NAPPANEE — It's not that the wet, slippery, muddy surface couldn't slow down the sleek NorthWood offensive machine. It's just that it couldn't do it well enough that you could tell by checking the Andrews Field scoreboard.
Or by looking at the 488 yards from scrimmage the Panthers compiled, or by reviewing the pivotal tally they added on special teams.
"It did slow us down, made it difficult for us at times," NorthWood coach Nate Andrews insisted of the conditions after his team's 52-21 homecoming victory. "We weren't in a rhythm. It didn't feel like it anyway, but you look at the board, there's 52 points up there."
It was the fourth time in the last six weeks that the Class 4A No. 2-ranked Panthers have cracked 50.
They improved to 7-0 overall and 5-0 in the Northern Lakes Conference heading into next Friday's league showdown against visiting Warsaw (5-2, 4-1), which has won its last four games convincingly.
If NorthWood prevails next week, the Panthers clinch their first outright NLC title since 1996 – even with one game remaining after that – but if the Tigers win, they'll move into a first-place tie.
"They're good, good in all areas," Memorial coach Scot Shaw said of NorthWood. "They can do a lot of different things offensively, have a lot of weapons, and defensively, they play hard."
Nevertheless, the Crimson Chargers (2-5, 0-5) appeared to get right back into the thick of Friday's game at 24-14 with a crisp, 57-yard touchdown drive to start the third quarter, but on the ensuing kickoff, the Panthers' Brayton Yoder weaved his way 76 yards for a TD as the hosts stretched the margin right back out at 32-14.
"The ball kind of squirted around on the kickoff, but we sustained a couple blocks finally," Andrews said. "It was tough to sustain blocks all night because of the (lack of) traction, offensively and on special teams."
"That's been our thing all year long," Shaw lamented of the kick return that sapped the momentum Memorial had just grabbed. "We claw back, get within striking distance, and then (defending on) kickoffs are an adventure for us every time. It's not because we don't work on it."
NorthWood quarterback Trey Bilinski fired three touchdown passes – two to DeAndre Smart – while going 12-of-18 through the air for 155 yards, added a 54-yard scamper on the ground and ducked in for a pair of two-point conversions.
The Panthers' balanced rushing attack netted 333 yards, including 84 and a TD by Bronson Yoder. He, too, had a pair of two-point conversions.
On the Chargers' side, QB Nathan Williams proved a riddle for NorthWood much of the evening. We went 14-of-22 through the air for 197 yards and added 111 yards on 21 keepers. Nolan Grose hauled in nine of Williams' passes for 92 yards.
"Nathan and Nolan, they both care a lot about what's going on, play hard all the time," Shaw said. "It really means something to them, and you can tell by the way they play."
Memorial wideout Andrew Goodman collected 90 yards via three receptions, including a 74-yard catch-and-go TD play.
The Chargers played without standout receiver David Tillman, who was ill, but still finished with 336 yards of offense.
"Not really," Andrews said of whether the amount of points and yards given up were disconcerting. "(Memorial) did a great job making adjustments, running their quarterback more. There's definitely places we can play better, but we know who we are. We do need to play better in the back end coverage-wise."
NORTHWOOD 52, ELKHART MEMORIAL
Scoring By Quarters
N — Payton Bear 15 pass from Trey Bilinski; Bilinski run; 4:14.
M — Andrew Goodman 74 pass from Nathan Williams; JaShawn Echols-Adell pass from Williams; 3:09.
N — DeAndre Smart 18 pass from Bilinski; Bilinski run; 8:16.
N — Bronson Yoder 4 run; Bronson Yoder run; 3:15.
M — Mark Brownlee 6 run; pass failed; 9:12.
N — Brayton Yoder 76 kick return; Bronson Yoder run; 8:58.
N — Bilinski 54 run; run failed; 5:54.
N — Smart 3 pass from Bilinski; Adler Chamberlin kick; 9:24.
N — Landen Gessinger 30 run; Chamberlin kick; 6:09.
M — Nolan Grose 15 pass from Williams; Austin Arbaugh kick; 3:43.
Memorial: Rushing — Nathan Williams 21-111, Mark Brownlee 7-29. Passing — Williams 14-22-197 (0 int.). Receiving — Nolan Grose 9-92, Andrew Goodman 3-90, Caleb Butler 2-15.
NorthWood: Rushing — Bronson Yoder 15-84, Brayton Yoder 10-70, Trey Bilinski 5-65, Payton Bear 7-43, Landen Gessinger 4-39, Conner Yoder 2-14, Jacob Chupp 2-12. Passing — Bilinski 12-18-155 (0 int.). Receiving — Bronson Yoder 3-52, Gessinger 3-33, DeAndre Smart 3-29, Drew Minnich 2-26, Bear 1-15.