Cocalico vs Warwick-District 3 5A Semifinal

Cocalico's Noah Palm, left, and Ronald Zahm, share a moment after beating Warwick in a PIAA District 3 5A football semifinal game at Eagles Stadium in Denver Friday November 15, 2019. Cocalico won 21-13.

Cocalico is heading back to the District Three Class 5A championship game for the second year in a row.

Noah Palm continued his scintillating senior season with two touchdown runs and a key second-half interception, and the Eagles overcame a two-touchdown deficit for a riveting 21-13 victory over Warwick in Friday night’s semifinal showdown in Denver.

“I thought our defense answered the bell time after time after time,” Cocalico coach Dave Gingrich said. “I'm so proud of our kids. The way they played inspired football when the chips were down, that's a sign of character.”

Top-seeded Cocalico (10-2) will take on second-seeded Cedar Cliff for 5A gold next Friday back on the Eagles’ home field. Cocalico clipped the Colts in an August nonleague game; the rematch will be for the district crown and a trip to the PIAA playoffs.

Cedar Cliff (10-2) blanked Exeter 24-0 in Friday's other 5A semifinal-round game. The Colts fell to the Eagles 43-14 back on Aug. 29.

Cocalico fell to rival Manheim Central in last year's title game; this is the fourth straight season that the Eagles reached at least the semifinal round.

“It's the best feeling in the world right now,” Cocalico senior two-way all-star interior lineman Brock Gingrich said. “The best feeling ever.”

Once again, Palm was the show-stopper. The senior QB bolted for 130 yards on 21 keepers, and his 63-yard TD sprint on fourth and inches with 8:18 to play in regulation gave Cocalico the lead for good.

Palm's 3-yard plunge with four seconds to go in the first half put the Eagles on the board, after Warwick had darted to a 13-0 lead with a pair of first-half scores: Colton Miller's 1-yard plunge with 3:26 to go in the first quarter, and Joey McCracken's 31-yard TD strike to Thatcher Miller with 5:58 to go in the first half.

But the game changed just before the break when Cocalico's Marshall Patterson recovered a fumble, just when it looked like Warwick was about to go in for a back-breaking score. Patterson's play set up Palm's 52-yard pass to Ronald Zahm, and the Eagles had a first-and-goal.

Palm slammed in with four ticks left in the half, and Cocalico sliced it to 13-7 at intermission.

Cocalico's go-ahead score was a thing of beauty. Facing fourth-and-inches at their own 37, the Eagles rolled the dice and went for it. Palm answered the bell, galloping 63 yards for the touchdown.

The original call was for a punt, but after a timeout, Dave Gingrich sent his offense back out.

“The kids came over and they were like yeah, we're going for it,” the coach said. “I told them that punting wasn't a bad problem to have there. But they decided to go for it.”

“We all knew as a team that we were going for it,” Palm said. “It was now or never. We were going for it all the way.”

The move worked.

On Warwick's ensuing drive, Palm, from his safety spot, picked off McCracken with 6:40 to go and Cocalico got the ball back. Undaunted, Warwick (10-3) set out on one last-gasp drive with 1:19 to play. But Cocalico's Trey Griffin registered a key sack, and McCracken's desperation heave toward the end zone on the game's final play was knocked away, and the Eagles won it.

“It's the resiliency of this team, and we just expressed it right out there on that field,” Brock Gingrich said. “We're down 13-0 and we came all the way back. That's a great team effort. We had a little scare there, but we brought it together and we got it done in the end.”

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