Wide-array NorthWood attack visits East Noble

Elkhart Truth Photo/ Paige Mallory PassmanNorthWood Panther DeAndre Smart reacts to one of his eight first-half catches against visiting Northridge on Oct. 28, 2016.

As NorthWood football coach Nate Andrews answered a question moments after last week's sectional semifinal win over Northridge — that question regarding DeAndre Smart catching a whopping eight first-half passes for 113 yards — it became clear that even Andrews can't always keep full track when it comes to his embarrassment of offensive riches.

He explained that Smart's large haul was the result "a little bit of what was there and a little bit of wanting to feed him and see what kind of horse he could be."

Good enough, but then Andrews went on to note, in contrast, that "I don't believe Bronson (Yoder) touched the ball in the first half besides the one conversion, so we tried to make a point of getting him the ball in the second half."

Um, actually, Yoder caught the Panthers' first touchdown of the night in their 44-13 victory, added that conversion, then added a 17-yard run and a 26-yard reception all before intermission.

How easily we forget.

Of course, how easy it can be to do so, given all of NorthWood's choices, as the No. 2-ranked Panthers (11-0) head to East Noble (8-2) for Friday's Class 4A sectional championship.

"We're just trying to be tough to defend," Andrews said this week. "It does remind me of the days of our triple option, where one week one guy had a bunch of touches, 150 yards and three touchdowns and the other two guys maybe five touches and 15 yards, then the next week one of those other guys had 150 yards. It's kind of rotational."

And it exists for NorthWood this season within both the running and passing games.

On the ground, Bronson Yoder has 120 attempts from scrimmage, Payton Bear 90, Brayton Yoder 76, quarterback Trey Bilinski 55, Landen Gessinger 29 and still others a combined 59. As a team, the Panthers are averaging 6.3 yards per attempt.

Through the air, Smart and Bronson Yoder have snagged 47 passes apiece, Gessinger and Drew Minnich 25 apiece and still others a combined 20.

Pick your Panther poison.

As for Bilinski, the record-setting NorthWood senior QB is up to 162-of-258 passing for 2,802 yards and 35 touchdowns against just four interceptions.

Which takes us to Friday's likewise potent opponent. East Noble junior QB Andrew McCormick owns some ridiculous figures of his own at 211-of-292 for 2,688 yards and 42 TDs against six picks.

"Their numbers are absolutely incredible, especially what (McCormick) is doing in completion percentage (72.3)," Andrews said. "And then to accompany that, he's their leading rusher. He's a very dynamic kid."

Indeed, McCormick, a D-I prospect, has rushed for 638 yards and five TDs.

Leading the way among 13 Knights who have caught passes are Dylan Hunley (90 receptions, 1,373 yards, 21 TDs), Kaiden Harshberger (54, 554, 6) and Justin Galaviz (31, 389, 9).

"We want to win the explosive-play department," Andrews said of a department that might exist for both sides.

NorthWood's averaging 45.8 points while allowing 17.5. The Knights are at 40.1 and giving up 20.9.

Though East Noble's two losses have come decisively, they also came against 6A Indianapolis Cathedral in Week 1 and against unbeaten 4A No. 3 New Haven a month ago.

A year ago, the Panthers topped the visiting Knights 42-28 in the opening round.

Andrews is reciting kicking-game factors, first-down offense and defense, and mental toughness that "has to be on" as among keys to the rematch.

NorthWood is seeking its first sectional crown since 2011 — and a 12th win in a season for the first time since finishing 12-1 in 1996. East Noble's chasing its first sectional title since 2003.

If the Panthers win, they'll host New Haven or head to Fort Wayne to face No. 6 Dwenger in next week's regional.

FRIDAY SECTIONAL FINALS

6A: Penn (10-0) at LaPorte (9-1), 7:30 p.m.

5A: FW Snider (10-0) at Goshen (8-2), 7 p.m.

4A: NorthWood (11-0) at East Noble (8-2), 7 p.m.

3A: Jimtown (7-4) at Garrett (10-1), 7:30 p.m.

(All times Eastern)

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