The NorthWood Panthers captured their first out-right Northern Lakes Conference title in nearly 20 years on Friday, Oct. 7. Andrews field was lit up and alive as Panther fans crowded the stands, cheering for their team as the No. 2 Panthers defeated the Warsaw Tigers 61-24.
This was the thirteenth time the Black Crunch had shared at least a portion of the NLC title. The most recent was in 2004, when the Panthers shared the title with Concord and Wawasee.
In the second quarter, NorthWood scored 38 unanswered points, including a touchdown and 2-point conversion just before the half, giving them a 54-10 lead at the break.
“The performance this team just put on was stunning,” said assistant coach Dave Wilson said. “The magic is always in the players.”
That’s the one word Wilson kept using during the post-game celebrations. Fans rushed the field after the game to congratulate the Panthers. Everyone huddled around the coaching staff on the far east end of the field. Athletic Director Norm Sellers presented the team it’s NLC plaque, but not before head coach Nate Andrews shared his emotions with his team.
“The performance we talked about all week, we saw it in your eyes,” Andrews said.
On the offensive side of the ball, the Panthers rolled right over the Tigers’ defense.
Bronson Yoder and Brayton Yoder scored four touchdowns each for the Panthers–all but one in the first half. Brayton carried the ball 7 times for 103 yards, and Bronson had 10 carries for 48 yards. Under center, Trey Bilinski went 16-for-21 with 262 passing yards and two touchdowns.
Warsaw was coming off a 38-14 over Wawasee in week 7. Senior quarterback Michael Jensen was 15-for-26 with 178 passing yards and three touchdowns. The NorthWood’s defense was able to hold Jensen to 7-for-24 and just 89 passing yards and intercepted the QB twice.
Defensively, the Black Crunch came in a like a wrecking ball. While limiting the Tiger’s run game and intimidating their quarterback, the defensive line was outstanding. Leading the charge was junior Jacob Chupp with four solo tackles and four assisted tackles. Falling in line was senior Dylan Brugh with two solo tackles and five assists along with one sack for a loss of two yards. Sophomore Noah Alexander also finished with two solo tackles and three assists.
Following their NLC victory, the Panthers closed out the regular season with a 43-12 win over Plymouth. After going scoreless in the first quarter, the Panthers managed 16 points before the half. The defense stuffed Plymouth, allowing just six points in the second quarter. That would be the last the Pilgrims saw of the endzone. NorthWood went on to score twelve points in the third and added 15 more in the fourth. Bilinski finished 16-of-22 and 223 passing yards with four TDs.
On the defensive side of the ball, senior Drew Minnich finished with four solo tackles and nine assists, while Brayton finished the game with five solo tackles and one assist.
In the upcoming sectionals, the Panthers will hit the road to take on Columbia City at 7:30 p.m.