BY JEFF FALK
PHOTOS BY LORI MESSERSMITH
HERSHEY – Say what you want about it building character, providing life lessons and helping one mature, losing just isn’t any fun, there’s not much enjoyable about it. And aren’t sports supposed to be at least a little fun?
So exactly how is the Palmyra football team staying positive during this recent down turn? Life balance.
On Friday night at Hersheypark Stadium, the Cougars didn’t have a lot of fun, or experience many moments of enjoyment, during a 49-7 loss to neighborhood rival Hershey. Palmyra didn’t have many things go its way all night, from the opening kickoff to a second half which was played under a continuously running clock brought on by the mercy rule.
Hershey scored on its first four possessions of the game, led 42-0 at the intermission and eventually opened up its lead to 49 points. While at times out-manned athletically, the Cougars certainly didn’t aid their cause with six turnovers.
Following a win-less 2012, Palmyra is now 1-4 overall and 0-2 in the Keystone Division of the Mid-Penn Conference. Hershey upped its overall mark to 4-1 and its division record to 1-1.
“We want to be successful,” said Palmyra head coach Chris Pope. “There are things we want to develop, like building character and loyalty. This may sound strange but we want to build a winning tradition at Palmyra. This is just a bump in the road.
“These players have to understand that they’re part of something bigger, and that they’re not going to be tossed aside,” Pope continued. “In the end, I really care about these guys. That’s what gets you going. It’s more than football. It’s more about family.”
With the Trojans employing their speed and quickness, big plays were a thorn in the Cougars’ side all evening.
A minute and 41 seconds into the game, Nick Kroutch scored Hershey’s touchdown on an 11-yard ramble up the gut. It would prove to be the Trojans’ shortest scoring play of the first half.
Before the opening quarter was out, Trojan Jailen Harmon had scored on a 31-yard pass from quarterback Jesse Campbell and Harmon had run one in from 36 yards away.
“When you set out to achieve certain things, you can’t abandon those things when things get tough,” said Pope. “Tonight was a step back for us. When you look at where you were last week and where you are this week, you’re hoping you see improvement.
“We need to tackle,” Pope continued. “Our defense hurt us. On offense, we didn’t finish. We did move the football. These kids are smart. When the tide started turning, they could feel it. But we’re not giving ourselves enough opportunities.”
Palmyra’s lone touchdown came with 3:16 of the third quarter’s running clock remaining, when junior Mitchell Cooper returned a kickoff 92 yards for a touchdown. Cooper followed his wedge blocking hard, emerged from Hershey’s first wave of would-be tacklers, broke it off to the right sidelines and out raced everyone to the end zone.
From the line of scrimmage, Cooper caught six passes for 60 yards. He was the target of quarterback Michael Lewis passes on each of Palmyra’s first five snaps of the game.
“It’s Week Five now, and as the season has gone on, we’ve found we’re more of a passing team,” said Pope. “The guys up front are working hard and giving it all they’ve got, but we’re not going to blow people off the ball in this league. I think Michael does a good job of going through his reads, and yeah, we want to get Mitchell the ball.
“We’re going to look at the video and evaluate it,” added Pope. “We’ve got to learn from it. But we’re not going to hang our heads about it. We went down with everything we had. They’re (the Trojans) a good football team, but we could’ve done a better job.”
Hershey scored three touchdowns in a 5:18 span of the second period. Campbell ran through the Palmyra defense for 80 yards and a score, then hit Kroutch for a catch-and-run that covered 84 yards and finally Harmon ripped off a 46-yarder.
Up 42-0 late in the second period, it was at that point that Hershey began to substitute liberally.
“For our seniors, they’ve got to see there’s something bigger than the present,” said Pope. “We’re not going to throw away this year. We have a small group of young men, seniors who are doing what they can to have a winning season. They need to understand we’re working on our skill set, and they know our future looks bright. It’s walking a line.”
Of its 529 total yards, 329 of Hershey’s came on the ground, and the Trojans picked up rushing yards at a clip of nearly ten a pop. Palmyra was limited to 135 total yards and just seven first downs.