McCracken-Glass Duo Proves Lethal As Warwick Scores Historic Win Over Wilson
Sometimes, the football gods can have a peculiar way of behaving. On occasion, their methodology is clear and concise. On the other hand, it can sometimes feel like Lucy pulling the football away from a hard-charging Charlie Brown at the last possible second, forcing him to fall flat on his back. Just take the Wilson and Warwick series as a prime example.
For years, the better part of the last decade to be more exact, Lancaster-Lebanon Section 1 football was largely owned and defined by the Wilson Bulldogs. Why? Well, try a 68 game winning streak over your fellow Section 1 foes on for size and see if there are any doubters left questioning. All in all, it was anunprecedented stretch of dominance that included nine straight victories over the Warwick Warriors. However, take a deeper dive into the series, and you’ll soon discover that there is a rich backstory behind it.
No matter what the team and no matter what the sport, there are always are those certain few road trips that are met with trepidation and pause given previous history. For Wilson, their visits down to Lititz to tangle with the Warwick Warriors seemto fit that description to a T. For years, Wilson and Warwick frequently renewed pleasantries in the final game of the regular season—-A situation that seemed to always work in the benefit of the mighty Bulldogs. More often than not, the Red and White machine would roll southbound on Route 222 with a Section 1 crown already bestowed upon their heads, playing a Warwick team that had nothing more to play for other than school and personal pride. Yet even with the chips stacked heavily against them, you could also be assured that the Warriors would always come out swinging.
In 2012, an undefeated Wilson team eagerly arrived at Warwick with the sole mission of inflicting more damage just one week after a resounding win over Penn Manor, a triumph that would skew the eventual outcome of the Section 1 race in their favor. Their opponent on the other hand came into that early November night with a much different story as owners of a 5-game losing skid entering the season finale. However, the quest to conquer the Warriors for a 5th straight time would have it’s challenges as evidenced by the slim 7-0 margin Wilson held at the halftime break before going on to pull away, 28-0. And just how good would that Wilson team end up being? Oh, just you average ho-hum trip of making it all the way to the PIAA AAAA Western State Final.
In 2014, the story seemed to be eerily similar. That year, 9-0Wilson would venture to Lancaster County to square up with a 2-7 Warwick outfit, only to be pushed to the limit by the pesky Warriors, taking a 6-2 lead into the final stanza. It would be anything but a cakewalk, but Wilson would eventually be able to exert their collective will and ultimately win going awaycourtesy of crucial punt block, 19-2, holding off a valiant effort from the Warrior troops. And ironically enough, when the dust would finally settle on that season, it too would show Wilson advancing all the way to the state semifinals.
Fast forward to 2016, and the narrative had changed somewhat. Although Wilson was still up to their usual old tricks of sitting unopposed atop the Section 1 standings, the Warwick program was clearly on the upswing, catching up ground at a rapid pace. Not only that, but the 2016 edition of Wilson-Warwick would do an about-face, now starting off the Section 1 slate. But not even the change on the calendar would change the narrative to this one. Once again, Wilson was forced to fight tooth and nail for everything that night, carrying a slim 14-10 advantage with them heading into the final quarter before leaning on it’s defense to slam the door as a late-game threat from Warwick advanced all the way down to the Wilson 37-yard line. However, as fate would have it, that would be all the further Warwick would be able to travel that night as the Bulldogs’ defense held the Warriors on downs, preserving the dramatic 14-10 triumph. And if you’re sensing a theme here, yes, 2016 would also be a season where Wilson would find themselves in Altoona’s Mansion Park for Western State Final come December.
And while only time will tell whether this year’s edition of the Wilson Bulldogs will be able to follow in the same illustriousfootprints left behind from their previous brethren, they at the very least appear to be getting situated in the starting blocks, angling towards a postseason berth.
But it didn’t always appear that way.
Starting off the year with a somewhat befuddling 2-2 record, albeit against a plethora of football powerhouses, the Bulldogs have been able to right the ship and respond by promptly rattling three straight victories to start the Section 1 campaign, making it feel like just another autumn in West Lawn.
For Warwick, this year has been a little bit different. Coming into the season with levels of optimism and excitement that have not been seen around these parts for decades, aided behind never-before-seen Division 1-caliber talent, the Warriors have largely delivered this year as evidenced by their 5-2 overall mark entering Friday night’s L-L Section 1 headliner with their only blemishes coming against last season’s District 3 5A and 6A champions in Manheim Central and Manheim Township respectively, despite the fact that the Warriors did hold the lead for a portion of the time in both contests.
And whether it was the symbolic brisk winds of change that blew into town on Friday night or purely a team hitting on all cylinders, this Friday night in Lititz went anything but according to script.
Although Wilson get the ball first and mount a successful first drive to start the contest, the Warwick defense was able to rise to the occasion, ultimately stiffening and forcing a Bulldog punt at the conclusion of the opening series.
