Cats Take Out Stockton, Advance To District Semis

Adam Dean Howe
Enterprise Staff
The Wildcats defense forced two second half turnovers and converted each into touchdowns to seal a 52-26 win over Stockton last Friday night in the first round of the MSHSAA Class 2 District 4 playoffs.  The win propels Warsaw to the district semifinals this week when they travel to Lamar to face the perennial postseason power.
That defense of Warsaw set the tone early for the game when they forced a punt on Stockton’s first possession and Warsaw quickly took advantage when they began their first drive on their own 26 yard line and then hit paydirt when Matt Couzens hit Grayson Gregrich on a 61 yard touchdown pass.  Aidan Comer converted the Wildcats’ 2-point try and at just 8:50 in the first quarter, the home team led, 8-0.
On the ensuing drive for the Tigers, Warsaw’s defense would come through again when, after a long first down run, ‘Cats cornerback Justin Martin would tag the visiting quarterback, Layne Colvin in the backfield.  He would fumble on the hit and Warsaw’s Tristen Reynolds would recover on their 32 yard line.  That drive would end on another Couzens TD, this time a 30 yard completion to Jack Gardner.  Comer carried the ball 3 yards for another 2-point conversion and the Wildcats led 16-0 with 6:00 still left in the opening quarter.
With the Tigers on their heels, the Warsaw kickoff unit did their part when they kicked the ball onside and Clayton Simons recovered the ball for the Wildcats and the offense took over again at midfield.  Couzens would scamper for a first down and then, just one play later, he would find Simons on a 23 yard touchdown pass, already his third of the game.  Comer’s 2-point attempt was stalled this time, but the green and black seemed to be in control of this one early, 22-0, with 4:55 still remaining in the first.
Stockton’s next drive was also halted by the Warsaw defense when James Kellner would fly up from his safety spot to cut down Drew Wheeler on the sideline to force another Tigers’ punt.  However, the ensuing Warsaw drive also resulted in a short punt that turned the ball back over to Stockton at their own 49 yard line.  That drive ended on a 1 yard touchdown run by Colvin, Tanner Boyles would convert on the 2-point try, but the Wildcats still led, 22-8.
The Wildcats netted 48 yards on their next drive, but failed to convert on 4th down and 6 to go and that would hand the ball back over to the visitor’s.  A 40 yard run by Colvin would take the ball to the Warsaw 29 yard line and Colvin would cap that drive with a 4 yard touchdown run.  He would fail on the 2-point attempt, but Colvin, nearly single handedly, had his team back in it as Warsaw’s lead was cut to just 22-14 with time winding down in the first half.
Warsaw would gain a little more breathing room on their next possession as they took their game to the ground, converting four straight first downs, two each by both Couzens and Comer.  Comer would get his first touchdown of the night on a 1 yard plunge, Couzens took the ball in for the 2-point conversion and the ‘Cats lead was back to double digits, 30-14 with 2:41 left in the half.
The Tigers would not go quietly though as they closed that gap before half when Wheeler setup another Stockton touchdown with a 52 yard run.  Colvin would benefit with a 3 yard touchdown run, the 2-point try failed, and the Wildcats held the 30-20 advantage at the halftime break.
Warsaw received the 2nd half kickoff and would extend their lead to 38-20 on Comer’s second touchdown of the game, this time a run from 4 yards out.  Couzens would find Simons in the endzone for the 2-point conversion and the Wildcats lead stretched to 38-20.
Colvin would score the last touchdown of the night for the Tigers on a 5 yard run on their next drive, but that was as close as the Cedar County squad would get with the score Warsaw, 38 and Stockton, 26 with 7:21 left to go in the third quarter.
Warsaw would take the ball to the redzone of the Tigers on their next possession but with incomplete passes on three straight attempts from the 20 yard line, the ball would turn over to Stockton again.  That Warsaw defense though . . . .
With the ball on their own, 20 yard line, Colvin would race for 7 yards on first down but that yardage was erased on a penalty on the next play.  No gain on the next 2 plays resulted in another Stockton punt and, with the Warsaw defense bearing down, the snap sailed over Cole Garrettson’s head.  He recovered, but was dragged down at the 1 yard line by the ‘Cats Garrett McGann.  Comer split the defense for a 1 yard touchdown run, his second of the night, he would also take the 2-point attempt and Warsaw led 46-26 with the clock ticking down on the third quarter of play.
The Warsaw defense would hold on a big 4th down and 1 on the Tigers next possession and they would grind down the clock with the fourth quarter quickly evaporating.  The Wildcats would be forced to punt on 4th and 23 to go and Stockton would begin their next to last drive on their own 35 yard line.  On first down though, Austin Rosser would drop Jay Baxter for the quarterback sack and force a fumble on the same play.  Nick Bagley, the talented Wildcats’ freshman linebacker, would scoop and score for the Warsaw defense from 31 yards out and Warsaw would kneel the ball on their 2-point try with this one in the books, 52-26.
“Man, our defense really stepped up,” Warsaw head coach Ryan Boyer said.  “Austin (Rosser) forced 2 fumbles, (Tristen) Reynolds recovered 2 of them, and then (Nick) Bagley capping the night off with that scoop-and-score . . . that’s a good night.”
Couzens finished the night 8 of 17 passing with 187 yards and 3 touchdowns.  He also ran the ball 8 times for a total of 68 yards.  To no one’s surprise, Comer led the ground attack for the Wildcats with 152 yards on 21 carries and 3 touchdowns.  Chase Steiner rushed 3 times for 49 yards and Martin ran 2 times for 10 yards.  Gregrich was on the receiving end of 3 passes for 80 yards and 1 touchdown, Simons had 3 for 56 yards and 1 touchdown and Gardner caught 2 passes for 51 yards and 1 touchdown.
In perhaps their best performance of the year, the Wildcats defense forced 3 fumbles, 2 by Rosser and 1 by Steiner.  Reynolds recovered 2 of those fumbles and Bagley had the other recovery with the touchdown.  Bagley also led the Warsaw defense with 8.5 tackles.  Reynolds and Kellner each tallied 4.5 tackles and 4 each were added by Rosser and McGann.  Gregrich, Kellner and Chris Gemes were all credited with pass breakups for the Wildcats.
“This was another great team win,” Boyer stated.  “Like always, our staff did a great job, put in a lot of time and worked hard to come up with a game plan.  And it worked.”
With a season record of 7-3, Warsaw secured their first winning season since 2010 when they assembled a record of 7-5 under then head coach Randy Morrow.  The Wildcats fifth consecutive win is a feat that hadn’t been reached since the 2009 campaign.  Warsaw will go for six in a row when they are on the road this Friday night to take on the Lamar Tigers in the district semifinals.  That game is set for a 7:00pm kickoff.