By DAVID VANTRESS
SPECIAL TO THE GOSHEN NEWS
No, it’s not track season — it just seemed like it Friday night at Wawasee High School.
Wawasee and NorthWood combined for 28 first-quarter points in their Class 4A Sectional 11 semifinal contest — setting up the kind of game where the last team with the ball could be the winner.
But in the end, the Warriors prevailed, 31-28, setting the stage for a sectional title clash with NLC foe Concord next Friday night. The Minutemen dispatched Northridge, 35-8 in Dunlap to make it to the sectional finals for the second straight year.
With the victory, Wawasee improved to 7-4. NorthWood finishes at 5-6.
Wawasee coach Tom Wogomon said the sectional run so far is a tribute to his team’s character,
“Some people wrote off our guys, but they’ve kept battling,” Wogomon said.
Warrior sophomore receiver Clayton Cook had a big night, with three catches for 120 yards and a pair of TDs.
Cook said he and his teammates were happy to defeat NorthWood after losing to the Panthers during the regular season.
The Warriors also got 111 yards rushing on 14 carries with a TD from senior Derrick Sorensen.
NorthWood received the opening kickoff after Wawasee won the coin toss and deferred, and the Panthers cracked the scoreboard first, needing just 1:46 to streak down the field and get a 3-yard TD scamper from QB Will Kirkwood.
The Warriors responded with a 70-yard drive, culminating with a 1-yard TD run by Derrick Sorensen.
NorthWood went to the aerial assault on its next drive, and the Panthers got a big play through the air, Kirkwood and Luke Edwards connecting for a 50-yard TD and a 14-7 advantage with 4:30 left in the frame.
That put the ball back in the Warriors’ court, and they held serve, this time getting a 3-yard TD run from Gabe Rhodes to tie the contest at 14.
Midway through the second stanza, NorthWood appeared to have another good drive going, advancing to the Wawasee 20. But the Panthers put the ball on the ground there and the Warriors recovered.
The Warriors needed little time to exchange the NorthWood gift for critical points, as on the third play of the drive, Wawasee sophomore QB Gage Reinhard connected with fellow sophomore Clayton Cook on a 64-yard TD strike to put the Warriors back on top, 21-14. With 4:38 left until intermission.
And the Panthers returned the favor several minutes later, as Kirkwood and Nick Graber hooked up on a 20-yard scoring strike to once again tie the contest.
The two teams traded three-and-outs to open the second half, and with 5:00 left in the third, the Warriors drove to the NorthWood 13 before settling for a 30-yard Jordan Acton field goal to retake the lead at 24-21.
The Panthers stuck right back, this time driving 16 yards and getting into the end zone on a 26-yard scamper by Kirkwood on a third-and-2 play to open the decisive fourth quarter. With 11:52 remaining in regulation, the Panthers retook the lead at 28-24.
NorthWood got the ball back after a defensive stop late in the game, but was not able to run out the clock, punting the ball to the Warriors at their 26 with just about four minutes left.
And the Warriors made the best of the possession, driving the 74 yards in about two minutes and getting a huge play — a 39-yard TD strike from Reinhard to Cook. With 2:01 left, the seesaw battle tilted back in the Warriors’ favor, 31-28.
But the Panthers were not able to move the ball on their final possession.
NorthWood coach Scott Hoover said it turned out to be the kind of back-and-forth battle he expected.
“I’m proud of our kids,” Hoover said. “Wawasee has some athletes, and they made us try to tackle them in space. We didn’t do a very good job of that tonight.”