Overtime wasn’t enough time for Northridge and Wawasee to settle their differences. They meet again when Indiana high school football sectionals kick off around the area Friday evening.
On a light opening night due to most Class 5A and 6A teams being off, the Raiders (2-7) host the Warriors (4-5) in a 4A contest that’s slated as the WHME-TV Game of the Week.
“I didn’t know this was such a big game,” Northridge coach Tom Wogomon said Thursday, “but we’ve kind of had a lot of media attention this week. Hopefully, we can put on a good show.”
Seven weeks ago in Syracuse, the two Northern Lakes Conference teams played to a 7-7 deadlock through regulation. Wawasee won 21-20 when a mishandled snap led to the Raiders missing an extra point in the second OT round.
The Warriors improved to 3-0 that night and Northridge dropped to 0-3. Since then, though, Wawasee’s gone 1-5 to the Raiders’ 2-4, which includes a win over Plymouth.
All five Warrior losses have come against teams with winning on-field records, including a 41-34 decision last week against 7-2 Goshen.
“They were an option team when we saw them, and they’re a whole lot more now,” Wogomon said. “They’re running power and (isolation) and get-in-your-face football. Their quarterback (Tyler Smith) has run for about 1,400 yards and thrown for about 800. He’s a dude, man. It’s been a really strong year for quarterbacks in the NLC, and he’s right there with them. I think they’re definitely an improved offense.”
The coach would like to say the same about his offense, but instead, he says that’s where his club’s problems have commonly resided.
“We have not been an offense that can battle back from a negative play,” Wogomon said. “Even an illegal procedure or an incompletion on first down feels like a big hole, and we’ve had some really untimely, costly turnovers. In that game against Wawasee, if we could’ve taken any one of five or six different plays in a different direction, we might’ve been able to make it a different result.”
Sophomore running threat Julius Graber and pocket-passing senior Nick Hooley have shared QB time for Northridge this season. Graber’s penciled in for the start Friday, but Hooley, still battling the effects of a major foot injury last year, is expected to play as well.
“Nick’s trying so hard,” Wogomon said. “He badly wants to do well, but he sometimes over-compensates for that foot and ends up pulling a hamstring or twisting an ankle.”
With his Raiders starting nine underclassmen on offense and eight on defense, the coach says the Warriors have a decidedly more senior-led club.
“They’re older than us on the field and sometimes in playoff football it comes down to who wants it more, who has that mindset,” Wogomon said. “I think we’re playing good defense and I like our special teams as a whole, but I think it might come down to where our mindset is as a unit. Are we prepared enough and hungry enough to play again next week?”
Next week for the winner will come against the survivor of Columbia City (3-6) at No. 2-ranked NorthWood (9-0). Wawasee would host the Panthers if that semifinal materializes, while Northridge would visit NorthWood. Columbia City would host regardless of opponent if it can pull a shocker.
The Panthers are 30-1 all-time in first-round games under the current all-comer format. The Eagles are searching for their first victory over a team with a winning record this season.
Elkhart Memorial is seeking a surprise as well. The Crimson Chargers (2-7) host Mishawaka (7-2) in 5A first-round play.
The Cavemen, who lost last 21-14 last week at 6A No. 2 Penn, have won nine straight playoff openers. Memorial is seeking its first posteason win since 2011.
In Class 3A, Jimtown (5-4) hosts Heritage (3-6), while Fairfield (1-8) is home to Garrett (8-1). It’s the Railroaders’ second trip to Fairfield in four weeks, having beaten the Falcons 26-16 during the regular season.
The Jimmies have never lost a first-round game in the all-comer format, standing 31-0.
5A: Mishawaka (7-2) at Memorial (2-7)
4A: Wawasee (4-5) at Northridge (2-7)
4A: Columbia City (3-6) at NorthWood (9-0)
3A: Heritage (3-6) at Jimtown (5-4), 7:30 p.m.
3A: Garrett (8-1) at Fairfield (1-8), 7:30 p.m.
7 p.m. unless indicated