By DAVID VANTRESS
THE GOSHEN NEWS
You can usually expect a good football game when NorthWood and Jimtown hook up on the gridiron.
Friday night’s latest incarnation of the rivalry was no exception, as the Panthers got out to a 21-7 lead over the Jimmies before having to hold on for dear life late and pull out a 21-20 win.
“We had some mistakes tonight, and they were big mistakes,” a relieved NorthWood coach Scott Hoover said.
The mistakes Hoover was referring to were two late Panther fumbles deep in their territory that both led to Jimtown scores and could easily have cost the Panthers the win.
The Panthers (1-0) drove to the Jimtown 11 on their opening drive before a holding call and then an illegal substitution call pushed NorthWood out of the red zone. But the Panthers shook off the stunted momentum and got on the scoreboard first with quarterback Will Kirkwood connecting with Tanner Cleveland for a 21-yard TD with 6:10 left in the first.
The Jimmies were having trouble moving ball early and their first two drives ended in punts. But Jimtown finally got its rushing offense untracked late in the second quarter, with a 28-yard TD scamper by Nik Olson. With 6:53 left until halftime, the score was knotted at 7.
NorthWood answered the Jimtown score with a sustained drive, moving 68 yards and again cashing in through the air, this time on a 17-yard pass from Kirkwood to Trent Sauceda. The Panthers took a 14-7 lead into the dressing room.
With the second half kickoff, the Jimmies looked to get some momentum going. They appeared to be doing just that, driving to the NorthWood 30. But the Panther defense stiffened and the Jimmies turned the ball over on downs.
The Panthers seized the momentum the Jimmies had just relinquished, keeping the ball for the remainder of the third quarter and converting on a crucial 4th-and-1 play from the Jimtown 13 before converting on the second play of the fourth quarter with a one-yard TD run by Tanner Cleveland. With 10:59 left in the contest, NorthWood led 21-7.
The Jimmies again drove deep into Panther territory, but again the drive stalled and the Jimtown turned the ball over on downs at the Panther 8. NorthWood looked to be in perfect position to run out the clock.
But the Panthers immediately coughed the ball up, and the Jimmies cashed in right away, scoring on a 15-yard Tanner Adams run to cut the Panther lead to 21-14.
The Panthers again had a chance to run the clock out, and advanced to near midfield before turning the ball over again. This time, the Jimmies got another big play with less than two minutes left, getting a 22-yard scoring jaunt from Olson to cut the Panther lead to 21-20.
Jimtown coach Mike Campbell elected to go for two, but a delay of game call pushed the Jimmies back five yards.
That made the Jimmies decide to switch gears and go for the tie. The kick bounced off the upright and NorthWood was able to run out the clock.
Campbell said there was some confusion on the final play.
“We were late getting the play in,” Campbell. “But our kids fought hard. NorthWood made a few more plays than we did, but our guys fought hard, and I’m proud of them.”
The Panthers remain home next week to host Culver Academy in another non-conference affair. Jimtown stays on the road, traveling to John Glenn. Both contests are slated for 7:30 p.m. kickoffs.
Goshen News sports intern Lexi Kantz contributed to this story.