NAPPANEE — Leading unbeaten New Haven 22-20 at halftime, NorthWood football coach Nate Andrews had one thing he wanted to stress to his team.
"What do you want your legacy to be?'' Andrews asked his team in a quiet locker room.
Obviously, the Panthers weren't ready to write their complete legacy for this year just yet.
NorthWood dominated the second half Friday in all phases of the game and defeated New Haven 52-28 to advance to the Class 4A semistate for the first time since the 2008 season.
The second-ranked Panthers (13-0) travel to Lowell next Friday to play for a shot in the 4A state championship.
Two seniors captains, quarterback Trey Bilinski and two-way star Drew Minnich, were especially thankful to continue playing after tough regional losses in other sports in the past year.
Minnich was a key component on the NorthWood baseball team that reached the regional title game last spring, before losing a tough 8-7 decision to Delta.
"Winning this game and getting beyond the regional is a huge weight off my shoulders,'' Minnich said. "When Coach talked about legacy at halftime, it think it really hit home with the seniors. Now, we just want to go 1-0 next week and try to advance.''
Likewise, Bilinski suffered through regional disappointment last season, as a powerful NorthWood basketball team lost to Marion in the 3A regional title game.
"We didn't want this season to end,'' Bilinski said. "The captains didn't have to do a lot of talking, because everyone in the locker room felt the same way. We had played well in the first half, but we knew we could do better and when our running game really got going, we felt really good.''
One younger player impressed by the upperclassmen was sophomore Bronson Yoder, who scored a pair of touchdowns, including a 1-yarder that got the Panthers off and running in the third quarter.
"The seniors just didn't want to lose and they wanted to make sure we play for at least another week,'' Yoder said. "Legacy is important at NorthWood and Coach wanted to make sure we understood that and how important it is for everyone to leave their own legacy here.''
Led by a record-setting night by junior Brayton Yoder, the NorthWood running game was outstanding. Yoder gained a school-record 251 yards as NorthWood torched the Bulldogs for 334 yards rushing and 482 total yards.
"It's not that we played badly in the first half, but we knew we could do better,'' Andrews said. "I didn't think we tackled that well or really got our offense going on all cylinders. Despite that, we were ahead and I really wanted to get that point through to the kids.''
Northwood dominated the second half, forcing two turnovers and outscoring the Bulldogs 30-8 to post the victory at Andrews Field.
An emotional Nate Andrews did his best Jim Valvano imitation after the game, moving through a huge crowd of people on the field looking for – and finding – any coach, player, fan or close relative for a handshake or hug.
"I'll tell you, winning this on our home field is really special,'' Andrews said. "Our fans are always great, but they were especially loud and into it tonight. You win a regional championship anywhere and it's great, but to do it here ... I'll tell ya, it's one nobody on this team will forget.''