By Nick Goralczyk
WARSAW — The average cost for a gallon of gasoline was $1.31. George W. Bush was in the White House. Steve Jobs was still 11 days away from introducing the world to the iPod. Alicia Keys’ “Fallin’” was in its 18th week on top of the Billboard charts.
It was October 12, 2001 and the Warsaw Tigers football team had just clinched a Northern Lakes Conference title. Friday night, Tiger faithful were able to celebrate a share of another NLC title, its first in 19 years, following a 35-17 over Concord at Fisher Field.
“I’m so proud of these kids, they’ve been through so much. It has been a strange season,” expressed Warsaw head coach Bart Curtis.
Curtis, who often describes himself as pessimistic, was living in the moment following his team’s win. And why not? With all of the stress of COVID-19 this year added to the distractions and hurdles of a normal season, taking a share of a conference title is no small feat for any team. That accomplishment just gets a little more praise when the title drought pushes close to two decades.
“Its just ideal for them to win the conference championship, something that hasn’t been done since Ronald Reagan was president. I mean, it seems like it, you know?” added Curtis with a laugh. “To put it into perspective, our offensive coordinator (Michael Curtis) was nine. One kid on this team had been born, that was Juan (Jaramillo), Everybody else probably hadn’t been thought of yet.”
While Jaramillo surely does not recall the 2001 Warsaw NLC championship team, he will not forget the night the Tigers clinched in 2020. The senior scored both of the team’s first two touchdowns, the second of which gave the Tigers a 14-3 lead early in the second quarter. Jaramillo finished his night with 96 yards on the ground and helped Warsaw build a 21-3 lead over the Minutemen.
The Tigers took the 18-point advantage following a 14-yard scoring run from Julius Jones. Warsaw was driving to add another score until a lost fumble gave Concord life before the half. The Minutemen did not waste the opportunity and cut Warsaw’s lead to 21-10 at halftime following a 19-yard touchdown pass from Hunter Dutton to Jack D’Arcy.
Concord made it even more interesting in the third quarter when Dutton found Amarion Moore for six to pull the visitors within four points at 21-17. Dutton started his night 5-5 through the air on Concord’s opening drive but really struggled to find any rhythm after that. Warsaw’s defense dialed up some pressure on the junior and made him uncomfortable in the pocket. While the Tigers only tallied one sack on the night, Warsaw intercepted three Dutton passes and forced an intentional grounding from the junior on a critical fourth down play late in the game.
“We got after (Dutton),” Curtis stated. “Coach (Kris) Hueber and the guys did a great job of mixing things up with coverages and blitzes. We tried to confuse (Dutton) a little bit, I don’t know how much we did. I thought the fact that we kept the ball in front of us, we made secure tackles. That was huge.”
While the defense was consistent in keeping Dutton and his weapons from causing too much damage, Aaron Greene did his part under center for the Tigers to help deliver the conference crown.
Green bounced back from his fumble in the first half and would end up leading all players with 102 rushing yards. The senior also showed off his arm for the Concord defense, connecting with Luke Adamiec for two scores in the second half. The first scoring pass came on a fourth down play from Warsaw’s own 44-yard line. Greene found a streaking Adamiec for a wide-open score early in the third quarter. The throw came off a toss fake and was executed beautifully
Perhaps Curtis put it best when asked about the successful play, “That was sweet.”
Greene looked for his fellow senior again in the fourth quarter and Adamiec made an impressive catch near the edge of the end zone to put Warsaw up 35-17 with 8:30 to play.
Greene finished his night going 3-3 through the air for 79 yards and the two scores. Dutton was 17-38 for 225 yards for Concord.
The win moves Warsaw to 7-2 overall and 6-1 in NLC play. The Tigers have earned at least a share of the conference title but may still have to share with Mishawaka (5-3, 5-1). The Cavemen downed Northridge 41-21 Friday evening and will look to clinch a share of the NLC title when it plays Goshen in the opening round of the IHSAA Class 5-A Sectional 10 tournament. The game will double as a conference contest as the two teams did not meet earlier this season due to COIVD-19 conflicts as 2020 outdoes itself once more.
The 2020 conference title, shared or outright, gives Warsaw its eighth NLC football title. The Tigers were also Northeast Indiana Conference champions in 1952 and Central Indiana Conference champions in 1954.
Warsaw now shifts its focus to the sectional. The Tigers will host No. 12 Carroll (7-2) at Fisher Field on October 30 with kickoff slated for 7 p.m.