Heading back to the finals

By on November 20, 2019

Eagles come back to beat Warwick, 21-13 to earn return trip to title game

In the most crucial point of the game Friday in Denver, arguably the biggest moment of the season, Cocalico Coach Dave Gingrich put his full trust in his players.

Faced with a fourth-and-inches at their own 37-yard line midway through the fourth quarter of the District Three 5A semifinals vs. Warwick, the Eagle Coach was going to punt the ball away.

But then his team chimed in.

“The kids came over and were like yeah, we’re going for it,” Gingrich recalled. “I told them that punting wasn’t a bad problem to have there. But they decided to go for it.”
Great decision.

With the Eagles clinging to a 14-13 lead at the time, quarterback Noah Palm went off the right edge and broke into the free, scooting 63 yards down the right sideline for a back-breaking score to lift Cocalico to an eventual 21-13 come-from-behind victory over the Warriors.

Palm led the way, rushing for 135 yards and two touchdowns on 19 carries, and he followed his fourth quarter score with a big interception that all but sealed the deal as Cocalico (10-2) advanced to the District Three 5A title game for the second-straight season.

Cocalico quarterback Noah Palm (10) hurls a pass down the field in front of Warwick defender Nate Maher (46) during Friday’s District 5A semifinals. Photos by Missi Mortimer.

The top-seeded Eagles will face Cedar Cliff, a 24-0 winner over Exeter, in the District title game this Friday (7 p.m.) back in Denver. Earlier this year in Week Two, the Eagles bounced the second-seeded Colts, 43-14 in Camp Hill.

“It’s just a big accomplishment for everyone on the team,” Palm said of earning a return trip to the finals. “We all worked so hard to get here and it’s finally happening.”

“It’s the best feeling in the world right now,” added Cocalico senior two-way lineman Brock Gingrich.

It certainly wasn’t easy for the Eagles, who fell behind 13-0 in this one and were in danger of possibly facing a bigger deficit late in the first half. However, Cocalico’s Marshall Patterson pounced on a loose ball deep in Eagle territory after a muffed Warwick hand-off, which led to a three-yard TD run by Palm with 9 seconds left in the half which started a run of 21 unanswered points by the Eagles.

“That was just a big momentum changer,” Palm said of Patterson’s big recovery. “We knew we had to stop them. Our defense needed to come up with a big play because our offense wasn’t really moving. When that happened, we just kind of clicked and started going.”

Cocalico fullback Cody Shay (35) dives for some extra yardage during the Eagles’ 21-13 victory.

Up until that point, Cocalico couldn’t get anything going offensively. The Eagles were held to a mere 47 rushing yards in the first half and punted five times.

Meanwhile, Warwick (10-3) took control. The Warriors cashed in on their initial possession after the Eagles’ first punt, driving 73 yards in 12 plays. Quarterback Joey McCracken, who completed 18-of-33 passes for 229 yards and one score, was a perfect 4-for-4 on the drive. His 20-yard hookup with receiver Caleb Schmitz got it down to the one-yard line before running back Colton Miller (20 carries, 54 yards) plowed in for the score with 3:26 to go in the first. Cocalico’s Ronald Zahm blocked the PAT, but Warwick led 6-0.

The Warriors increased the lead to 13-0 with 5:58 to go in the half when McCracken found Preston Johnson for a 15-yard gain, and then three plays later, the Warrior QB hit Thatcher Miller over the middle for a 31-yard score. Tanner Haines connected this time on the PAT and the Eagles now trailed 13-0.

“I don’t think anyone on our sideline panicked,” Coach Gingrich said of the 13-0 hole. “The kids didn’t. If you as a coach don’t show panic or fear in your eyes, they are going to respond to that. We don’t have many seniors, but we have good senior leadership. We were like, we are OK. We’ve been here before…we can do it.”

Warwick still had the momentum after holding the Eagles to a three-and-out on their next possession, taking over at its own 49 with 3:54 remaining in the half. After McCracken and Conor Adams hooked up for 14 yards, an 11-yard run by Miller set the Warriors up at the Cocalico 26.

But Patterson pounced on the loose football on the next play, and Cocalico’s fortunes began to change.

After gaining a first down up to their own 43-yard line, Palm rolled right and launched a ball across his body deep downfield to Zahm, who hauled it in at the Warwick three. On the next play, Palm took it in off left tackle for a three-yard touchdown run. And after Alex Mellinger’s extra point, the Eagles had new life going into the locker room down just 13-7.
“(The mood) was positive,” Brock Gingrich said of heading to the half. “We walked in there, nobody was hanging their heads. We walked in, got the game plan and walked back out, just like it was 0-0.”

Cocalico QB Noah Palm races 63 yards for a touchdown Friday vs. Warwick.

After forcing Warwick to punt to open the second half, Cocalico took over at its own 20-yard line and embarked on a mammoth 17-play, 80-yard scoring drive which took more than eighth minutes of gametime off the clock. Palm, who rushed for 125 of his 135 yards in the second half, carried nine times on the drive before going to the air to complete it, hooking up with Zahm, who ran a wheel route, to the left corner of the endzone. Mellinger tacked on the PAT and the Eagles had their first lead at 14-13 with one quarter to go.

Warwick couldn’t take advantage of a 58-yard kickoff return by Adams following the Cocalico go-ahead score, eventually turning the ball over on downs. That set the stage for Palm’s electrifying fourth-down touchdown run which dealt the Warriors a huge blow.

“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.”

“He just hit a crease,” Warwick Coach Bob Locker said of Palm’s run. “I think we had a lot of people in the box, and if you go through the first level, that’s all she wrote.”

Up eight points with eight minutes to go, there still was some work to do for Cocalico. And the Eagles responded brilliantly. Warwick drove to midfield, but on a second-down play, Palm made a diving interception on a deflected ball, and the Eagles survived that threat.

Ronald Zahm (right) and Steven Flinton embrace after the win, which vaulted the Eagles into Friday’s District title game where they’ll face Cedar Cliff.

Warwick would get the ball two more times but both times the Cocalico defense stiffened before the clock finally ran out.

“Honestly the resilience of this team was just expressed right there on the field,” Brock Gingrich said. “I mean we were down 13-0, and to come all the way back, I think it’s just a great team effort.”
The Cocalico defense was the story in the second half, shutting out the Warriors while holding them to 16 yards on the ground and 82 through the air.

“I thought defensively we just answered the bell time after time after time,” Coach Gingrich said. “That’s a really, really good team. They have a lot of weapons, but I was just so proud of the kids. The bond that they have for one another…and I’ve said this before…it’s no knock on the kids. We have some pretty good players, but this is not the strongest team that we’ve ever had, and it’s not the most athletic. But they do care about each other, and I thought the way they played inspired football when the chips were down, that’s a sign of character and brotherhood.”

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