Manheim Township Suffocates Warwick, Remains Undefeated As Blue Streaks Prevail In Heavyweight Fight
The Hatfield family versus the McCoy family. The Montagues versus the Capulets. The Yankees versus the Red Sox. Red versus blue. Good versus evil. Alright, alright. Maybe that last one is a tad bit excessive, but depending on which side of the Lancaster Airport you find yourself living on, you might find it rather hard to refute.
In terms of Lancaster-Lebanon League rivalries, there may not be one that is more passionate and hotly contested than when Warwick and Manheim Township line up across from one another. Distance-wise, there likely isn’t a battle in the L-L League housed within a shorter distance than the five-mile proximity that separates the Warriors’ and Blue Streaks’ respective homebases. Add that to the fact that some parts of both school districts share a Lititz, Pennsylvania mailing address, and it’s darn near physically impossible for factions of either fanbase to go even a day without somehow running into one other. In fact, the rivalry has become so inherently centralized that the winner’s prize has quickly morphed into to a postgame victory celebration held at the McDonald’s franchise on Route 501 with plenty of McFlurries to go around. That is if the ice cream machine isn’t broken of course.
Yet even for how familiar Warwick and Manheim Township had viewed one another, no one involved in either side of the rivalry looked at each other quite like they did on Friday night at Grosh Field.
For Manheim Township, let’s just be perfectly honest here for a moment: They fully expected to be right here in this very position.
Coming into this weekend with a perfect 6-0 record to their name, the Streaks were fresh off back-to-back thumpings of Cocalico and Wilson—- both on the road no less—–for arguably the most impressive two-week consecutive stretch of play from any scholastic team put together thus far in the entire state. That said, the third, final, and by far juiciest week of their jaw-dropping road triumvirate brought them northward to tangle with Warrior counterparts for a matchup that had Warwick licking their chops for weeks.
For as much as Manheim Township expected to be jostling for the #1 seed in the upcoming District 3-6A playoffs, so too did Warwick in the 5A field. The funny and somewhat ironic part of it was, that wasn’t always the case.
You see, when looking at the Warriors’ football program, one needs to look just a handful of years back to find far more lean years that truly served as more the norm around these parts.
If you’re a recent transplant to this part of the state, you might find it impossible to fathom the fact that Warwick was once a team fighting to find upwards of three wins a year given the video game numbers and blue-chip recruits now seen on the Warriors’ home sidelines, but it’s true. In fact, just four short years ago, when this crop of seniors roamed the halls as eighth graders at nearby Warwick Middle School, the Warwick football program campaign posted a far less excitable 2-8 campaign in 2015. Since then however, it’s been an unprecedented ascension to the ranks of the elite.
Speaking of that group of seniors, consider this. It could easily be argued that they have had a hand in three of the school’s biggest wins ever given a destruction of powerhouse Wilson last season, claiming the school’s first ever playoff victory last year in a deluge against Palmyra, combined with the Warriors’ first victory over Manheim Central for the first time this century in a game played just three weeks ago. Needless to say, earning a fourth notch in that already bedazzled belt would provide for quite the achievement.
So, with both teams coming into the evening while hovering well within the Top 5 of the state rankings in both the 6A and 5A respectively as proclaimed by a variety of publications, Warwick was set to host the week’s premiere high school football inside the entire state of Pennsylvania for the first time ever in an evening that was saturated with anticipation. So much so in fact, that Penn State head coach James Franklin decided to show up as well.
Coming into the contest, Manheim Township likely had a list of goals they had complied in order for the Streaks to ultimately prevail on Friday night. Chief of among them, starting fast. Well, in that case, the message from the coaching staff was bought into hook, line and sinker.
In terms of an initial series, one could not draw up one much better than Township’s opening march of the ballgame. Aided by their first gut-check of the night in the form of a 3rd & 6 conversion from senior quarterback Harry Kirk to fellow senior wideout Brett Benjamin which moved the Blue Streaks’ charge out to their own 40-yard line after a 20-yard pickup, Township would find difficulty in negotiating against the Warwick defensive unit over the next few plays. Good thing though that the Manheim Township playbook has a few extra pages contained in the back of it.