Despite the fact that the Warriors would take over at their own 9-yard line, the pinball machine known as the Warwick offense quickly went to work with the intention of landing an opening punch. And although a 32-yard slant from sophomore quarterback Joey McCracken to Trey Glass did not lead to points, it certainly served as a precursor for the rest of the evening as the McCracken to Glass combo ushered the home-standing Warriors out of danger and down to their own 48-yard line. From there, the Warriors did not need to advance it much further on the drive as McCracken found senior running back Nick Fucci streaking along the Wilson sideline with Fucci doingthe rest from there as the 53-yard pass and catch put Warwick on the board first at 7-0 with 4:21 left in the opening quarter.
And after a second consecutive halt of the Wilson offensive attack, Warwick then set up shop at their own 25-yard line as the first quarter buzzer rang out.
Once the second quarter began, it didn’t the Warriors long to find the endzone once again. In fact, it would take them all of 20 seconds as Joey McCracken stood tall in the pocket before locating Conor Adams darting across the middle, hitting Adams in stride with the junior wideout finishing the job from there as the 59-yard bolt of lightning put Warwick up by two scores at 14-0 with 11:40 to play in the half.
It’s not often that the Wilson Bulldogs find themselves down by two touchdowns, much less to an L-L foe. And with their offense needing to generate some sort of momentum in order to steal the narrative away from the high-powered Warwick offense, the Bulldogs went back to work with their ground and pound game featuring bruising tailback, senior Elijah Morales. Unfortunately for the visitors from Berks County, this drive too would eventually stall out near midfield as the Bulldogs were forced to punt once again.
However, this time the vaunted Wilson defense was up for the challenge, putting the brakes on the Warriors’ attack, thanks in large part to a sack junior linebacker Avanti Lockhart as the Bulldogs regained possession at the Warwick 42-yard line following the punt.
This time, the Bulldogs would be able to retaliate as senior quarterback Anthony Futrick was able to rifle a beautiful pass down the seam to junior wideout Brady Gibble, as the 42-yard bomb on the first play of the series got the Bulldogs back within one score as the PAT bounced off the right upright, making it a 14-6 ballgame in favor of Warwick with 4:30 left in the opening half.
And after another successful stand defensively their next time out, the Wilson offense trotted back onto the field at their own 16-yard line with 2:04 left to play in the half.
As one can imagine, Wilson was not one to hit the panic buttonin this situation, letting Elijah Morales tote the rock with Morales bouncing off of would-be Warrior tacklers left and right as the senior’s big run got the Bulldogs out to their own 32-yard line to start the drive. From there, a 14-yard pitch and catch from Anthony Futrick to junior receiver Matt Fry put the white-clad Dawgs near the midfield stripe at their own 46-yard line. Shortly thereafter, Wilson was to generate even more momentum after a costly personal foul call whistled against the Warriors along the Wilson sideline. And after an Isiah Gilmore run got the Bulldogs down to the Warwick 22-yard line, Futrick and company successfully completed their mission as Futrick threaded the needle beautifully to Brady Gibble for the 22-yard TD toss, the pair’s second touchdown connection of the half, as Wilson trimmed the Warwick lead down to 14-12 after the 2pt conversion try was no good.
So, with momentum clearly standing on the sidelines with the Bulldogs with just 1:09 to play in the first half and the Warriors taking over 80 yards away from the endzone, Warwick was faced with a dilemma—Either sit on the lead and head into the intermission without any extra thrills, or try and go for the jugular. Well, when you have an offense like that of this year’s Warwick squad, it’s not so much of a dilemma as it is an opportunity. And right on cue, McCracken and the offense went right back to work.
Aided by a key 3rd & 2 run by Nick Fucci which moved the chains in the Warriors’ favor, McCracken was able to spot senior tight end Hayden Rucci racing down the sideline stride for stride with a Bulldog defender, only to witness Rucci seize the moment by jumping above his opposition to win the 1-on-1 battle and come down with the monstrous reception, as Warwick was able to kill the clock with 0.6 seconds left with the ball now resting inside the Wilson redzone. From there, the Warriors handed the keys over to placekicker Pietro Elliott as the senior displayed nerves of steel by booting a crucial 32-yard kickthrough the uprights to give Warwick the 17-12 lead heading into the break.
But as you recall, this was a scenario that those who follow these two programs had already seen countless times before. However the question still remained in the chilly autumn air—-Would this be a halftime lead that the Warriors would be able to protect? Well, the first drive of the second half probably gave those in attendance a pretty good indication.
With the Warriors starting off the second half with possession, a fast start would be most ideal. Check and mate. In fact, it would take Warwick all of 57 seconds to get back on the board as McCracken found Hayden Rucci standing in his own area code behind the Wilson secondary as the future Wisconsin Badger rumbled his way down the field for the 75-yard cat-quick TD strike, allowing the Warriors to double up their opposition at 24-12 with 11:03 to play in the third stanza.
After again finding themselves in a precarious position once again following the early Warwick score, the Wilson offense needed to bring their lunch pails with them and go right back to work. And sure enough like so many Wilson teams before them, they were able to do precisely that.
