MIDDLEBURY — Northridge and Wawasee produced another sensational finish in Friday's Class 4A opening-round sectional football game.
A defensive stop by the Raiders' defense on a two-point conversion run was the difference as host Northridge rallied to beat the Warriors 21-20.
The Raiders (3-7) next play at No. 2-ranked NorthWood (10-0) in semifinal action. The Panthers blanked Northridge 14-0 during the regular season.
Friday's win was sweet revenge for the Raiders, who lost 21-20 in double overtime to Wawasee during the regular season.
Trailing 21-20, the Warriors gambled in their attempt to post another one-point win. After Tyler Smith scored on a 9-yard run on fourth-and-1 with 5:22 left, Northridge was called for an offsides penalty on the PAT. Wawasee then called timeout and decided to go for two.
The Raiders were up for the challenge as Smith was stopped by several Northridge defenders on a run up the middle.
"We've got, what I feel, is the best offensive line in the conference and the best running back in the conference," said Wawasee coach Josh Ekovich, whose team finished 4-6. "Hindsight is always 20-20. We weren't moving the ball very well. Their defense was playing really well and that was our opportunity to go up. We came up short."
"I did expect them to go for it," Northridge coach Tom Wogomon said. "That's a smart move. I mean, it's a way to really get the game fully turned in their direction."
Passing by quarterback Julius Graber and by receiver Brad Schwartz helped turn the game in the Raiders' direction. Schwartz's 34-yard halfback pass to Kyle Carson woke up a struggling Northridge offense in the second quarter. It was a key play on a drive which was capped by a 1-yard plunge by Conner Graber with 4:25 left in the second quarter. That score pulled the Raiders within 14-7, the halftime score.
"We were looking for something that would give us a little jump start," Wogomon said of Schwartz's pass. "He's a lefty so we rolled him left and threw it. We really struggled to run the ball all night so it was a great time to find our footing with the pass game."
Graber completed 13-of-21 passes for 159 yards with two touchdowns. His 20-yard TD pass to Schwartz tied the game at 14 with 7:14 left in the third quarter, and his 24-yarder to Zack Welker gave the Raiders a 21-14 lead with 7:25 left in the game.
But Graber's biggest play may have been with under two minutes left. With Wawasee out of timeouts, Northridge faced a 3rd-and-7 at the Warrior 38. A turnover appeared possible after a bad snap, but instead, Graber calmly picked up the ball, rolled to his left and threw and 11-yard first-down pass to Connor Utley to seal the win.
"The kid throws a nice, soft pass," Wogomon said. "It's an easy pass to catch. What I really like about him is that he can run and, all of a sudden, find something out of nowhere. That's something that has been a tremendous help for us. I'm just really proud of him. When the ball is rolling around back there after a bad snap and he's got the presence to do what he did, it's impressive. You've got to understand that the kid is just a sophomore."
Graber's top target was Schwartz, who caught seven passes for 84 yards.
Wawasee running back Noah Wadkins rushed for 174 yards on 18 carries with two touchdowns, 153 of those yards in the first half.
NORTHRIDGE 21, WAWASEE 20
Scoring By Quarters
W — Noah Wadkins 25 run; Ryan Edington kick; 9:34
W — Wadkins 7 run; Edington kick; 6:08
N — Conner Graber 1 run; Camm Nickell kick; 4:25
N — Brad Schwartz 20 pass from Julius Graber; Nickell kick; 7:14
N — Zack Welker 24 pass from Julius Graber; Nickell kick; 7:25
W — Tyler Smith 9 run; run failed; 5:22
Wawasee: Rushing — Noah Wadkins 18-174, Tyler Smith 25-66. Passing — Smith 2-4-34 (1 int.). Receiving — Jacob Hand 1-28.
Northridge: Rushing — Julius Graber 18-45, Conner Graber 13-35. Passing — Julius Graber 13-21-159 (0 int.), Brad Schwartz 1-1-34 (0 int.). Receiving — Brad Schwartz 7-84, Connor Utley 3-34, Kyle Carson 3-51, Zack Welker 1-24. Interceptions — Josh Schlabach. Sacks — Jackson Jacobs 2.