After playing three straight road games to start the season, for the first time since 1976 no less, the Warsaw Tiger football team was welcomed home with open arms Friday night for their home opener against Concord. The Tigers rewarded their patient fans with a remarkable defensive performance, winning 10-3 to remain undefeated at 4-0.
Despite coming out on top, Warsaw head coach Bart Curtis wasn’t exactly thrilled, citing too many penalties (eleven for 65 yards) and ball security (five fumbles, two lost).
“At some point that is going to bite us. There are things that I think are going to get fixed and then we come out and have the same problems. It’s a little troublesome,” Curtis said. “I’m at a loss for words. I’ve never seen anything like it. It’s hard to win when things go well and we just make it harder on ourselves. That being said, it does feel nice to pull on out on a Friday night.”
The visitors received the opening kickoff, beginning their first drive with some dysfunction. Concord quarterback Hudson Glantz turned the wrong direction on a handoff, resulting in Warsaw’s Isaac Beam blowing him up for a loss. The Minutemen would rebound and move the chains once on the drive before punting the ball away.
Not much happened on the Tigers’ opening drive, as the home side gave the ball right back after going three-and-out. After forcing another punt by Concord, Warsaw began to show some signs of life offensively, with fullback Reed Zollinger breaking free for 19 and 15-yad runs. It wouldn’t lead to points though, as immediately after, the Tigers would fumble the ball on a pitch and give the ball right back to their opponents.
After getting the ball in a favorable position, the Minutemen would get to work immediately. The visitors would get into the red zone with ease and looked to be on their way to a score. But Cohen Heady would come up huge on a third down sack that would prove to make a difference. The sack turned the ensuing Concord field goal into a 42-yard attempt as opposed to 31. The extra distance was enough to force a miss, leaving the game scoreless.
The next Tiger drive ended in disaster, as quarterback Quinton Brock threw an interception that gave the ball right back to the visitors at the Warsaw 25-yard line. But the Tiger defense, which has been no stranger to making big plays all season long, had Brock’s back. Ethan Egolf would come up with a big interception of his own, returning it 17 yards and putting his team in business.
This appeared to be the burst the home side needed. The very next play, Zollinger would break loose for his longest yard yet, a gain of 33. The Tigers methodically drove the ball the rest of the way, with a plethora of players getting carries in the red zone as Warsaw tried to punch it in. In the end, it would be Zollinger punching it in from three yards out to give the Tigers the first points of the game with three minutes left in the half.
Following the score, Warsaw continued to apply the pressure. Concord’s next drive saw the Minutemen getting into Tiger territory once again, but no further. This time, it was Beam making the big hit on the quarterback on a fourth down play, giving the ball right back to the home side.
Zollinger, already having a huge first half, added onto it with a 37-yard carry on the first play from scrimmage following the turnover on downs. It looked as if Warsaw was going to add onto its lead just before half, but the Minutemen defense held strong at the goal line, forcing a 21-yard field goal attempt by Mason Smythe. The junior hit his first attempt, but an offsides penalty on Concord forced a re-kick. The second attempt would not be successful, with a Concord player possibly grazing the ball on its way up. The miss would keep the Tiger lead at seven going into half.
The strong defenses of both teams continued to shine in the beginning of the third, as both offenses began the second half by going three-and-out on their first two drives. The first drive with any substance wouldn’t come until the final minutes of the third quarter, when the Tigers would take advantage of some decent starting field position to set up Smythe for a 34-yard kick. This one would go through, extending the Warsaw lead to 10 with the fourth quarter looming.
Warsaw senior Lucas Ransbottom snatches the ball out of the air during the third quarter of Friday night's home game against Concord. Photo by Gary Nieter
The good times wouldn’t stop there for the home side, as on the first play of the following Concord drive, Tristan Wilson would intercept Glantz on a deep ball to give his offense the ball right back.
“Our defense played incredible tonight. Inspired, got after it, had their backs against the wall several times and continued to get out of it,” Curtis said. “I’m incredibly proud and excited about that unit.”
The Tigers would give the ball right back after a turnover of their own. Punting on fourth and long, Smythe would mishandle the snap, getting tackled in the backfield and giving the Minutemen a prime opportunity on the Warsaw side of the field. Once again though, the defense wouldn’t give the visitors an inch, picking up two sacks on the first two Concord plays and forcing yet another punt.
The Minutemen would finally get on the board with just under five minutes to go in the game on a short field goal. The visitors were gifted great starting field position after the Tigers imploded with a series of penalties and were forced to punt out of their own end zone.
On the following drive, ball security issues reared their ugly heads once again, as Warsaw fumbled at their own 36 yard line, giving Concord the ball and a chance to tie or take the lead with less than four minutes left.
Now facing the biggest sequence of the game, the Tiger defense didn’t blink. The Minutemen was able to move the ball just inside the red zone but were unable to get any further. The relentless pressure of the Warsaw front line showed up in a massive way, consistently pressuring Glantz and forcing a series of incompletions that resulted in a turnover on downs.
The Tiger offense would finish off the job. Zollinger would add onto his total with a pair of 29-yard runs to pick up the first downs necessary to run out the clock. Zollinger ended his night with 247 yards on 28 carries.
“We’ve been waiting for him to run with that type of power and speed. He had a great game and is starting to look like the type of back we’ve had in the past,” Curtis said.
Warsaw is back at home next week against 4A powerhouse NorthWood.