By Nick Goralczyk
WARSAW — It was almost too easy to count Warsaw out of its game before kickoff Friday night. The Tigers played host to a unique opponent for its season opener, Dublin Coffman.
The Shamrocks, currently tied for the third ranking in its region back in the Buckeye State, made its way to Fisher Field with quite the program pedigree. Coffman is a perennial state playoff qualifier, has churned out a decent list of NFL players, including former Cleveland Browns quarterback and Notre Dame legend Brady Quinn. Warsaw football? Well, its history book is a little thinner, but that did not stop the Tigers from sending a message to kickoff the 2021 season. Warsaw earned an emphatic victory, rocking the Shamrocks 48-23, tallying 520 rushing yards along the way.
The Tigers were zeroed in from the start, which was easy to tell after the game started about as awful as it could have for the home team. The opening kick went out of bounds, setting up Coffman with its first possession on its own 35. Mason Maggs used a read option on the game’s first play to go 65 yards for a score. Just like that it was 7-0 and these highly-touted foreigners from the Buckeye state looked to be every bit as scary as advertised.
But on the Warsaw sideline the focus was about staying calm and just doing the basics.
“The message was, when there’s a down block, and somebody is coming to kick you out, you gotta fill it,” Warsaw head coach Bart Curtis explained how Maggs’ long run could have been prevented. “You can’t create a hole, and then you have to tackle if (the runner) does get to the second level. We missed three tackles on that play.”
Twelve seconds into the game the Tigers could have folded and let Coffman run the show. But Warsaw took a different route.
The Tigers offense settled in, put a few plays together and then Bryson Brown went 68 yards, presumably just to upstage Maggs’ run, to put Warsaw on the board for the first time this season.
While it was not even three minutes into the game, Brown’s run was the exact response Warsaw needed. The Tigers could run their offense on this team and now they knew it.
Warsaw found itself down 10-7 after the first quarter following a 35-yard field goal from Coffman’s Griffin Merecer but responded to take the lead after Julius Jones went 50 yards for a score. The Tigers never gave the lead back.
Jones punched in another touchdown later in the quarter and added a 79-yard scoring run in the third. The senior was electric every time he touched the ball, including on kick returns. Though his touches were limited on offense, receiving just eight carries, Jones still rushed for 164 yards, averaging over 20 yards a carry.
Jones’ second score of the quarter left Warsaw with a 28-16 advantage going into the half. Between his two scores it was German Flores-Ortega finding paydirt for the Tigers with a 57-yard scoring rumble.
Warsaw’s defense, which had done admirably in the first half, continued its stout performance after the break. Coffman had plenty of speed and talent but the Tigers were not allowing themselves to get pushed around.
“That’s a talented group of kids,” Curtis said of Coffman’s team. “(Coffman) will figure it out. I felt like the best shot we had was (Coffman) had a brand new coach, brand new staff, brand new system. They’re too talented not to figure it out, they can sling it around.
“I was impressed. Outside of two plays early, we settled down and we played really inspired defense. I was very, very proud of our kids.”
The message coach Curtis had for his team during its post game huddle was simple, Coffman was the more talented group but Warsaw played as a team and that made all the difference.
The orange and black had two big stops on fourth down in the second half, stopping the Shamrocks at the two yard line and later on at the 18. Both stops were huge for momentum and confidence. The Tigers were also incredibly physical. While there were a lot of examples of just how fired up Warsaw was to be on the field, Theo Katris had the hit of the night as he knocked the helmet off of Coffman’s Trey Hedderly with a clean hit in coverage.
Warsaw’s defense tallied three sacks and were constantly pressuring Maggs in the pocket. C.J. Mendez enjoyed Warsaw’s only turnover of the night, an interception in the end zone in the game’s final minutes to help clinch the victory. Maggs finished his night with just 14 completions on 32 attempts for 162 yards and two scores. Maggs added 130 yards rushing to lead the Shamrocks.
Warsaw’s leading rusher was Flores-Ortega. The senior tallied 258 yards on 20 carries and had a pair of touchdowns. Tucker Curtis showed his wheels as well and the junior signal called had a 75-yard touchdown and finished the night with 162 yards on the ground.
Warsaw (1-0) will travel to Michigan City (1-0) next Friday evening. The Wolves celebrated a 41-21 win over the Tigers at Fisher Field last season and were 62-0 winners over South Bend Riley Friday night. Kick-off is slated for 7:30 p.m. EST.