Knights, suspended players overcome deficit to Warwick
By: BRUCE MORGAN Record Express Sports Editor, Staff Writer
When Hempfield defensive back Havier Rodriguez intercepted a pass by Warwick quarterback Zack Hurst in the end zone late in the fourth quarter last Friday night with the Black Knights up 22-14, it looked bleak for the Warriors.
The Knights’ student section began to chant, ‘It’s all over.’
They would soon be silenced, however, as the Warriors made a defensive stand and got the ball back with 1:37 remaining in the game. The outcome, in fact, was far from being over as Hurst directed the offense 58 yards down the field to give Warwick a first-and-goal in the final minute of the contest.
Ultimately, though, a fourth-down pass intended for wide receiver Austin Myers in the corner of the end zone fell incomplete with just :22.6 to go and Hempfield survived for a 22-14 victory over Warwick in a Section One showdown in Landisville.
"For most of the night, I thought our kids did a tremendous job," Warwick coach Bob Locker said. "A couple breaks didn’t go our way. The ball didn’t bounce our way, it bounced their way. What’d they have five gun snaps over the quarterback’s head? And every one bounced back. So it wasn’t for a lack of effort. I honestly thought defensively that’s as well as we’ve played all year, and offensively, I think we had 340 yards. We moved the ball, we punted once. We just didn’t finish things."
The loss dropped the Warriors to 1-5 in Section One (3-6 overall) heading into their final game of the season this Friday against first-place Wilson (6-0, 8-1). But last Friday night’s battle with Hempfield (1-5, 3-6) will be most remembered for the return of 10 Black Knights’ players who were suspended for disciplinary reasons following the team’s win over Manheim Central on Sept. 7. Against the Warriors, those players got back on the field in the second half and gave Hempfield a lift, rallying the Knights from a 14-0 halftime deficit with three unanswered scores, all in the third quarter.
Asked what he thought about the players’ return, Locker said diplomatically, "My opinion is that each school district sets their own policies, adheres to policies that they set. My kids are well aware of what the school policy is and what my belief is. Hempfield is apparently abiding by their policies and what they feel is best in terms of dealing with their student-athletes. That’s something that is not in any of my control, probably not any of my business. But you set standards and expect kids to adhere to standards and rules. If their kids did whatever they needed to be returned to the field, then I guess it was OK they returned to the field. Certainly, (Michael) Murr’s a very good quarterback and it was just a spark once those kids came back on the field. Still, the third quarter being what it was, we gave up all those points, we still had an opportunity to win the game. (We had) three drives in the fourth period. So I don’t want that to detract from the fact that I give our kids a lot of credit for batting through the entire game."
That included the third quarter when Hempfield capitalized on a couple of breaks to swing the momentum. The first of those came on the Black Knights’ opening series of the second half, as Murr (11-63 rushing) found a seam and broke a long run, and then when the ball was knocked from his grasp, running back Joe Gamble picked it up at the 20 and scored to get Hempfield on the board.
Later, Warwick’s defense dug in after the Knights took over with good field position following an unsuccessful fake punt, getting the ball back for the offense at their own 38. Two plays later, though, lightning struck again. With receiver Anthony Fatjo fighting for extra yardage following a short reception, Black Knights’ defensive back Tyrell Wickersham stripped the ball and returned it 44 yards down the left sideline for a touchdown. Murr then hit Cameron Kline for the two-point conversion to tie the game 14-14 with 2:06 left in the period.
"It’s not like their offense actually beat us," Locker said. "Let’s be honest. We beat ourselves. Their offense didn’t beat us. Our mistakes beat us. And the return of their players made a significant difference. Pretty simple."
The score was still tied late in the third quarter when the Knights got a short field after Darius Stuckey recovered a fumble at the WHS 17 following a blind-side sack of Hurst. Then on Hempfield’s next play, Murr found Treavon Hinton for a go-ahead 17-yard strike. On the two-point conversion, although the Warriors thought Hempfield warranted a delay of game penalty, Gamble, in his first game back from a broken arm, scored to put the Black Knights up 22-14 with :35.7 left in the quarter.
Meanwhile, the Warriors’ ground attack, which gained 119 yards in the opening half, was held to only 20 following the intermission. But Hurst (17-28-1, 206 yards) completed a pair of passes on Warwick’s opening series of the fourth quarter to get the Warriors’ inside Hempfield’s red zone. The drive stalled, however, and Kobi Biemesderfer’s 34-yard field goal attempt was just wide left with 9:32 remaining.
Overall, however, Hurst was 13 of 21 through the air in the second half for 141 yards, and five of those completions came on the Warriors’ final possession as he marched the team from its own 40 to the Black Knights’ two-yard line. Myers had three catches on that last drive, including a seven-yard reception which got Warwick on the doorstep. Hurst was stopped on a QB sneak on second down, and then following a scramble to get the ball set, the Warriors spiked the ball to stop the clock on third down.
"Probably the biggest screw-up was the quarterback sneak," Locker said, "but they (Hempfield’s defense) were pretty well spread out and I thought we could find a crack."
Prior to getting a play off on fourth down, however, the Warriors were penalized for delay of game, pushing them back to the seven-yard line.
"We were afraid we’d run out of time (leading to spiking the ball on third down)," Locker said. "Then we wanted to make sure that we were going to run a play that we wanted. I question the marking of the ball. I don’t complain about officiating very often. I didn’t think it was a delay of game."
Facing tougher odds on their final play, Hurst’s pass to Myers in the end zone went incomplete, and that was the game.
"We had one play called (prior to the penalty) and we had to go to a different play," Locker said. "We had a handful of two-point plays that we’ve practiced all year long and we were very confident in it and then we didn’t get to run it. From the seven, it’s not quite a fit."
Earlier, Warwick running back Gabe Taylor gained 72 of his 91 yards in the opening half, and his 15-yard TD run with 7:36 left in the first quarter, coupled with Biemesderfer’s first of two PAT’s, made the score 7-0. The Warriors then doubled their lead with 4:50 left in the second quarter as Hurst hit Myers on a slant for a 16-yard touchdown. That was part of a first-half effort in which Warwick outgained Hempfield 184-67 while capitalizing on three interceptions of Black Knights’ QB Michael Edwards – two by Chris Borg and one by Tommy Garner.
In the end, though, it wasn’t meant to be for the Warriors.
With Wilson set to visit Grosh Field this Friday, Warwick had to put the sting of the loss to the Black Knights behind them quickly.
"They don’t have much of a choice. They’ve got a week left to play," Locker said. "They’d better find a way to get it out of their system now. Me, I’m probably going to second-guess the play-calling and look at it and think what I could have done differently. We needed to find a way to get a win for the kids tonight." More WARWICK, page B-12