LIGONIER — Josh Gross lived up to his preseason talk, and now the target is officially on the back of the West Noble football team.
Gross reeled off the game-winning 30-yard touchdown run to lead the Chargers past Angola, 41-27, in a Northeast Corner Conference showdown Friday night in Ligonier.
The touchdown run came with 3:09 left in a 27-27 game. The senior broke through the middle of the defense and into the west end zone of Charger Field to put West Noble ahead for good.
“I walked over to the sideline and coach (Monte Mawhorter) said, ‘Do you remember what you said at media day (before the season)?’” Gross said. “I was like, ‘No, what did I say?’ And he said, ‘You have to finish.’ And I said, ‘Coach, I will do that. Give me the ball and I will put this away.’ He gave me that opportunity and I took it.”
Angola got the ball back with 3:05 in the game, but the Chargers defense forced a turnover on downs. Three plays later, senior running back Brandon Pruitt put the icing on the cake, scoring from two yards out to make it 41-27.
Pruitt finished with 166 yards rushing and three touchdowns.
The fourth quarter capped off a back-and-forth contest between the Hornets (0-4, 0-1 NECC) and Chargers (4-0, 1-0). West Noble got on the board first when senior Raven Slone ran it in from four yards out, making it 6-0 Chargers.
Angola responded exactly two minutes later when junior quarterback Tucker Hasselman ran four yards into the end zone, giving the Hornets a 7-6 advantage following the point after attempt was successful.
The two teams once again exchanged scores in the second quarter, with Pruitt’s first touchdown coming with 1:25 to go in the half. Hasselman had a one-yard quarterback sneak, though, as time expired in the half. The Chargers made their extra point, but the Hornets missed theirs, making it a tied game at halftime.
Angola struck first in the second half, as Purdue commit Ryan Brandt busted out a 30-yard run to put the Hornets ahead, 20-13.
Pruitt finally broke through for a long touchdown run on the ensuing drive, going 53 yards to cut the deficit to one — the point after attempt was unsuccessful.
The trading of touchdowns continued when Brandt had a one-yard run, making it 27-19 Angola. It would be the last touchdown of the game for the Hornets.
On the next drive, West Noble faced a fourth-and-goal from the five-yard line. Senior quarterback Kyle Mawhorter dropped back to pass, then scrambled out of the pocket and into the corner of the end zone for a touchdown. Pruitt then successfully ran in a two-point conversion, tying the game at 27 and setting the stage for the fourth quarter.
West Noble ran for 275 yards in the game.
“The key tonight, to me, was our offensive line," Monte Mawhorter said. "We graduated our top seven offensive linemen from last year, and it’s taken us until today for those kids to come together and start playing well. And I will tell you they have the upmost confidence coming from this game.”
The victory gives West Noble its first 4-0 start since 1981. It’s also a bit of revenge for the Chargers, as Angola beat them 72-21 two years ago in Ligonier. That loss has been motivation for the current West Noble seniors and coaching staff.
“It feels great,” Gross said. “Sophomore year, it was not what we anticipated, but it stuck with us this whole high school career. It left a bad taste in our mouths, and this is just what we’ve wanted since middle school.”
“We played these guys well last year, and they were good,” Monte Mawhorter added, referencing the 21-7 defeat to the Hornets in Angola in 2018. “We played them as well as anybody last year, and these kids were ready. They wanted to play hard tonight.
"They dedicated this to Chuck (Schlemmer), too, and it’s something that meant a lot to them.”
After the game, Monte Mawhorter told his team “the target is on your back.” It’s a target his team embraces.
“I think they’ll love that,” Monte Mawhorter said. “I think they like the idea that they are the ones people are trying to beat now. ... We’re looking at bigger things here. We’re hoping to do some damage after the season. This was a big one, though.”
West Noble travels to Fairfield (3-1, 0-0 NECC) next week. The Falcons defeated Fremont Friday night, 21-6, for their third-straight victory.
WEST NOBLE 41, ANGOLA 27
Angola; 7; 6; 14; 0; 27
West Noble; 6; 7; 14; 14; 41
W — (6:13) Raven Slone 4 run (extra point missed)
A — (4:13) Tucker Hasselman 4 run (Brandon Villafuerte kick)
W — (1:25) Brandon Pruitt 10 run (Coy Wolheter kick)
A — (0:00) Tucker Hasselman 4 run (extra point missed)
A — (8:18) Ryan Brandt 30 run (Villafuerte kick)
W — (6:16) Brandon Pruitt 53 run (extra point missed)
A — (4:15) Brandt 1 run (Villafuerte kick)
W — (1:19) Kyle Mawhorter 5 run (Brandon Pruitt run for 2-point conversion)
W — (3:09) Josh Gross 30 run (Wolheter kick)
W — (1:03) Brandon Pruitt 2 run (Wolheter kick)