By Nick Goralczyk
WARSAW – Rivalry renewed? Not so much. It was just business as usual for the Warsaw football team Friday evening.
The Tigers welcomed in county rival Wawasee to Fisher Field, putting the traveling ‘W’ Trophy back up for grabs. There was little time wasted for Warsaw to establish itself as the better team as the ‘W’ will stay in Lake City for the seventh straight year following a 49-7 Tiger triumph.
“They’re in first place for a reason,” stated Wawasee head coach Jon Reutebuch of his team’s opponent. “That’s a well-oiled machine, they’re well coached. We knew all of that coming in. We had a great start to the game but couldn’t convert early, Warsaw scored right away and we hung our heads. Things started to steamroll after that.”
Wawasee knew it had big hill to climb with Warsaw and came out firing as Lucas Ringler connected with Hunter Tinkey for a 35-yard completion on the first play of the game. But, that was really the only highlight for the Warriors for the rest of the first half. The Tigers defense, a unit surrendering less than eight points per game in conference play, forced a turnover on downs to set Warsaw up on offense for the first time.
The Tiger offense put the first points on the board with a 27-yard run from Jayce Sawyer with 5:53 to play in the first quarter. The junior refused to be taken down easily all night, becoming a consistent problem for the Warrior defense. Sawyer would end up leading the Warsaw rushing attack with 169 yards on the ground.
Warsaw followed up its score with an onside kick recovery. The kick was beautifully executed by Mason Smythe and recovered by Morgan Johnson. The very next play Tucker Curtis hit Julius Jones for a 44-yard passing touchdown. In ten seconds Warsaw had scored twice and essentially taken Wawasee out of the game emotionally. Warsaw would score two more times in the opening quarter on a runs from Curtis and a second from Sawyer.
“I thought Jayce Sawyer stepped in and did a really nice job at fullback tonight,” remarked Warsaw head coach Bart Curtis. “I thought our O-line played well and, of course, defense. Our varsity defense got another shutout. We’re going to have to play with that level of confidence and execution if we want to win next week.”
Warsaw went up 35-0 by the half as Curtis found pay dirt for the second time. It was Reed Zollinger finding the end zone in the third quarter for the Tigers while Leyton Isbell powered through a few Wawasee defenders to score in the fourth quarter. The Tigers would rush for 516 yards in the game, Zollinger had 142 of those yards while Isbell tallied 70.
Wawasee spoiled the shutout after Warsaw pulled its varsity defenders. Jaxon Brown led the Warriors lone scoring drive, completing it with a 12-yard pass to Ringler with 1:15 to play.
Wawasee finished with just 121 yards of total offense. Ringler was 5-10 through the air for 44 yards while Brown was a perfect 4-4 for 23 yards and the score. Brandon Kelly led Wawasee on the ground with 23 yards.
The wins moves Warsaw to 6-1 overall and 5-0 in the Northern Lakes Conference with NorthWood coming to town for Senior Night next Friday. The Panthers were the only NLC team to upend Warsaw last season, so do not expect Curtis’ team to be looking ahead to Concord.
“We’re 1-2 against (NorthWood) the past three years, that’s why we won’t be looking ahead,” Curtis explained. “We’ve lost two one-point games to them and were fortunate two years ago to beat them here. The only things our kids will be focused on is getting better and being ready to play next Friday night.”
Wawasee falls to 1-6 overall and 1-4 in conference play. The Warriors will host Mishawaka, which runs the same offense as Warsaw. Maybe a blessing and a curse for Wawasee to face that style in back-to-back weeks.
“We’re going to go back to the drawing board because we face the exact same thing next week,” Reutebuch said. “Mishawaka will be the same kind of team, same kind of effort. We did find out a few things tonight that we liked, we’ll probably use some of that next week. We’ll keep plugging away. Our goal is to get better each week.”
Both games for Warsaw and Wawasee will kickoff at 7 p.m. Saturday morning’s junior varsity contest between the two schools has been cancelled.