Wawasee senior Mylon Betts runs through a pair of Whitko defenders during Friday's season opener in South Whitley. Photo by Gary Nieter, Times-Union
Wawasee senior Mylon Betts runs through a pair of Whitko defenders during Friday's season opener in South Whitley. Photo by Gary Nieter, Times-Union
SOUTH WHITLEY — Over the past several weeks, the area has experienced a rather mild summer.
At Ryan Huff Memorial Field, summer made its return just in time for high school football’s 2014 debut.
With temperatures in the mid-80s and humidity levels at 90 percent, summer was out to get the best of everyone on the field, including the Wawasee and Whitko football teams.
Both squads lost some key players during the game, but the Wawasee Warriors were able to escape South Whitley with a 34-12 win over the host Whitko Wildcats.
“You can call the weather a factor – that was huge," said Wawasee head coach Josh Ekovich. “When you spend the whole summer in 70-degree weather and you come out and it’s 85 degrees with 90 percent humidity, you can’t mimic that.”
Despite the conditions, the Warriors made quick work on its opening drive, using seven plays to go 56 yards in just 1:49, capped when senior quarterback Gage Reinhard scored on a 2-yard run.
Whitko was ineffective on its first drive of season, then its defense gave way to Wawasee senior halfback Nic Wilson when he scored from 15 yards out on the ensuing possession.
Spotting the Warriors 14 points early, the Wildcats found themselves in a hole and Wawsaee senior Clayton Cook looked to make things worse for Whitko.
Cook, a Ball State commit, kept the ball on a fourth down play, rushing for a 70-yard touchdown that stemmed from a fake punt.
Down 20-0, Whitko grew tired of the Warrior's barrage, and quarterback Garrett Elder had an answer.
On Whitko’s first play from scrimmage after Cook’s 70-yard romp, Elder opted to keep the ball and run 80 yards for a score to get the Wildcats on the board for their first six points of the season.
Whitko made multiple big plays during the game that were nixed by penalties.
But, with it being the first game of the year and everyone trying to get used to the game experience, coach Josh Mohr was not too concerned yet.
“Those are mental mistakes,” he said. “It’s easy stuff to fix, but it’s more of a mental focus than it is anything we can rep at practice. They’ll settle in, I’m not too worried about that right now.”
Over the course of the game, the lingering warm temperatures and humidity were getting to the players.
Twice, the officials called timeouts for both teams to stay hydrated in efforts to prevent cramps, as Cook actually sat out for the second half due to heat exhaustion.
Ekovich said Cook could have been ready to play, but he did not want to risk an injury or further exhaustion this early in the season.
“We were up three scores at one time, so we did not want to risk anything,” Ekovich said. “He was starting to puke because of the heat exhaustion. The competitor that he is, he pushed himself all the way to the limit on that long run. But this was the first time we learned to play without Clayton Cook, so this could be huge for us.”
No Cook for the rest of the game? No problem.
A special teams miscue by the Wildcats to open the second half gave Wawasee a short field to work with, and Reinhard made them pay, throwing a 22-yard touchdown pass to junior Sam Clark to make it 27-6.
A few minutes later, a fumble by the Wildcats led to yet another Warrior touchdown, which was scored when Reinhard found senior Mylon Betts open for a 25-yard touchdown.
In the fourth quarter, Whitko orchestrated an 83-yard drive highlighted by a 49-yard run by Elder and was capped by a 10-yard touchdown run from senior Tanner Hughes to make it 34-12, which were ultimately the last points of the game.
Elder finished his first game as a quarterback after playing as a slot receiver last season with 168 yards on 10 carries, one of several bright spots for Whitko, as Hughes also had 110 rushing yards on 26 carries.
Next week, Whitko hosts Whiley County rival Columbia City, who is coming off of a 33-21 home victory over Warsaw, while the Warriors return to Syracuse to host a West Noble team that is coming off of a 45-14 win over Central Noble.

WAWASEE 34, WHITKO 12
Waw    14    6    14    0    —    34
Wh    0    6     0    6     —    12

    Waw    Wh
1st downs    26    11
Rushing yds    140    312
Passing yds    134    1
Comp-Att-Int    13-23-0    1-7-0
Total yds    274    313
Fumbles/lost    0/1    2/1
Penalties/yds    5/25    11/57
Punts/avg    1/16    4/28

First Quarter
Waw – Gage Reinhard 3 run (Nate Prescott kick), 7-0.
Waw – Nic Wilson 15 run (Prescott kick), 14-0.
Second Quarter
Waw – Clayton Cook 70 run (kick failed), 20-0.
Wh – Garrett Elder 80 run (kick failed), 20-6.
Third Quarter
Waw – Reinhard 21 pass to Sam Clark (kick good), 27-6.
Waw – Reinhard 25 pass to Mylon Betts (kick good), 34-6.
Fourth Quarter
Wh – Tanner Hughes 12 run (kick failed), 34-12.

INDIVIDUAL STATISTICS
Rushing — Wawasee, Cook 2-78, Wilson 12-63, Noah Wadkins 3-11, Paul Mendoza 1-1, Kolin Bell 1-(-1), Reinhard 5-(-4), Betts 2-(-8); Whitko, Elder 10-168, Hughes 26-110, Trace Killian 4-21, Dylan Stump 1-7, Connor Sherwin 1-3, Gavin Powell 1-3, Derek Miller 1-2, Blake Sapp 2-(-2).
Passing — Wawasee, Reinhard 13-22, 134 yds, Bell 0-1; Whitko, Brady Weeks 1-1, 1 yds, Elder 0-6.
Receiving — Wawasee, Clark 5-53, Cook 3-39, 4-32, Kurtis Liston 1-10; Whitko, Hughes 1-1.