Panthers travel to Warsaw for key NLC battle

NorthWood head coach Nate Andrews (left) watches the game against Elkhart Memorial at Memorial, Friday, Oct. 4, 2019. (Photo by J. Tyler Klassen

It was most likely the high school football game of the year in 2018.

Friday night at Warsaw, the host Tigers will face NorthWood with the winner staying in position to earn at least a share of the Northern Lakes Conference title.

Warsaw (6-1) enters the game ranked No. 8 in Class 6A, while the Panthers (5-2) are No. 12 in 4A. Both teams are 4-1 in the NLC, one game behind conference unbeaten Plymouth. NorthWood hosts Plymouth in next week's season finale.

Last October, a stop by the Panthers' Jaden Miller with just over a minute to play stopped a Warsaw two-point conversion and gave NorthWood a 14-13 win. After an easy win at Plymouth the next week, coach Nate Andrews' Panthers were the undefeated NLC champions.

This season, a Warsaw loss to Plymouth and Concord's win over NorthWood has both teams looking up at first place. But that doesn't mean Friday's contest will be any less intense or riveting.

The Panthers are coming off a 47-34 victory over Elkhart Memorial, where they gained 590 total yards. And while 393 of those were on the ground, it was the 197 through the air that may have been most impressive.

Junior quarterback Nate Newcomer rushed for 190 yards against the Crimson Chargers, while also throwing for all 197, as the Panthers helped soften a Memorial defense intent on stopping the running game.

"We must be able to run the football against Warsaw and yet produce explosive plays,'' Andrews said. "I feel that if our passing game can be productive, it will allow for a few more run lanes against a very disciplined defense.''

Warsaw coach Bart Curtis knows that kind of assignment lies ahead for his defense this week.

"The best way to keep NorthWood's offense off the field is to somehow make them punt the football,'' Curtis said. "But we have struggled lately getting our defense off the field, so this has been a point of emphasis this week. But we also know, it's far easier said than done.

"NorthWood's backs do a great job of making you miss, so tackling in the open field will be very important. Plus, we can't get stupid in the secondary. Our kids can't be looking in the backfield or they will throw the ball over our heads for touchdowns.''

But the Panther defense must also find a way to stop a powerful Warsaw running attack, led by Juan Jaramillio, who has rushed for 1,010 yards and 11 scores this season. The Tigers average 319 yards-per-game on the ground.

"We are what we are,'' Andrews said. "We don't have any big, strong, explosive one-way defensive linemen to hold up against their attack, so our entire defense will have to have elite stances, visual keys, stimulus response, get-offs and motors in order to stop them.''

Elkhart Memorial returned two kicks for touchdowns last week, which raised a red flag for Andrews.

"The kicking game will have to be a priority for us,'' Andrews said. "I think that our lack of depth gets most exposed and is most visible to the casual observer on special teams. We will be making some critical personnel decisions this week that we feel gives us the best chance to succeed.''

One thing the Panthers aren't concerned about is playing on the road.

"We like being on the road and traveling,'' Andrews said. "There is something about a team boarding a bus and working together on foreign soil for a common goal."

• STREAK BUSTERS?: The Elkhart Central Football team will be trying to break a very long losing streak on Friday when they travel to Penn to face the Kingsmen.

Bouncing back from their first loss of the season with a 40-0 victory over South Bend Adams last week, the Blue Blazers are 6-1 overall and 2-1 in the Northern Indiana Conference North Division, one game in back of New Prairie for the conference lead.

Central could earn a piece of the NIC North title with a win over Penn and then New Prairie at Rice Field next Friday.

But that first hurdle is a big one.

Elkhart Central has not beaten the Kingsmen since Ronald Reagan was in office in 1982, when the Blue Blazers posted a 12-9 overtime victory. Since then, Penn is 43-0 against Penn with head coaches Chris Geesman and Cory Yeoman.

The Kingsmen also lead the all-time series 48-2, with Central's only other win coming in 1980.

But the Blue Blazers had the Kingsmen on their heels last season, before halfback Mark Brownlee was hurt in the second quarter and didn't return. Penn would go on to win that game, 20-17.

This year Brownlee is healthy and one of the state's best, having rushed for 1,227 yards and 20 touchdowns this season, despite missing one game. Senior Dominic Davis has added nine touchdowns and 451 yards rushing, while quarterback Isaiah Chandler is coming off a career-high 245 yards passing against Adams.

Penn is still without junior quarterback Ron Powlus, who was injured early in the year. His replacement is Nick Favilla, who started the season as a wide receiver, but nearly led the Kingsmen to a win over New Prairie last Friday.

The Kingsmen also have losses to state powers Valparaiso, Homewood Flossmoor (Illinois) and Cincinnati St. Xavier (Ohio).

FRIDAY

Elkhart Central at Penn (C)

Elkhart Memorial at Wawasee (C)

Northridge at Concord (C)

Bremen at Jimtown (C)

NorthWood at Warsaw (C)

Goshen at Plymouth (C)

Fairfield at Lakeland (C)

All games start at 7 p.m.

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