Staring at a 4th & 6 just past their own 40-yard line, senior wide receiver turned part-time punter Mickey Stokes lined up in punt formation after the Blue Streaks’ first series had officially hit the skids. Yet even though Stokes routinely wears two hats for the Blue Streaks on Friday night, perhaps it’s time he soon adds a third to his wardrobe: Quarterback.
On said play, Stokes took the snap and fired a strike over the middle to senior tight end Sam Emge which kept the drive alive as the Streaks advanced across the midfield stripe to the Warriors’ 42-yard line following the first monstrous 14-yard pickup.
“Something we saw on film,” said Manheim Township head coach Mark Evans. “That was something we worked on all week to take advantage of. (Warwick) did what we thought they were going to and that’s hats off to Mark McCracken our special teams coordinator.”
“Our special teams play has been a solid phase of the game that you have to win every week,” Evans added. “You have to win special teams every week and we’ve got a lot of guys that are doing a great job on special teams.”
But they weren’t done there. Shortly thereafter, the Township offensive brain-trust dialed up a magnificent screen play in the face of the oncoming Warwick onslaught as Kirk found Jaden Floyd rolling out of the backfield with the senior duo accounting for the 14-yard gainer which moved the Township attack down to the Warwick 26-yard line. And after another third down conversion — this one to Jaden Floyd yet again protruding out of the backfield —- the Blue Streaks found themselves residing on the Warwick 4-yard line. From there, senior running back Bryce Casey was able to do the honors with the 4-yard touchdown plunge, putting the Streaks up 7-0 with 5:26 left to play in the opening quarter. Yes, that’s correct. Manheim Township had just marched 80 yards behind several key conversions and had gobbled up over half the quarter in doing so. If that’s not picture-perfect, you’d be hard pressed to offer something any better.
So, with the Blue Streaks clearly feeling especially greedy given the manner in which they had been able to hog the ball on their opening series, it was time for Township’s vaunted defense to finally take the field against perhaps the most explosive offense this side of the Susquehanna. Good news for the folks from down the road in Neffsville, that unit was just fine as well.
In fact, after holding the Warriors to a three and out on their opening possession of the night, Township then set up shop at their own 30-yard line after the exchange in possession following the successful stand offered from their defensive counterparts.
Yet again, the Township kept the pedal down.
Thanks in large part to another defensive conversion, this one in the form of a 3rd & 5 toss thrown from Kirk to Emge once again which picked up 12 yards, the Streaks then handed the keys to arguably the best running back in the entire L-L League, Jaden Floyd. Right on cue, Floyd took the handoff from Kirk and raced around the left side of the dominant Township offensive line and bolted for a 48-yard pickup which put the ball on the Warwick 1-yard line. From there, Kirk was able to call his own number as the 1-yard quarterback sneak gave Township the 14-0 advantage with 1:31 left to play in the first quarter as a silent hush fell over the partisan Warwick crowd.
With their defense likely starting to suck wind while trying to corral the Manheim Township for nearly the entirety of the first quarter, it became paramount that the Warwick offense quickly bring something to the table in the face of the Blue Streaks’ snowball which was quickly speeding downhill at them. Fortunately for them, they found something.
In fact, on the first play of the ensuing series, junior quarterback Joey McCracken was able to connect with senior wideout Conor Adams for the 27-yard hitch which ushered the Warriors’ attack down to their own 43-yard line. From there, the McCracken to Adams proved fruitful once more as the 9-yard hookup between the two on 3rd & 7 pushed Warwick past the midfield line for the first time all night with the ball now resting at the Township 47-yard line. Shortly thereafter, another McCracken to Adams toss moved the ball down to the Township 36 as the first quarter clock would eventually expire.
Once the second quarter got underway however, the Warwick offense found the sledding against the Township D to be far more unforgiving.
In fact, even despite the fact that the Warriors’ offense was able to sneak inside the redzone and get as far down as the Blue Streaks’ 16-yard line, the Township defense was able to rise up and stuff the Warriors on downs after a fourth down screen pass was stopped short of the line to gain.
