NAPPANEE — Coach Nate Andrews referred to junior running back Brayton Yoder as the NorthWood Panthers' "meal ticket."
He can also now refer to Yoder as the guy who made a meal out of one of the coach's own records.
Yoder darted for a single-game school-record 251 yards rushing to go with four touchdowns as the Panthers captured their first regional football title since 2008, storming past previously unbeaten New Haven 52-28 Friday night at Andrews Field.
No. 2-ranked NorthWood (13-0) tied the 1993 school record for wins and will head to Lowell (9-4) next Friday to play for the Class 4A northern semistate championship.
"We used Brayton as our meal ticket tonight, and he really was great," said Andrews, who held the previous Panther single-game rushing standard of 228 yards in 1995. "But you can't overlook what our offensive line did, too. They opened a lot of holes for him."
"Our offensive line was tremendous," Yoder agreed, "and then our tight end and receivers were blocking great, too, when we would get into the open."
NorthWood peppered the scoreboard with 29 straight points over a span of 13 minutes, 29 seconds stretching from the final ticks of the first half to early in the fourth quarter, making a distant memory out of the No. 3 Bulldogs (11-1) actually grabbing a 20-16 lead with 2:40 left in the second period.
New Haven took that lead less than a minute after the Panthers made an interesting choice. They opted not to punt despite facing a fourth-and-11 just inside midfield. Instead, they ran a play that resulted in quarterback Trey Bilinski being sacked for a 5-yard loss.
While the decision may have raised eyebrows among traditionalists, it also served as notice of NorthWood's mindset on this cool evening.
"We played to win and kept the pressure on them all night," Andrews understated. "We knew going in that we would likely try a few fourth-down plays against their defense. We thought we'd make a few, but we knew there was a chance we wouldn't make some, too."
The Panthers' response immediately after giving up the lead was an unflinching one, as they crisply drove 80 yards in 12 plays against the clock, capped by Bilinski's 5-yard touchdown pass to DeAndre Smart with 11 seconds left in the half, good for a 22-20 lead at the break.
NorthWood scored yet again on its first possession of the second half.
Then, when a Bulldog player failed to hold on to one of the Panthers' pop-up kickoffs, Ethan Hochstetler pounced on it at the New Haven 42, setting up Yoder for a 35-yard touchdown dash and a 38-20 NorthWood lead just two plays later, at the 5:04 mark of the third period.
New Haven's spirit seemed at least temporarily shattered. The Bulldogs, who went into the game averaging 49.0 points, went three and out on each of their next two possessions, while the Panthers stretched their advantage to 45-20.
"I do think they got worn down in the second half," Yoder said. "(Their defense) was on the field a lot because our defense was playing so well."
"Our defense was just outstanding in the second half and really helped swing the momentum to us," Andrews said after his club limited the visitors to just 77 yards over the final two quarters. "We played OK in the first half, but I thought we tackled a lot better and played their receivers better in the second half."
The Bulldogs never notched a first down in the third quarter, and late in the fourth, Landen Gessinger intercepted a pass for NorthWood to cap the Panthers' 2-0 takeaway advantage for the night.
That pick also set up Yoder for his fourth TD, producing NorthWood's eighth game of 50 or more points this year, this time against a team that was allowing just 11.0 going in.
Bronson Yoder, no relation to Brayton, added 103 yards from scrimmage, getting 65 and two TDs on 16 rushes and another 38 on two receptions. He also figured in three of the Panthers' two-point conversions, tallying a pair on the ground and tossing a two-pointer to Bilinski to cap a reverse play.
Bilinski closed at 15-of-23 through the air for 148 yards, including 12-of-16 for 123 in the first half. Smart made five catches for 45 yards.
Defensively, linebacker Payton Bear notched a solo sack and two other tackles for loss.
NorthWood captured its 11th regional title. The Panthers will shoot for their sixth semistate crown next week and first since 2005.
NORTHWOOD 52, NEW HAVEN 28
Scoring By Quarters
NW — Brayton Yoder 32 run; Bronson Yoder run; 8:15
NH — NiShawn Jones 5 run; Juan Bonilla kick; 3:47.
NW — Bronson Yoder 7 run; Bronson Yoder run; 0:00.
NH — Whitney Harris 39 pass from Keshawn Moore; kick failed; 6:17.
NH — Harris 26 pass from Moore; Bonilla kick; 2:40.
NW — DeAndre Smart 5 pass fromTrey Bilinski; run failed; 0:11.
NW — Bronson Yoder 1 run; Bilinski pass from Bronson Yoder; 5:58.
NW — Brayton Yoder 35 run; Brayton Yoder run; 5:04.
NW — Brayton Yoder 36 run; Adler Chamberlin kick; 10:42.
NH — Kentrel Thomas 16 pass from Moore; James Gardner pass from Moore; 8:48.
NW — Brayton Yoder 4 run; Chamberlin kick; 1:18.
New Haven: Rushing — NiShawn Jones 13-104, James Gardner 2-24, Jorian Freeman 4-16. Passing — Keshawn Moore 15-26-166 (1 int.). Receiving — Whitney Harris 4-83, Kentrel Thomas 3-43, James Gardner 2-28, Austin Myers 3-18, Donovan Trotter 1-9, Justin Wood 1-8.
NorthWood: Rushing — Brayton Yoder 26-251, Bronson Yoder 16-65. Passing — Trey Bilinski 15-23-148 (0 int.). Receiving — DeAndre Smart 5-45, Bronson Yoder 2-38, Drew Minnich 2-28, Payton Bear 3-17, Brayton Yoder 1-10, Landen Gessinger 2-10. Interception — Gessinger. Fumble recovery — Ethan Hochstetler.