BY JEFF FALK
LAMPETER – It’s not the heat. It’s the humidity.
It’s not the cold. It’s the wind.
It’s not the adversity. It’s the response to it.
It’s not the fall that kills you. It’s the impact.
It’s not the setback. It’s the finality.
On a blustery Friday night at Lampeter-Strasburg High School, Palmyra didn’t perform like a team just cotnet to be a part of the District Three Class AAA football playoffs, a fact that made its season-ending 41-20 loss to the hometown Pioneers all that more difficult to bare. Or perhaps put a different way: Just because the postseason is a pretty good place for a year to conclude, doesn’t mean the Cougars were ready for it to be reached.
Despite falling into a 19-7 hole midway through the third quarter, Palmyra simply refused to quit. But each time it appeared the Cougars were ready to claw back into it with a decisive move, Lampeter-Strasburg had an answer.
The playoff appearance was Palmyra’s first since 2011, and was just two years removed from a 1-19 stretch. After going 5-5 in 2014, Palmyra reached the District Three Class AAA tournament with a 7-3 regular-season record and a number-12 seed.
The fifth-seeded Pioneers will carry a 9-2 overall mark into next week’s quarterfinal round.
“It’s always emotional,” said Palmyra head coach Chris Pope. “It’s a family. It’s a long year. You get really close to these guys, real close. It’s not the loss. It’s the end.
“I’m really proud of the way we played,” continued Pope. “We really wanted to win. But if you can’t win, you’ve got to give a maximum effort. I feel like we did that.”
After trailing most of the evening, Palmyra pulled to within 26-20 on a one-yard Alon Rhette plunge, with 5:16 to go. Rhette’s short burst capped a six-play, 78-yard Cougar march.
But it would prove to be the Cougars’ final gasp. A mere 1:04 later, Lampeter-Strasburg answered in kind, with a 52-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Collin Shank to Jordan Boynton that, at 33-20, all but put the outcome to rest.
“That special teams play hurt us without a doubt,” said Pope. “They (the Pioneers) were able to throw the football on a night that was tough to throw the football.
“Yeah, I do think we deserved to be here,” Pope continued. “I know we had that (three-game) skid. But when you’re a power running team and your backs are banged up, it’s going to be tough to get going.”
The Cougars had also drawn to within 19-13 of the lead, with 2:09 of the third-quarter clock showing, on a 13-yard Rhette rumble. That particular score had been set up by a fumble recovery.
But on the ensuing kickoff, Boynton returned it 82 yards to pay dirt, re-establishing the Pioneers’ two-score advantage.
“When you’re playing a good football team, they’re not going to count themselves out either,” said Pope. “We have to control what we can control. What was important to me was the way we played. We didn’t give up.
“It took us a while to get going,” added Pope. “Our defense kept us in it. You just want to put yourself in a position to have a chance to win.”
The Pioneers established a 7-0 lead on the first snap of the second quarter, a four-yard Shank scamper into the end zone. Palmyra answered that with a 12-yard Tyler Gallagher touchdown run, on the heels of a 32-yard jaunt from Rhette.
But Lampeter-Strasburg carried a 13-7 lead to the locker room, courtesy of a 12-yard scoring completion between Shank and Boynton.
“They’re a good football team,” said Pope of the Pioneers. “But I think we’re a good football team in our own right. They came out with a little different look defensively. And once we got it figured out, we got down to business.
“The object is to get to the playoffs,” Pope added. “They (his players) have nothing to hang their heads about. At the end of the day, someone’s going to win and someone’s going to lose.”
Lampeter-Strasburg limited the Cougar ground game to 148 yards on 31 attempts. Rhette posted 90 of those yards on 15 touches.
With 187 rushing yards and 163 passing yards, the Pioneers were a bit more balanced.
“I’m happy,” said Pope. “Our seniors set a goal of wanting a winning season that would get us to the playoffs. I think they achieved what they wanted to do.”
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|7:00 PM||W 27-6|
|7:00 PM||W 30-22|
|7:00 PM||W 31-0|
|7:00 PM||W 49-23|
|7:00 PM||W 17-6|
|7:00 PM||W 19-0|
|7:00 PM||L 24-28|
|2:00 PM||L 13-49|
|7:00 PM||L 7-28|
|7:00 PM||W 42-23|
|7:00 PM||L 20-41|
District Three Class AAA Opening Round
|Final: (1) Bishop McDevitt 20, (16) Milton Hershey 0|
|Final: (8) Northern York 30, (9) York Suburban 16|
|Final: (4) Solanco 43, (13) Shippensburg 0|
|Final: (5) Lampeter-Strasburg 41, (12) Palmyra 20|
|Final: (2) Northeastern 48, (15) Northern Lebanon 12|
|Final: (7) Susquehanna Township 42, (10) Conrad Weiser 3|
|Final: (3) Manheim Central 51, (14) Spring Grove 3|
|Final: (6) East Pennsboro 42, (11) Middletown 20|
District Three Class AAAA Opening Round
Final: (1) Central Dauphin 59, (16) Carlisle 39
Final: (8) Lower Dauphin 22, (9) Cedar Cliff 12