So, with the Township offense having pitched a perfect game thus far, the question begged as to whether or not the Streaks would continue their scintillating play on that side of the ball. Long story short, that would be a resounding, “Yup.”
After taking over at their own 17-yard line following the turnover on downs, Harry Kirk dashed out to the Warwick 40-yard on the first play of the series on the quarterback keeper for a play that served notice to those in attendance that taking down Township is a task not designed for the faint of heart.
That being said, the Warwick defense did rise to the occasion on this drive as key five-yard tackle for loss tallied by junior linebacker Caleb Schmitz forced the Streaks into yet another third down scenario. Ironically, while moving the chains on third down had clearly been a strength for Township all night up until that point, the Streaks would fall three yards short of the line to gain which set up a 4th & 3 at the Warwick 33-yard line. Well, at least they had been perfect on fourth down though right?
Deciding to roll the dice, Township kept the offense out on the field for the biggest play yet in the still relatively young evening. In doing so, the Streaks were rewarded handsomely as Kirk found a wide-open Brett Benjamin underneath, as the 21-yard Kirk to Benjamin hookup moved the ball down to the Warriors’ 12-yard line. And with Kirk and the offense humming like a finely-tuned machine, a 13-yard touchdown dart from Kirk to senior wideout Nate Carpenter quickly put the visitors from Neffsville up by three scores at 21-0 with 6:30 left in the first half.
Over the course of the next few drives, both sides would take turns falling victim to their defensive opposition —Township for the first time all evening after a sack tallied by Warwick’s Nolan Rucci on 3rd & 9 on the Blue Streaks’ ensuing possession —- before Township would saddle up and mount one last drive before the first half horn. However, the Streaks’ final drive of the first half perhaps provided the Warriors with some momentum heading into the break as the 34-yard Manheim Township field goal would be blocked on the final play of the second quarter, effectively sending both sides into their respective dressing rooms following an emphatic statement authored by the Streaks in the opening 24 minutes given their 21-0 cushion.
Coming out of the break, it was time for Warwick to offer some sort of a rebuttal.
After witnessing Manheim Township go into their bag of tricks on the Streaks’ opening series of the night, Warwick decided to do the same coming out of the intermission. Staring at a 4th & 4 at the Township 48-yard line, Warwick punter Conor Adams fired a pass out in the flat to a waiting Preston Johnson, as the fake punt gave Warriors an added boost of momentum with the ball now residing on the Streaks’ 37-yard line. From there, the Warwick attack would move down as far as the Township 4-yard line before the Streaks’ defense would once again rise up and stiffen, ultimately holding the Warriors on downs.
But the Warriors were soon given a new lease on life.
Despite their successful defensive stand, the Township offense took over deep within the shadows of their own goalposts. Needless to say, turning the ball over here could prove to be deadly. And almost as if to be right on cue, that is precisely what happened.
On 3rd & 1 at their own 17-yard line, a Manheim Township fumble was quickly pounced on by Warwick’s Caleb Schmitz, giving the Warriors an extremely short field from which to work with. This time, the Warriors were ultimately able to cash in.
Aided in the drive by a key 4th & 3 conversion by way of the quarterback scramble from Joey McCracken, the Warriors ultimately found paydirt as a 4-yard touchdown plunge from junior running back Colton Miller got the Warriors on the board at 21-7 with 2:45 left in the third. And after a three and out contributed by their staunch defense, momentum appeared to be switching sidelines and sliding over the Warriors’ bench as the third quarter events wound down.
But it was not to be.
Despite taking over at their own 45-yard following the exchange in possession, an equally ill-timed Warwick fumble gave the ball back to Manheim Township at the Warwick 47-yard line as the game then moved into the final quarter. Fortunately for the homestanding Warriors, the ensuing Township drive would not result in any additional Blue Streak damage as the Warwick defense would end up holding on downs, setting up shop now at their own 26-yard line.
