By Mike Deak
NAPPANEE – Those who were allowed to sit in the driving drizzle at Andrews Field Friday night might have thought their programs were just blurry. Perhaps even accidentally pulled from the Wawasee-NorthWood JV football game in September.
Nope. Those Panthers on the field really were JV kids.
And despite having to mix and match a lot of substitutes, the Panthers still had its core stars on hand to band-aid a 20-7 win over the Warriors in the opening round of the Class 3-A sectional No. 19.
Missing 12 athletes due to contact tracing, NorthWood was severely shorthanded, and still working through a season that had three games called off – including week nine versus Plymouth – and having its quarterback, Nate Newcomer, starting just his third game this season. But anyone who knows Panther head coach Nate Andrews knows he won’t make excuses, and he was true to form afterwards.
“I’m proud of our guys for being able to adapt and adjust, that shows flexibility,” Andrews said. “We didn’t offer any excuses about this, Wawasee played us tough. We just have to come together with whoever we have and continue to get better on the field.”
NorthWood’s two scores in the first half came on two huge plays. The first came five minutes into the first quarter, where after Kaden Lone converted a third-and-seven, Ethan Evers busted off a 62-yard touchdown run. The two-point try was no good.
After Wawasee was forced to punt for the third straight time as the seconds ticked off in the first quarter, Kyle Sellers collected the punt and got to the edge, breaking a pair of tackles and speeding 85 yards for a score.
Sellers was a menace to Wawasee all night, also picking off two Parker Young passes, his second one nearly for six, and also had another punt return nearly go the distance.
“Kyle had a nice night,” Andrews said. “He’s so level-headed and even keeled. He’s a guy you can trust on and off the field.”
NorthWood would add a late touchdown off of Sellers’ interception return to the Wawasee two with a punch in from Evers, part of a 94-yard rushing night for the sophomore back.
Wawasee, which was stonewalled to just 36 yards of offense in the first half, didn’t break through with its score until it’s final full drive, which it took the length of the field, concluding with a two-yard toss from Young to Kam Salazar. For the night, Salazar was solid with 10 catches for 48 yards and led the defense with seven solo tackles. Young finished the night with 117 passing yards and Nathan Larson led the Warriors with 33 rushing yards.
After seeing its offense having to punt seven times, turn the ball over on downs twice, and commit three turnovers, Wawasee coach Jon Reutebuch was pretty direct with what needs attention in the offseason.
“The defense played really hard, really tough,” stated Reutebuch, whose team lost to NorthWood, 39-0, at home in September. “You take that punt off the board, the pick off the board where they are on the one-yard-line away and they only had one legit scoring drive. That’s pretty impressive. Especially from where we’ve been this year. We’ve given up a lot of points and we haven’t been able to score. We still have that problem of not being able to score. We’re going to fix that in the offseason.”
Wawasee closes out the season 3-7 while NorthWood (4-3) moves along to the sectional semis next week and a visit to Leo (9-1), which went into Interra Field and knocked out Northridge, 14-7. On the other half of the bracket, East Noble (7-3) and DeKalb (2-5) were winners over Columbia City and Angola.
“I’ve always enjoyed traveling and going to other people’s places, so it’ll be a good experience for us,” Andrews said of next week’s matchup with the Lions.