MIDDLEBURY — Northridge had no intention of seeing its eye-opening season close in the opening round.
How could these Raiders envision that kind of end after all they’d achieved in 2013, never mind the opponent?
“These are the moments you don’t look forward to, or even really think about, until all of a sudden, it hits you in the face,” Northridge coach Tom Wogomon said following the Raiders’ 28-3 home loss to No. 7-ranked Fort Wayne Dwenger in Class 4A sectional football Friday, Oct. 25.
As Wogomon spoke, players lingered on the field under the chilly air, many sobbing, many exchanging hugs, many saying a heart-felt thank you to each of the coaches, nearly none eager to walk away.
“Unfortunately, it’s the last time some of them are going to play on this field, and that’s obviously a big moment for them right now,” Wogomon said, “but as this wears off and they see what they accomplished ... well, it’s just an amazing group.”
And at a minimum, they accomplished some amazing things.
At 7-3, in Wogomon’s first year aboard, Northridge completed its best season in 36 years.
The current crop of seniors had seen the program go 5-26 over their previous three years, including 2-9 last year.
Additionally, the Raiders’ rise from 1-8 last fall to 7-2 this fall matched New Palestine for the No. 1 regular-season turnaround in the entire state at six more wins apiece.
“Since the day I was able to talk to them for the very first time, they were excited to turn the page in a different direction,” Wogomon said of his players. “They answered the bell from the very beginning. They were invested from the beginning until the end. That’s all we can ask, and they’ve been a joy to work with.”
“We are a family and we started something new,” one player told another during a prolonged postgame hug-fest.
Seniors were already telling underclassmen to keep working hard, reminding them that the season just completed was not meant to be an aberration.
“New beginnings,” one senior declared, successfully encouraging his teammates to repeat the mantra in unison.
Most of the evening’s success, though, belonged to the Saints (7-3).
They jumped to a 14-0 lead through one quarter and led 21-3 by halftime, having already mounted advantages of 12-1 in first downs and 207-71 in total yards by the intermission.
While Northridge’s defense settled into a groove during the second half, the hosts’ offense never did get fully into gear.
“We weren’t able to run the doggone football, something we’ve been able to do all season,” Wogomon said, “and that forced us into throwing the ball more than we wanted. (Dwenger) did a great job stopping our inside run game, plus our turnovers (five to the Saints’ one) made things real tough.”
Even when excluding a trio of quarterback sacks from the totals, the Raiders’ running game managed just 59 yards on 24 attempts, and just 37 on 23 when excluding Craig Kasten’s late-game, 22-yard scamper.
Northridge’s passing game wound up even less of a match for Dwenger, especially once the Raiders had to pass. They finished 4-of-18 through the air with three interceptions, though the four completions did net 108 yards.
One of those was a 55-yard, second-quarter hook-up from Tanner Love to Payton Carson.
That set up a 27-yard field goal by Hunter Hardin that not only trimmed the Raiders’ deficit to 14-3, but also served as Northridge’s first-ever points against perennially powerful Dwenger in four meetings all-time.
Other highlights for the Raiders included 2.5 sacks by Isaac Zickafoose, and two solo tackles for loss and a batted pass by Sam Stahley.
The Saints — whose 21 sectional titles rank third in state history — advanced to a sectional semifinal next Friday at home against Angola (6-4).
Northridge — still seeking its first-ever sectional crown — notched its second winning season in the last 21 years.
“We didn’t play very well, didn’t execute, did some things we hadn’t been doing a whole lot all season, like the turnover margin, and didn’t quite get the plays we’ve been getting from our playmakers, while (Dwenger) did get those plays,” Wogomon said, “but that’s a sidebar tonight. It’s (more about) what these seniors invested. They’ve been through some tough times. I know right now there’s a lot of pain, but they have helped turn this program in a different direction, and I couldn’t be more proud of them.”
FW Dwenger 28, Northridge 3
Scoring by Quarters
Dwenger 14 7 7 0 — 28
Northridge 0 3 0 0 — 3
School — Scoring Play
D — Mike Fiacable 11 run; Trey Casaburo kick, 5:39.
D — Ryan Cinadr 12 run; Casaburo kick, 0:16.
N — Hunter Hardin 27 field goal, 8:38.
D — Tyler Tippmann 2 run; Casaburo kick; 6:40.
D — Ryan Watercutter 44 pass from Fiacable; Casaburo kick, 1:52.
Team Statistics Dw Nr
Net yards rushing 193 44
Net yards passing 165 108
Total Yards 358 152
First Downs 14 5
Fumbles-Lost 4-1 4-2
Penalties 8-64 2-17
Dwenger: Rushing — Tyler Tippmann 18-83, Mike Fiacable 14-72, Ryan Cinadr 6-18, Gabriel Espinoza 2-14. Passing — Fiacable 6-13-139 (0 int.), Cinadr 1-1-26 (0 int.). Receiving — Ryan Watercutter 4-112, Espinoza 2-40, Marcus Stepp 1-13. Fumble recoveries — Cinadr, team. Interceptions — William Blume, Griffin Feichter, Stepp.
Northridge: Rushing — Craig Kasten 6-36, Cam Ridenour 4-5. Passing — Tanner Love 4-16-108 (3 int), Payton Carson 0-2-0 (0 int.). Receiving — Carson 3-77, Derek Woolsey 1-31. Fumble recoveries — Cody Miller.