Roughly a month ago on a Friday night in Lititz, in the closing minutes of Warwick’s first football victory over Manheim Central since 1983, the Warriors’ student section looked ahead to the future.
From the bleachers behind the goal-post on one end of Warwick's turf field, the Warriors’ students chanted, ‘We want Township.’
They’ll finally get their wish this Friday when the Blue Streaks (2-0 Lancaster-Lebanon League, 6-0 overall) visit Warwick (3-0, 6-0) for a big-time Section One showdown.
“It’d be huge,” Warwick senior wide receiver Justin Gerhart said when asked what it would mean to beat the Blue Streaks this Friday. “We beat Township a couple years ago and that was huge.”
Manheim Township, which just won at Wilson for the first time since 1976, will enter as the top team in the District 3 Class 6A power ratings while Warwick is on top of the District 3-5A power ratings.
In other words, Friday’s contest is between two teams with the potential to both win district championships.
That’s probably not much of a surprise for folks to hear anymore in regards Manheim Township, which has built itself into a Section One powerhouse under coach Mark Evans over the last seven years.
But for Warwick, this is somewhat unfamiliar territory.
In the first 15 years under coach Bob Locker, from 2001 through 2015, the Warriors had just four winning seasons and four district playoff appearances, including a stretch from 2011 to 2015 in which Warwick had no more than three wins in a season.
But since the beginning of the 2016 campaign, Warwick has compiled a 29-10 record, which included last year’s historic run where the Warriors nabbed a piece of a section crown for the first time since 1997 — splitting it with Manheim Township and Wilson — before winning a district playoff game for the first time in program history.
“It’s been exciting,” Gerhart said. “I had an older brother who played so I watched them go through 2-8 seasons ... it’s just been really exciting to know we’re turning the program around.”
Warwick’s current 6-0 record is the program’s best six-game start since 1978 (9-0-1, Section Two champions).
So how have the Warriors built themselves into a consistently winning program as of late? A lot of it has to do with the emergence of Warwick’s spread offense, which first appeared under Locker in 2007, but has truly taken hold the last handful of years. Before then, the Warriors’ ran I-formation offenses or I-formation mixed with some passing sets.
“Sometimes you design your offense around your personnel,” Locker said. “And then we started getting some kids who could chuck it.”
The kids who could chuck it started with Tyler Trimarchi, who gathered 1,714 passing yards and 21 TDs as a senior in 2016, and was supposed to transition to Grayson Kline in 2017 before Kline went down with a season-ending knee injury in Week Four of that year.
In stepped Adam Ricketts, who gathered 1,000-plus passing yards the rest of the 2017 season. Ricketts returned for his senior campaign in 2018 and was supposed to be Warwick’s full-time signal-caller until the emergence of sophomore QB Joey McCracken. The duo ended up splitting time at QB and combined for nearly 3,000 passing yards.
“You can say what you want, Adam Ricketts was a good high school quarterback,” Locker said. “He just happened to be in the wrong place two years in a row with quarterbacks (Kline and McCracken) who are better than good.”
McCracken, now a junior, has continued his torrid pace, completing 81 of 114 passes for 1,631 passing yards, 19 TDs and one interception. Those marks are at or near the tops in the league among L-L passers.
And McCracken has done this without stud wide receiver Trey Glass, the 2018 L-L Section One Wide Receiver of the Year, who went down with a season-ending knee injury in the season-opener.
“It’s definitely different not having Trey out there,” McCracken said. “He was a threat to score every time he touched the ball. We’ve had to make some adjustments.”
One of those adjustments was replacing Glass with Gerhart at slot receiver. Thus far, the trio of receivers Conor Adams (621 receiving yards, eight TDs), Caleb Schmitz (28 receptions, 523 yards, seven TDs) and Gerhart (10 receptions, 221 receiving yards, two TDs) has proven effective, while workhorse back Colton Miller (93 carries, 602 rushing yards, 15 TDs) balances an offense that is anchored up front with 6-foot, 8-inch, 272-pound junior blue-chip lineman Nolan Rucci.
Add it all up and Warwick appears to have the pieces not only to challenge Manheim Township this Friday, but also to make a historic postseason run.
Quite a leap for a program that won two games just four years ago.