Warwick Regains Their Winning Ways As Warriors Post Shutout Victory Over Penn Manor
When looking at the 2017 high school football season to date, it’s fair to say that this year has not gone as well as both Penn Manor and Warwick had hoped for back in the summer. Take a deeper look inside the overall records however and you’ll discover two teams that came into Friday night’s collision with two different narratives, especially of late.
For the Comets of Penn Manor, a slow start out of the gates led to an 0-3 beginning of the campaign, but a much needed win against Lebanon in Week 4 seemed to give Penn Manor a shot in the arm as the Comets have started to play their best ball of the season as evidenced by last week’s triumph over a high-flying Conestoga Valley outfit that sent shockwaves across the Lancaster Lebanon League Section 1 landscape that the Comets are not a team to sleep on.
Their opponents on Friday night came in riding an opposite wave of momentum. For Warwick, one of the most highly anticipated seasons in school history got off to a positive beginning with the Warriors getting out to a quick 2-1 start, with the Warriors scoring over 60 points in each of those two victories. Much in the same way that Penn Manor’s season was somewhat shaped by what happened in Week 4 this year, Warwick was no different.
In Week 4, the Warriors traveled north to West Lawn to tangle with the dynasty known as the Wilson Bulldogs in one of the most highly-anticipated games in the early part of the season. Although the presumption was that Warwick had the firepower to end Wilson’s perfect Section 1 winning streak that dated back to 2007, it seemed like any other fall Friday night over the last decade as the Bulldogs were able to take care of business, topping the visitors from Lititz with the 56-24 victory. And unfortunately for Warwick, they would suffer an even bigger loss that evening.
Grayson Kline, the highly-talented senior quarterback transfer who ironically came to the Warriors by way of Wilson this summer, suffered an unfortunate season-ending injury in the waning minutes of the contest giving Warwick a new dynamic with the majority of the season left to play. Enter junior signal-caller Adam Ricketts. And while Ricketts has played well after taking over command of Warwick’s spread out offense, Kline’s absence has coincided with Warwick dropping 2 of their last 3 ballgames heading into Friday night’s tussle with Penn Manor at Millersville University.
With both squads riding the pendulum of momentum differently entering this weekend, fortune would side with Warwick on this night as the Warriors put together a total team effort to pick up a crucial win with their postseason aspirations still on the line.
Although this night would belong to Warwick, it did not seem that way early on. At least for the first few initial plays at least. After speed-demon Theo McElheny was able to return the opening kickoff out near midfield, the new-look Comet option offense went up top on the opening play from scrimmage. After one just play, the Comets suddenly found themselves knocking on the door at the Warrior 23 after senior quarterback Josiah Edwards lofted a pass into the waiting arms of fellow senior Andrew Eshleman along the Comet sideline. That was where the promising start would come to an end.
The Comets coughed up the ball a few plays later with Warwick sophomore linebacker Jonathan Forbes pouncing on the loose pill. From there, Warwick had one goal in mind. Find the endzone.
Although Penn Manor was able to stuff the opening two plays for next to no yardage, Ricketts went to the air firing off a beautiful spiral into the crisp autumn air with Carter Forney waiting on the other end as the senior wideout came down with it after winning the jump ball battle to set Warwick up at the Penn Manor 32 yard line. That would prove to be all the closer Warwick would need to get as the bubble screen from Ricketts to Trey Glass saw the sophomore wide receiver maneuver his way home and take it the distance as Warwick struck first, leading 7-0 with 9:19 to go in the opening quarter.
After Warwick’s quick burst, it appeared that the Warriors would strike yet again after Hayden Rucci’s sack on 3rd & 10 on the ensuing Comet possession gave the ball back to Ricketts and the offensive troops near midfield, eager to strike. This too looked like it had the makings of a quick-attack Warrior scoring drive when Ricketts hooked up with Rucci on a pass that saw the two junior classmates take the Warriors down to the Comet 36 yard line. Unfortunately for Warwick, an ill-timed fumble would set the visitors all the back to other side of the midfield stripe, leading to an eventual 3rd & 33 that proved too great to convert.
Although Warwick would have to show patience in terms of scoring again, they were rewarded in doing so after yet another Comet fumble, this one recovered by Preston Simmons, gave the ball back to the high-powered Warrior offense. As fate would have it, another Comet turnover would lead to another Warwick touchdown. Ricketts was able to tally his second TD toss of the night after scanning the field and finding Carter Forney in his own area code behind the Comet secondary to put Warwick up 14-0 just before the first quarter horn sounded.
For as much as the Warwick offense was the story of the first quarter, the Warrior defense and special teams were far and away the story of quarter numero dos. It was a defensive performance that Warwick head coach Bob Locker was certainly pleased to see. “There were times tonight where it was bang, bang, bang. We tackled the dive back, tackled the quarterback, and had somebody on the pitch back. That’s assignment football. That’s a credit to the defensive coaches and to the kids at practice this week. It’s pretty cool to see the kids getting better every week and making gains.”
