be a touchdown pass in the fourth. But as Ringler hauled in a bomb inside the NorthWood five and turned to the endzone, but ball popped out. In the scrum on the gold turf, NorthWood claimed the fumble to thwart Wawasee’s drive.
The Panthers also held Wawasee (2-3, 0-3 NLC) on downs inside the Panther 10 to put a lid on the shutout as time was near expiration.
“We have to get back to the drawing board and get better with what we are doing,” Reutebuch said. “They didn’t surprise us with anything, we knew exactly what they were going to do. It was just our one-on-one battles. We have to win those. We have to make plays.”