By Dalton Tinklenberg
DUNLAP – The Warsaw Tigers and Concord Minutemen are set to face off in what could be one of the best games of the year. Each team enters play with a 7-1 record and finds themselves just one win away from claiming a Northern Lakes Conference title. There’s no doubt that both teams know exactly what is on the line and what a conference title would mean.
“[It would be] a huge program step that would solidify our methods, our “why”, our commitment, and our work,” said Warsaw head coach Bart Curtis, whose team shared the 2020 title with Mishawaka. “[It] would be a great “payday” for our young men that have been working their tails off since early June for this opportunity.”
“It would mean a lot,” added Concord head coach Craig Koehler, the 2019 NLC champion. “We have been fortunate to win this conference multiple times. I believe in the last 20-21 years, I’m fairly certain we’ve won this league more than anyone else in this league. In fact, I know that that’s true. It’s really important. It’s really important to our community. It’s really important to our program. It is a goal and expectation in our program that we are in position late in the season to win this league. We’ve put ourselves in position to do that and it’s going to require our best effort in order to have an opportunity.”
While it might be easy to think that both teams despise each other, that could not be further from the truth. Both coaches took time to praise the other team when discussing the pending matchup.
“Without a doubt,” said Curtis in regards to Concord being their toughest opponent thus far. “ Concord is formidable, fast and physical.”
“It is the toughest opponent that we’ve seen all year,” followed Koehler. “If you look at a lot of our scores, between us and Warsaw, there are some comparable scores. It’s going to be a really neat environment. Hopefully, this weather cooperates a little bit. Hopefully, people make the drive up from Warsaw, and hopefully, our people show up.”
The Tigers get the job done with a heavy dose of running the football. In fact, during the 2021 season, Warsaw has amassed 98 first downs on the ground with just nine via the pass. The amount of talent in the backfield at Warsaw would make any team jealous. The Tigers have four players with at least 400 yards rushing and five with four touchdowns or more. While German Flores-Ortega has been hobbled in recent weeks with a leg injury, Julius Jones, Jayce Sawyer and Bryson Brown have all been more than capable toting the rock. Quarterback Tucker Curtis also gives Warsaw punch running the ball.
The Minutemen have just the player to help neutralize that rushing attack though. Senior linebacker Zaven Koltookian is an absolute game changer who is capable of single-handedly disrupting opposing offenses. Koltookian has 74 tackles (23 for loss) and 13.5 sacks on the season and some consider him the best linebacker in the state.
“He’s a really, really good football player,” said Koehler. “What they say is probably true. He’s long and every bit of 6’4” and a half or 6’5”. He’s well over 200 pounds and he can run. There’s just not a whole lot of those guys walking around. He’s good and he’s going to have to be really, really good Friday.
So with that being said, how are these two teams preparing to set the stage for the huge matchup and getting motivated?
“The game is played Friday night at 7 p.m., not Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, or Thursday,” said Curtis. “[We must] take care of the Warsaw Tiger football team [by] doing what we can do and control what we can control. Each game since Week 3 has been a “trophy game”. We will treat this as such because one team will actually hold a trophy at 9 p.m. Friday night. [We must] make Monday through Thursday as “game-like” as possible. Focus on 1-0, it’s no different than any other Friday night.”
“As I told our team on Monday at our team meeting, ‘guys there’s nothing. What do you want me to say? There’s nothing that I can say that’s going to motivate you. If you’re not motivated this week in practice, we probably don’t stand much of a chance against a really, really good ball club, a hall of fame coach,” said Koehler. “It’s a hall of fame coached team.”
In a game that is projected to be so close, home-field advantage could turn into a massive variable. The Minutemen have been incredibly tough to beat at Jake Field, with their last loss coming in September of 2018 to Plymouth. Warsaw hasn’t won at Concord since 2009.