Delight, dismay and two controversial extra minutes that changed the derby ... The story of Rotherham United 2 Sheffield Wednesday 2
Towell, alight with delight and defiance, made a manic dash to take out the pole with a kick even sweeter than his shot after firing the Millers into a 74th-minute 2-1 lead against Sheffield Wednesday
These were to be the defining images of a compelling South Yorkshire derby, where Rotherham were ending 43 years of hurt, where the sun was shining literally and figuratively on Warne's men's at sold-out AESSEAL New York Stadium.
Then, faster than it takes a referee to check his watch, the pictures changed.
The Owls equalised, ten minutes into the eight of stoppage time that had been initially indicated: a corner, a scramble, a goal, a mass bounce of blue and white in the away end.
Warne stood wounded and alone in his technical area. Towell, as the final whistle sounded seconds later, sank to his haunches holding his head in his hands.
Richie Towell scores
Two points lost, two controversial minutes to talk about.
"I just don't get it," said the Rotherham boss. "If there is extra time on the eight then I don't know where it came from.
"There was no injury, no substitution. I was going to bring on a sub but decided against it because I thought the ref would just add another 30 seconds on."
Victory would have been the Millers' first in a home league clash against the visitors from S6 since 1976.
With Championship survival rivals Reading losing heavily later in the day, it would have also lifted them back out of the bottom three.
Warne knew how much a win would have meant and was done talking. He didn't even plan to confront keeper of the watch Barnsley ref Darren England.
"It makes no difference," he said. "It's a waste of breath."
Owls manager Steve Bruce had done Warne's team talk for him by describing the clash as Rotherham's "cup final".
The Millers, fired up and nostrils flaring, duly went for Wednesday as if the match was being played at Wembley.
The visitors led after 35 minutes, Fernando Forestieri despatching Adam Reach's low cut-back, but Warne's men needed only 86 seconds to level as Smith won his battle of the Michaels with Hector and crossed for Jon Taylor to send a perfect volley speeding past Keiren Westwood.
Anthony Forde had already been denied one on one by Westwood, Smith had side-footed a golden opportunity wide, Reach had hit the post.
Jon Taylor equalises for the Millers
Chances mounted, tackles flew in, arguments erupted and New York boiled at both ends. This was a proper derby.
Semi Ajayi's 69th-minute header from a corner was flying in until Reach intervened on the goalline but there was no man from S6 to foil Towell five minutes later when he pulled the trigger after Hector had failed to deal with substitute Joe Newell's cross.
"I just wanted the lads to play with passion and, win, lose or draw, go home and know they had put a real effort in," Warne said. "I thought they did that.
"I said to them before the game that there were around 1,300 minutes left in the season and we will finish it well because we are big and strong and fit."
Smith - too powerful and too much for Wednesday in the second half - should have killed the contest in the 81st minute but flashed his header wide from eight yards.
It's a grim irony that the targetman has done so much to keep Rotherham out of the drop zone for nearly all of the campaign yet his misses here condemned them to another week in it.
Forestieri flew in from behind on Will Vaulks and was lucky to see only yellow. Michael Ihiekwe was even luckier the colour was the same when he took one for the team by halting the Argentine attacker's break with a lunge even later than the Owls' eventual leveller.
Forestieri forced a save from Marek Rodak but the Millers saw out eight extra minutes and New York was on the brink of delirium.
Then came a ninth minute. Then a tenth. Then came sub Dominic Iorfa and New York sagged. 2-2.
"At 1-0 down I'd have taken a 2-2," said Warne. "But if you'd have asked me if I'd have taken a 2-2 in the 99th minute, I'd have said 'No chance'.
"I am not saying we played Real Madrid, but in a big Yorkshire derby there were some really good performances. I'm disappointed right now but when I wake up tomorrow a point will be better than nothing.
"Obviously I am disappointed to throw away two, even more so because it seemed like it was past final-whistle time. We scored twice. We could have had five.
"Sometimes sport is cruel, but my overall emotion is still one of pride."
Forestieri departed with a second yellow for celebrating over-zealously with travelling fans. Soon after, the ref departed to a cacophony of boos.
All season the Millers manager has never been less than bright after a disappointing result, seeing it as part of his job to mask his frustration and appear positive.
On Saturday, however, clad in a dark, round-necked sweater that matched his mood, he was hiding nothing.
"Nope," he said when asked if he could see where the extra minutes had come from.
There followed a long silence before he roused himself from his pained reflection. "Erm, nope. It's hugely disappointing."
Paul Warne and Steve Bruce
Visiting defender Jordan Thorniley had gone down with a head injury in the 87th minute and the regulation 90 were up by the time he was able to leave the field.
Bruce suggested that the added time was eight minutes plus the ones that Thorniley spent on the deck, but Warne was quick to refute that notion.
"The fourth official told me that as soon as we restarted play (after the injury) it would be eight minutes from there," he said.
"I have got a digital watch on and we were past the eight minutes when their player took a free-kick. I thought the ref was going to blow then. He didn't, then he allowed the corner and everyone knows the outcome from there."
Bruce is one of the few managers as open and decent in his dealings with the media as Warne is.
"Look, we got away with one," the Owls boss said. "I'm not going to try to bullsh*t you."
He and Warne will have to agree to disagree on the time added on.
But they both know which team deserved the cup-final spoils.
Rotherham (4-1-4-1): Marek Rodak; Billy Jones, Michael Ihiekwe, Clark Robertson, Joe Mattock; Semi Ajayi; Jon Taylor, Will Vaulks, Richie Towell, Anthony Forde; Michael Smith. Not used: Lewis Price, Richard Wood, Matt Crooks, Ben Wiles, Jerry Yates.
Subs: Joe Newell (for Forde, 63), Ryan Williams (for Taylor, 78).
Wednesday (4-4-2): Keiren Westwood; Liam Palmer, Michael Hector, Jordan Thorniley, Morgan Fox; Adam Reach, Sam Hutchinson, Barry Bannan, George Boyd; Lucas Joao, Fernando Forestieri. Not used: Cameron Dawson, Joey Pelupessy, Atdhe Nuhiu, Achraf Lazaar.
Subs: Steven Fletcher (for Joao, 58), Roland Aarons (for Boyd, 75), Dominic Iorfa (for Thorniley, 90).
Goals: Taylor 36, Towell 74 (Rotherham); Forestieri 35, Iorfa 90+10 (Wednesday).
Referee: Darren England (Barnsley).
Attendance: 11,736 (2,625).