INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. – They had all the makings of a championship team. They boasted an undefeated season record that paved the way to the state title game. They came so close to the first state championship since 2005. But despite their 34-22 loss to Roncalli on Nov. 25, the NorthWood Panthers still ended the 2016 season with something to hang their hats on: Brotherhood.
When head coach Nate Andrews took over the Panthers football program in 2014, no one expected him to lead the school to its first state game since 2005 and its second state-runner up title since 2004. But he managed to do just that, on top of leading the Panthers to victory in every game ahead the state final. Ironically enough, the last time Andrews faced Roncalli was his state-runner up title game in 1993, the year following his father, Jim Andrews’, death.
Andrews created an atmosphere of leadership, but it was his group of seniors that created a sense of brotherhood. Throughout the entire season, the NorthWood population echoed this sense of brotherhood, traveling to away games and all the post-season games, as well as make the road trip to Indianapolis just for a chance to cheer on the Black Crunch.
The senior defense also had t-shirts made and had printed on the back:
YOUNG BUCKS SHOWING UP
PROGRAM PLAYERS CONTRIBUTING
PRIME TIME GUYS MAKING PRIME TIME PLAYS
These t-shirts were a reminder of the team’s strength and determination; to Embrace The Pace and that it should only take you four to six seconds to get from point ‘A’ to point ‘B’. It also stood for what the team was working towards, who was helping them and what the season was about: Brotherhood.
With a team so strong and with so much determination, it was no surprise that just about every family in Nappanee followed the team bus to Indy for the big game. Panther fans arrived early – around half time of the first game between Cardinal Ritter and Eastbrook. Shortly after that game ended, Black Crunch enthusiasts flooded the seats between the northern end zone and the 50-yard line. It was a sea of black, red, and white, screaming cheerleaders and two student sections.
There was excitement and confidence on the Panther’s sideline as they exited the tunnel and took the field just before kickoff. The Black Crunch seemed just as calm as they had prior to every game before. And boy, did they deliver a hard-fought game. While the final score won’t reflect it, and the final stats suggest this game should be completely lopsided towards Roncalli, the Panther’s defense is what kept NorthWood in the game. The brotherhood at the heart of it all managed 51 tackles on the Rebels and two sacks, one by Jacob Chupp and another by Jake Stump. Unfortunately, the offense couldn’t stay on the field long enough and failed to score more, ultimately leading to their demise.
Yet, despite the difficult feelings of defeat, the Black Crunch gathered in the end zone, just as they had after every game prior, and prayed; giving thanks for their abilities and blessings that brought them this far. But more importantly, they were thankful for the brotherhood, and it was this brotherhood bond that is a reminder of how they will always be winners.