After Warwick tried to catch Penn Manor napping following the Forney touchdown, the Comets were alert to recover the bounding ball as the Comets began to methodically plot their way down toward the goal line after securing the onsides attempt. The Comet drive was eventually able to be extended on a key 4th & 3 conversion with senior running back Evann Jones toting the rock up the gut to give Penn Manor a fresh set of downs. The Comets kept it in the belly of their tri-captain later on in the drive as Jones took the Comet offense down to the 2 yard line. From there however, the drive would stall out.
After a false start was whistled against the Comets, a fumble ushered the Comets back to the 11 yard line, leading to a 3rd & 11 from there. On the 3rd & 11 play, Warwick junior defensive tackle Nick Coomer was able to wrangle up PM’s dual-threat quarterback Josiah Edwards, setting up a Comet field attempt. The attempt would prove to be a failed attempt as Jorden Cruz came free and blocked the Comet kick and returned it back to near midfield.
Luckily for Penn Manor, the Comet D was able to return the favor in the turnover game as this time a Warwick fumble gave the ball back to PM at their own 43. Once again, Penn Manor began to chart their way down the field primarily using the air as their method of attack with sophomore Josh Gibson being the primary target outside. This drive saw the Comets get as close as the 11 yard line, however a sack back by Preston Simmons with Penn Manor having zero timeouts in their pocket to work with at the end of the half led to all an all-out fire drill of a field goal attempt which proved to be too frantic as the kick sailed wide sending Warwick into the halftime break leading 14-0.
Coming out of the intermission, the Warwick offense picked up right where they left off in the first quarter. After just one play from scrimmage, Warwick found themselves out to the Comet 42 yard line when Adam Ricketts found Evan Popalis streaking along the sideline for the big gainer right out of the locker room. Faced with a 3rd & 7 later in the drive from the Comet 32 yard line, junior running back Nick Fucci was able to move the chains with a first down pickup to the Penn Manor 23 yard line. From there, another Ricketts to Trey Glass pass was equal to six points as the sophomore wideout hauled in the juggling catch and raced 23 yards to the house with it as Warwick was able to extend their lead to 21-0 with 9:35 to play in the third quarter.
With time winding down in the third quarter, Penn Manor needed some sort of a spark and fast. They were able to find that jolt of energy when senior linebacker Cole Heckaman got past the Warwick line and blocked the Warrior punt setting the home team up with fantastic field position at the Warwick 24 yard line.
Unfortunately for Penn Manor, this too would prove to be a threatening visit to Warwick territory, only to be turned away with nothing to show for it. After an intentional grounding call assessed against the Comets, the hill was too steep to climb as Warwick held the Comets on downs, keeping the goose egg in tact on the scoreboard.
On the ensuing Warrior possession, Warwick leaned heavily on its offensive line to let the boys in the trenches take over and put this one away for good. The Warriors were able to do just that as a steady diet of Isaac Rissinger running behind the talented offensive line moved Warwick down deep into Comet territory just outside the redzone. After the Rissinger runs, Warwick went back to skies to pick up a 3rd & 9 conversion from the Comet 20 yard line where a Ricketts to Carter Forney connection put Warwick on the doorstep at the Comet 4 yard line. From there, Rissinger fittingly capped off the drive with a 2 yard touchdown plunge to Warwick up 28-0 with 5:37 left to go.
After a Penn Manor punt on the ensuing Comet series, Warwick showed that they were not yet satisfied. This drive would take all of one play as Alex Lawrence had his number called and the senior wideout showed off his jets racing around the outside for the 47 yard TD run to extend Warwick’s lead to 35-0 with 3:10 left to play in the game.
With time still left on the clock and the possibility of a shutout tantalizingly close to becoming a reality, the Warriors were indeed able to roll out of Millersville with the shutout victory after Brendan Martin’s fumble recovery on the ensuing kickoff gave the ball back to Warwick as the Warriors were able to run out the remaining time from there and walk away with the 35-0 triumph over Penn Manor.
Shutouts victories are no easy feat. You have to have an air-tight gameplan and have it be executed flawlessly for 48 minutes on a Friday night. For Warwick, their feat was even more remarkable when you consider that they had to prepare for a style that is unique to anything on their schedule in just one week. “It’s very difficult,” Coach Locker stated on Friday night when asked about prepping for Penn Manor’s option attack. “That was part of the reason we deferred (to start the game). Often times a team that runs that stuff is going to get the first score because you just don’t know how fast it’s going to be. We wanted the kids to see it and try to adjust to it to as quickly as we could. Hopefully this will give us some mojo for next week.”
NEXT UP: Warwick’s win on Friday was critical if Warwick had any hopes of playing beyond Week 10 this season. Now with the Penn Manor victory in their back pocket, the Warriors have two winnable games left in front of them in hosting Conestoga Valley and McCaskey to close out the regular season. They will need to win all those and hope for some outside help, but it’s clear that Warwick knows where they stand every step of the way. “They’re aware of that,” Locker added in the postgame. “We need a lot of things to go our way, but that’s number one. The other thing is to get back to winning a football game and I thought that was important tonight.”
Penn Manor will look to regroup as the Comets hope to close out 2017 with some momentum heading into the offseason training regimen. It won’t be easy however as the Comets will load up the bus two more times this year visiting McCaskey and Manheim Township, two programs that picked up big victories this past week over Lebanon and Wilson respectively.
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