SYRACUSE — “Gage and I have been quarterback and receiver since seventh grade and we’ve just had that chemistry all throughout that time,” said Wawasee sophomore receiver Clayton Cook as he talked about his relationship with Warrior quarterback Gage Reinhard following a memorable night for the duo.
With just over two minutes left in regulation, Cook hauled in a pass from his longtime teammate and took it to the house for what would prove to be the game winner in a thrilling 31-28 victory over NorthWood Friday night in Syracuse in the 4A Sectional No. 11 semi-finals.
Reinhard, who started the season as Wawasee’s third string quarterback, orchestrated a game-winning drive that was capped off in the most fitting fashion. Reinhard connected with his longtime friend Cook on a route across the middle of the field for a 39-yard touchdown pass which sends Wawasee to the sectional championship against Concord, a 35-8 winner over visiting Northridge in the other semi-final.
Fans from both schools knew they were in for a treat after a thrilling first quarter. NorthWood’s junior quarterback Will Kirkwood got things going with a three-yard touchdown run on the team’s opening possession.
Not to be out done, Wawasee responded with a touchdown drive of its own capped off by a one-yard touchdown run from Warrior senior Derrick Sorensen. The Panthers Luke Edwards would answer Sorensen’s scoring run with a 51-yard scamper of his own just a minute later.
Wawasee would again answer NorthWood’s score. This time it was Wawasee junior tailback Gabe Rhodes who punched it in from three yards out to knot things up 14-14. Rhodes finished his night with 71 yards on 11 carries. After just one quarter of play the two teams had combined for 28 points and 238 rushing yards.
A promising drive for the Panthers in the second quarter was cut short after Wawasee’s Brandin McCulloch stripped the ball from NorthWood’s Travis Bear. Austin Grove recovered the loose ball for the Warriors. The McCulloch strip set up a 64-yard touchdown pass from Reinhard to Cook giving Wawasee its first lead of the night.
NorthWood would add a touchdown pass of its own before halftime when Kirkwood found
Nick Graber for a score. The teams would go to the locker room tied at 21-21 after NorthWood missed a potential go-ahead field goal. Kirkwood would throw for 153 yards as well as rush for 100 yards. Graber had six catches for 84 yards to lead the Panthers.
The third quarter saw only one score. Warrior senior kicker Jordan Acton would boot through a 29-yard field goal to give Wawasee a three point lead going into the final quarter.
Kirkwood would again use his feet to give his team a lead when the Panther quarterback scrambled for a 26-yard score early in the fourth quarter. Wawasee came out determined to take back the lead but instead found themselves in trouble after a tipped passed from Reinhard was intercepted by Dylan Risser. The Warrior defense would do its job and get the ball back into their quarterback’s hands.
Following the Cook touchdown late in the fourth, NorthWood would have one last possession but the Warrior defense denied the Panthers on a fourth and long play when McCulloch batted down a Kirkwood pass attempt to seal the victory for Wawasee.
Wawasee racked up 408 yards of total offense while NorthWood was equally proficient with 376 yards. The two teams combined for 445 yards rushing, and while Wawasee lost the turnover battle two to one, it will take the win anyway.
Following the win Warrior head coach Tom Wogomon was in obvious good spirits.
“If you paid your six dollars, you got every nickel worth tonight, no doubt about it.” Wogomon would later continue and talk about his young guns Reinhard and Cook, “They’re just pretty cool customers, Gage and Cook are. We’re in pretty trusted hands there on offense.”
Reinhard finished his night going 12-22 with 186 yards and two touchdowns. Cook caught both of those scoring passes and finished with a total of three receptions for 120 yards.
After giving some love to his two big playmakers, Wogomon made it known that this win came down to more than just two positions. “This is an offensive line win, this is a running backs win, defense, special teams, this is just a great moment here for Wawasee football.”
The Warriors improve to 7-4 on the year while NorthWood finishes its 2012 season with a 5-6 record.
The Warriors will look to avenge a 54-7 loss that Concord handed them earlier this year. For what it’s worth, Wawasee is 2-0 all-time in sectional title tilts and last beat Concord during the 2004 season in a sectional matchup. The Minutemen and Warriors will kickoff at 7 p.m. Friday night in Dunlap.