Aided by a handful of crucial third down conversions thanks to Anthony Futrick calling his own number by way of the QB draw, the Bulldog drive had suddenly marched its way down to the Warwick 9-yard line with a score of some kind seeming imminent.
But it was not to be.
After a Futrick check-down pass to Isaiah Gilmore near the pylon was deemed just short of the chalk line, the Bulldogs decided to roll the dice and go for it on 4th & Goal at the 1-yard line. And in a way that perfectly epitomized their season to date, the Warriors rose to challenge by stuffing the Wilson attempt, giving the ball back to Warwick offense, albeit 99 yards away.
That wouldn’t be an issue.
After a nail-biting run to start the series that saw the Warriors narrowly escape the danger of a safety, McCracken went back to the air only to find his favorite target, junior speed-demon Trey Glass, as Glass secured the catch on the fly route before ultimately outracing the entire Bulldog defensive unit as the school-record 99-yard TD toss put Warwick up by the commanding 31-12 lead with 4:17 left to play in the third.
From there, the next few minutes of the third quarter played themselves out in a way that seemed eerily similar.
Once again, Wilson was able to mount a drive that saw the Dawgs ultimately get inside the Warwick redzone all the way down to the 15-yard line, only to be turned away on downs as a 4th & 6 pass attempt fell harmlessly to the turf. And just as they had right before, the Warriors were able to make the Bulldogs pay for the error of their ways with a backbreaking play as McCracken found Trey Glass on a seemingly innocent post route, only to see Glass torch the turf up behind him as the 82-yard touchdown game of pitch and catch put Warwick up 38-12 heading into the final quarter.
With the Warwick offense stealing most of the show with their laundry list of big plays, thanks in large part to Trey Glass’ 260 yard overall night catching the ball, it was time for the defense to get in on the act with the game heading down the final stretch.
With Wilson trying to make a game of things with the final period now underway, the Bulldogs’ attempt at offering a rebuttal to the Warwick advantage was ultimately negated after a tip drill initiated by Warrior DB Conor Adams before the ball was secured by Justin Gerhart, giving the ball back to white-hot Warwick offense.
However the flames would cool on this drive as Wilson was able to return the favor with beautiful interception nabbed by sophomore defensive back Kaleb Brown who was able to race down the Warriors’ sideline with his newfound prize before being brought down at the Warwick 21-yard line.
But once again, an interception would end up being the demise of this Wilson series as well with sophomore safety Caleb Schmitz collecting the honors this time, allowing the Warwick offense to have a go of it once again.
Yet even though the Warriors would not be able to find the endzone the rest of the night, the damage had already been done as Warwick was able to close it out from there, securing the 38-12 triumph over Wilson, keeping the Warriors in a first-place log-jam atop the L-L Section 1 standings.
The star of the show on this night? Easy. Sophomore QB Joey McCracken who had a pedestrian night at the office, accounting for 528 passing yards, just a ho-hum accomplishment that now has him as the sole owner of the Lancaster-Lebanon League single game passing record—-A league that produced NFL quarterbacks. Not too shabby for a guy making his first career start.
“We hit some seriously big plays with some yards after catches, but he did a really good job of putting the ball on the money for the most part, especially when you consider it was his first start,” Warwick long-time head coach Bob Locker said afterwards. “What he did was really pretty impressive.”
On the mirco, Friday night’s triumph over Wilson was one for the ages. After all, school and league records came tumbling down like the leaves on the trees on a night where the Warriors were able to knock off Wilson for the first time since the Bush Administration. On the macro however, tonight’s win is big for other reasons—-Something Coach Locker is keenly aware of.
“Any time you beat a team like (Wilson) it’s fantastic, but now we put ourselves in position to get a piece of the section title so that has a lot to do with how I feel and just feeling good for these kids.”
NEXT UP: As Coach Locker eluded to after the game on Friday night, Warwick is now staring down the barrel of a possible Section 1 title—-A feat that quite frankly puts this year’s Warrior squad in uncharted territory this late in a season with remaining games against Conestoga Valley and Penn Manor left to go. But just as they have done all season long, there is little doubt that the Warriors will attack every challenge put in front of them head-on.
“Our defense has come a long way since last year as evidenced by tonight,” Locker added in regards to what is different about this year’s bunch. “We’ve also done a better job of taking advantage of our skill kids this year and we have solid special teams. When you put that all together, we’re becoming a good football team.”
For Wilson, even despite Friday night’s setback, the Bulldogs certainly seemed poised to reenter the postseason again this year with remaining games on the docket against Cedar Crest and McCaskey respectively. And with the District 3 6A tournament largely feeling it like it is up for grabs, one would be foolish to automatically count out the Bulldogs. After all, while it could be argued that certain teams are just naturally built for the postseason, only the truly elite are hard-wired with the internal DNA that have what it takes to make it all the way to the semifinal round in the state’s highest classification system 4 of the last 10 seasons.
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