When the District 3 Class 5A football brackets were officially released, few, if any, gave the New Oxford Colonials much of a chance.
Despite a perfect 6-0 run through the YAIAA-2, the Colonials were heavy underdogs against a Warwick squad that was ranked No. 2 in the state by one media poll in Saturday’s semifinal contest at Warwick High School.
The New Oxford squad, along with head coach Jason Warner, wasn’t about to make the long trek to northern Lancaster County for nothing.
The Colonials got off to a blazing start as they scored a pair of touchdowns on the their first two drives to quickly put the Warriors on notice.
Warwick, which was unable to practice as a team since Tuesday due to COVID-19 closing the school for three days that also resulted in the contest being moved back a day, never really resembled the team that came in outscoring teams by 196 points during the regular season.
Taking advantage of three New Oxford turnovers, including one in the end zone that potentially could have put the Colonials on top in the fourth quarter, the Warriors barely survived. A pair of touchdowns by 6-foot-4, 217-pound running back Colton Miller in the second quarter proved to be enough for Warwick to claw out a surprisingly difficult 14-12 triumph.
“We were sloppy,” Warwick coach Bob Locker said. “But we won so I shouldn’t be upset.”
Locker hardly seemed like the winning coach afterwards and for good reason. The Colonials (6-1) had a golden opportunity to pull off the monumental upset and earn a berth into the district final.
“I couldn’t be any more excited about how our kids played,” Warner said. “I would like to think that we earned the respect of a lot of people tonight.”
Warner shouldered the blame for a costly miscue at a pivotal moment in the fourth quarter. After the Colonial defense came up with a big stop of Miller on a 4th-and-goal at the New Oxford 1, Warner saw his offense put together its best drive since taking a 12-0 advantage midway through the first quarter.
Backed up at the 1, quarterback Connor Beans (18-for-30, 244 yards, 2 TDs) drove the Colonials out of trouble and down into Warwick territory. Beans then found Ben Lease for a big fourth-down conversion to get the Colonials to the Warwick 2.
Needing points to regain the advantage, the New Oxford offense came up empty. A 3-yard loss on first down set up a 2nd-and-goal at the Warwick 5 with just under seven minute remaining.
That’s when Warner called for a play that resembled the “Philly Special” that Nick Foles made famous in the Super Bowl a few years ago. The ball was directly snapped to halfback Hunter Shaffer, who handed it off on an end-around to Anthony Withrow. Withrow, who was under pressure, wobbled a pass into the end zone for Beans, but it was picked off by Warwick’s Adam Martin to end a 15-play, 95-yard drive.
“That was just a bad play call,” Warner said. “We had a 1st-and-goal from the 2 and maybe that was not the best call for that situation. If I could do it over again I would probably give our guys four chances to just put it in instead of trying to run a trick play like that.”
Part of the reason the Colonials found themselves down by two points was the unfortunate result of an illness that sidelined the team’s kicker Josh Little. Without the services of Little, who converted four field goals along with 19 extra-points during the season, Warner was forced to go for 2-point conversions after each touchdown.
“He’s just sick,” Warner said of Little, clarifying that it was not related to COVD-19. “He just couldn’t be here and it’s a shame. We probably could have had a couple of field goal opportunities but we had to go for it instead.”
Those two missed conversions in the first quarter hardly seemed like they would make much of a difference at that point as the Colonial offense seemed unstoppable. Beans engineered a four-play, 65-yard touchdown drive to begin the game that was capped by a beautifully thrown 35-yard touchdown reception to Connor Herring (6 catches, 96 yards, 2 TDs).
After the Colonial defense, which limited the Warriors (8-0) to just 269 yards of total offense, forced a turnover on downs, Beans did it again. Facing a 4th-and-1 at the Warwick 7, the New Oxford signal-caller hooked up with Herring again for a TD that silenced the home crowd.
Things slowed down dramatically after that as the Warwick defense made some adjustments to bottle up Beans and company. Of the seven remaining New Oxford drives, only one of them ended up driving more than 26 yards.
“The offense did enough to keep us out of bad spots,” Warner said.
Warner’s defense, however, bailed the team out of a few dicey situations. Immediately after Herring’s second TD reception, the Warriors returned the ensuing kickoff down to the Colonial 10.
The home team, however, came up empty after three plays before missing a 23-yard field goal attempt.
Then the big stop of Miller early in the fourth quarter once again gave the Colonials a chance.
“I can’t say enough about our defense,” Warner said. “That’s a really good offense over there and we played lights-out. We shut them out three of the four quarters. They average 42 points a game so I could not be more proud of how our kids played.”
New Oxford 12 0 0 0 — 12
Warwick 0 14 0 0 — 14
NO — Connor Herring 35 pass from Connor Beans (run failed), 10:11
NO — Herring 7 pass from Beans (pass failed), 6:17
W — Colton Miller 1 run (Tanner Haines kick), 11:57
W — Miller 1 run (Haines kick), 32.4
First downs 12 13
Rushing 22-48 36-129
Passing 18-31-3 12-23-0
Passing yards 244 140
Total yards 292 269
Fumbles-lost 0-0 1-1
Penalties-yards 2-16 5-40
Punting 3-24.3 2-41.0
Rushing: NO-Hunter Shaffer 12-45, Dylan Forbes 5-9, Connor Beans 4-(-5), Team 1-(-1); W- C. Miller 26-107, Joey McCracken 9-21, Thatcher Miller 1-4, Team 3-(-3).
Passing: NO-Beans 18-30-2-244, Anthony Withrow 0-1-1-0; W-McCracken 12-23-0-140.
Receiving: NO-Herring 6-96, Ben Lease 5-86, Withrow 5-59, Josh Bethas 1-3, Hunter Shaffer 1-0; W- Caleb Schmitz 6-88, T. Miller 4-35, Cooper 2-17.