By Mike Deak
SYRACUSE – It’d been a minute since Wawasee had felt the sweet rush of victory. It seemed like it would take a century to come as Plymouth made it too close for comfort Friday night in a 21-19 Warrior win at Warrior Field.
After taking a 21-12 lead on a Nathan Larson 34-yard touchdown run with 2:40 to go, Plymouth would make those two minutes feel like an eternity for a Warrior Nation that hadn’t won since October of last year. Plymouth started by countering Larson’s score with an immediate 71-yard touchdown pass from Lennon Creighbaum to Devante Garcia. It took all of 13 seconds, but now would make the final 2:27 feel like more of an eternity than before.
That sentiment only grew as Plymouth recovered the onside kick, taking over at the Wawasee 43 trailing by two.
A questionable pass interference call moved the ball to the Wawasee 28, and Garcia ran the ball to the Wawasee 18. But a Wawasee sack of Creighbaum moved the ball back to the 26, where Plymouth would stall and be forced to try a 43-yard field goal. The kick was wide left with 11 ticks on the clock, ending over a year of frustration for the Warriors, and sending Homecoming to another level.
“Guys were making plays all over the field,” said Wawasee head coach Jon Reutebuch. “I couldn’t be more proud of these guys. We persevered, we have some sickness in the program, a couple kids still banged up. But we are getting there, and these kids found a way to win.”
While the final two minutes were packed with ‘Maalox Moments’, the first three quarters featured two 0-5 football teams that really struggled to get out of its own way at times. The game was marred by seven turnovers, nearly another half dozen fumbles that resulted in negative plays, three more Plymouth drives that resulted in unsuccessful fourth down tries, and a host of penalties that marred drives.
Where Reutebuch acknowledged the skiddish play, he countered that his defense bent but didn’t break, particularly in the first half after Plymouth scored on a Kwintin Heiny three-yard touchdown on its first possession. In Plymouth’s next four drives of the half, Wawasee had red zone interceptions by Jared Smith and Landen Alexander, a fumble recovery and a stop on downs inside its own 25.
“Phenomenal effort from our defense tonight,” Reutebuch said. “We put them in some bad positions again tonight, but they bowed their neck a little bit and fought back. We didn’t give it up. That is the transition we are looking for. In the past, we’d hang our head and give up an easy score, and it would snowball. We got some key plays. Interceptions, fumble recoveries, a big sack late in the game. And it’s fitting it came down to a field goal attempt given all that happened in the game.”
Wawasee answered Plymouth’s first score with a blocked extra point, which played into the end of the contest. Then the Warriors took its first possession to the house, capped by a Larson 18-yard run. A Cameron Zimmerman 48-yard run highlighted Wawasee’s next drive, which ended with a Lucas Ringler two-yard plunge for a score. Both touchdowns were followed by Lucas Linder extra points, the sophomore filling in for regular kicker Caleb Clevenger who was out for illness.
“Without Lucas, we may not have won this game,” noted Reutebuch. “He steps in without Caleb here and hits three extra points. You may not notice something small like that in the crowd, but if we don’t have those points, we might be talking about a completely different game.”
A third Larson touchdown was taken off the boards near the end of the third quarter on a penalty, which Garcia would later intercept a pass for the Rockies and set up Plymouth’s next scoring drive, a 33-yard Creighbaum touchdown run. The two-point try had the snap go over Creighbaum’s head and void, creating the scurry of the fourth quarter.
For two teams that had scored a combined 28 points in six collective Northern Lakes Conference contests coming into Friday night, the offenses ran around to the tune of 725 combined yards. Wawasee would rush the ball for 245 yards, led by 88 from Zimmerman and 83 from Ringler, who celebrated his 18th birthday in style. Chase Dennis had a 45-yard catch on a play that Wawasee avoided major disaster when punter Jaxon Brown mishandled a snap, but rather than panicking, put on his quarterback hat and found Dennis wide open for the huge gain to keep the drive alive.
Wawasee’s Aidan Monds added five solo tackles and a sack, and was an all-around menace in the Plymouth backfield.
Wawasee (1-5, 1-3 NLC) will try its luck next Friday at Fisher Field in the annual ‘W Game’.