One for the history books

By on November 7, 2018
Warwick’s defense swarms to the ball to bring down a Palmyra ball carrier in the Warriors’ 64-0 win last Friday night in a District Three 5A first-round playoff game. Photo by Missi Mortimer

Warwick’s defense swarms to the ball to bring down a Palmyra ball carrier in the Warriors’ 64-0 win last Friday night in a District Three 5A first-round playoff game. Photo by Missi Mortimer

With classmates on their mind, Warriors earn 1st District win

In a hallway outside of their locker room last Friday night, Warwick’s players could be heard celebrating a little bit.

After the heartbreaking week the Warriors experienced, they finally had something to enjoy.

Sparked by a 36-point first quarter and a defense which held Palmyra to minus-7 rushing yards, No. 5-Warwick earned its first-ever playoff victory, knocking off 12th-seeded Palmyra 64-0 in a District Three 5A opening-round game at rain-soaked Joseph Grosh Field in Lititz.

It had been only one week since a tragic automobile accident involving three of the Warriors’ friends/classmates occurred in front of the high school. Players wore decals on their helmets containing the initials of Rylan Beebe, Meghan Keeney and Jack Nicholson.

“It’s not back to normal,” Warrior coach Bob Locker said, “but normalcy is helpful any times that there’s things in life like this. A Friday night football game is something that is a normal occurrence, and to be able to go out there for a couple of hours and play was probably very therapeutic for the kids, and I think it was probably good therapy for some of the people sitting in the stands.”

Amid the rain droops, Warwick senior receiver Hilton Michael (5), shown with teammate Justin Gerhart, points to the heavens after scoring on a 39-yard TD pass in the first quarter last Frid Photo by Missi Mortimer

Amid the rain droops, Warwick senior receiver Hilton Michael (5), shown with teammate Justin Gerhart, points to the heavens after scoring on a 39-yard TD pass in the first quarter last Friday. Photo by Missi Mortimer

With the victory, the Warriors (9-2) have assured themselves of at least one more week of Friday night football, as they have advanced to this Friday’s District quarterfinals to play 4th-seeded Cedar Cliff (9-2), a 30-0 winner over Elizabethtown.

The Colts will face a Warrior offensive unit which is averaging 417 yards per game. Last Friday against the Cougars (8-3), Warwick collected 389 yards of offense, but that was more than enough.

Fact is, they often had a short field while scoring on six of their eight first-half possessions.

A blocked punt by Austin Bufis was recovered by Hilton Michael to give Warwick the ball at Palmyra’s 9-yard line with just 1:51 elapsed. On the next play, Trey Glass (5-153 receiving) caught a screen pass from Joey McCracken and went nine yards down the right sideline for the game’s opening score. Pietro Elliott’s PAT made it 7-0 with 10:03 left in the first.

It was the first of four touchdown passes for McCracken, who finished 8-of-16 through the air for 226 yards, with no interceptions.

Palmyra, whose coaches wore red and black hats to honor Warwick, were limited to only 31 yards and three first downs against the Warriors’ D. They moved the chains when senior QB Grant Haus connected with Nick Morder for a 10-yard gain, but three plays later, the Cougars punted, and then Glass hauled in another short pass from McCracken, found a seam and took it 77 yards to the house. When Nick Fucci ran for the two-point conversion, Warwick led 15-0.

“We got the ball in playmakers’ hands,” Locker said, “and we’ve got people who — if we get the ball to them — do good things with it.”

After Michael recovered the ensuing onside kick, the senior wideout lined up in a five-receiver set and got wide open in the Cougars’ secondary, paving the way for a 39-yard TD grab which pushed the Warriors’ advantage to 22-0.

“Honestly, it’s easier for a wide receiver (in the rain) than it is for a DB,” Locker said, “because wideouts know where they’re going and DBs have to try to react. If the quarterback can get the ball to a wideout on a rainy night, it’s a good thing.”

Having scored three TDs on their first three offensive plays, the Warriors appeared to make it 4-for-4 when Fucci sliced through Palmyra’s defense for a 50-yard touchdown run. The play was brought back by a Warwick penalty, but a 43-yard McCracken-to-Glass connection gave them a first-and-goal. A short time later, Fucci’s one-yard TD run capped a six-play, 50-yard scoring drive to give the Warriors a 28-0 lead.

It was the first of three TDs on the night for Fucci, who finished with 105 rushing yards on 14 carries.

“In another year, on another team,” Locker said, “Nick Fucci is a 1,000-yard rusher, easy. He just happens to be running the football for us and we get a little pass happy sometimes. We just have good kids. We find mismatches.”

Warwick found another mismatch on its next possession, this time when tight end Hayden Rucci out-dueld Palmyra DB Kasey Shughart for a 22-yard TD pass down the left sideline on the final play of the first quarter, making it 36-0.

Rucci donned number 32 on this night, trading his No. 33 jersey to teammate David Hnasko, who honored his girlfriend Meghan Keeney by wearing the same number she did for the field hockey team.

“That’s something that (Hayden) and David worked out between themselves and we respected it and said we’re good with it as long as the PIAA is good with it,” Locker said. “Palmyra was great about all things considered tonight. Very respectful. You learn a lot about other programs, other school districts, other human beings when things aren’t going well and there was an outpouring and that was just a real class act of them. It speaks highly of what they are as a program.”

A pick-six by Warrior DB Justin Gerhart, who returned the ball 15 yards to paydirt, with 6:02 left in the half stretched the lead to 43-0, and Fucci’s 9-yard TD run with just :17.1 left on the clock gave Warwick a 50-0 lead going to the locker room.

In the second half, Warwick received the kickoff and kept things on the ground, as Fucci barreled for a 62-yard gain, then scored his third TD of the night, weaving five yards into the end zone with 8:15 remaining in the third quarter.

Junior Sean Badessa, who rushed for 46 yards on eight carries, completed the scoring with a three-yard touchdown run off the right side with 7:59 to go in the final stanza.

From there, the Warriors got the ball one more time and ran out the clock, allowing them to savor their first District playoff win in program history.

“I’m sure it will sink in more (later), like winning a Section title last week and winning a District playoff game this week are good things,” Locker said. “Navigating life with the kids is a better thing, and being able to be part of what is going on with them. I’m not going to lie, though. I’m glad we won a District game, I’m glad for the kids, I’m glad for the program. I’m glad we won a Section title for the school, for the program, and for all of those who have come before us here as football players.”

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