Without the shadow of a doubt, Warwick needed to find the endzone on this drive. Pronto too if they could muster it. So, the Warriors’ offense trotted out onto the Grosh Field turf knowing full-well the task at hand. And while every literal inch was truly earned, Warwick would eventually move out across the midfield line before reaching the Township 45-yard following a gigantic 4th & 8 conversion from the tried and true McCracken-Adams duo with the Warriors’ offense now starting to pick up steam. From there, Joey McCracken called his own number on the very next play from scrimmage and raced down to the Township 25-yard line for 20 more yards of additional real estate. After that though, the Township defense would surrender nary a yard as the Warwick drive was eventually put to a close following a magnificent tipped pass from Manheim Township senior Tyler Kurtz while operating from his linebacker spot on 4th & 10.
Yet even though Township had just now taken over after successfully halting a possible Warwick scoring punch, the Blue Streaks’ offense would also be stymied as well on their ensuing possession following the turnover on downs as Township ended up punting it away to Warwick with the Warriors clearly needing to punch it in ASAP.
In short, it would prove to be an assignment won by the Blue Streaks’ defense as a key sack on the Warriors’ ensuing possession by Township senior linebacker Josh Emge helped spell doom for the Warwick offense in a drive that too would also eventually end on downs with Township taking over at the Warriors’ 26-yard line.
From there, Jaden Floyd ended up capping off the evening with a resounding exclamation mark for Manheim Township on this night as Floyd’s 4-yard touchdown burst and subsequent casual toss of a would-be Warwick defender in the endzone seemed to serve as an iconic microcosmic for Manheim Township’s resounding 28-7 triumph which kept the Blue Streaks perfect on the year while also knocking their archrivals from the ranks of the unbeaten on Friday night as the postgame masses quickly jettisoned off to the nearby McDonald’s to celebrate.
“I don’t eat McDonald’s,” a happy Mark Evans said with a wide smile after addressing his troops for the final time on Friday night. “When I do though, it tastes like caviar. It’s like that rare moment where McDonald’s tastes really, really good. Maybe I’ll have some McDonald’s, but not right now though.”
Okay. All jovial matters aside, this was an absolute statement made by Township over their backyard rivals in the Warriors’ house on Friday night. Not that only that, but it capped off maybe the most ridiculous three-week stretch of games that any squad could’ve been asked to play.
“Operation hat-trick is now successfully completed,” Coach Evans added triumphantly. “We’re road warriors. We went on the road against three #1 seeds in their District 3 classification at the time against three unbeatens. Tomorrow maybe we’ll take a step back and take a little bit of a breather, but we can’t stop.”
“Again, that goes back to the fact that we got a little complacent in the second half (against Warwick) so now we’ve got to go back to work. It’s good. That keeps us grounded.”
NEXT UP: While many will likely see Township’s win over Warwick as the Blue Streaks’ final challenge of the regular season before they storm off into the postseason, the true fact of the matter is that the upcoming schedule really does not get any easier whatsoever given the fact that the 6-1 Cedar Crest Falcons come calling to Neffsville next Friday night. And if you’ve spent any sort of time around the L-L League, you know full-well that Cedar Crest is a school that thrives and relishes for situations such as the assignment placed before them up next on the docket where most would be quick to count them out. Not Township however. The Falcons are sure to have their full attention in practice this week. If nothing else though, the opportunity to raise the bar even further in the Blue Streaks’ camp still exists.
“I still don’t think we’ve played a complete game yet,” said Evans. “The scary part is that’s there’s better in there somewhere. That’s also the good part. We have something to keep working for and keep striving for. I don’t think you’ll ever get the perfect game, but you sure as heck gotta work for it.”
For Warwick, the schedule maker didn’t exactly do them any favors either considering the Warriors must now right the ship when they pack up the yellow school buses and head northward into Berks County to tangle with the Wilson Bulldogs next Friday night in West Lawn. And aside from the weekend worth of festivities that the Bulldogs will have planned for certain factions of their esteemed alumni, revenge will likely be on everyone’s mind considering the record-setting numbers Warwick was able to put up on the Bulldogs last year en route to their first victory over Wilson in over a decade.
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