PALMYRA – All the Palmyra football team has ever really wanted was a fair fight, a level playing field, similar competition. The Cougars never believed that was all that much to ask.
But what Mid-Penn Conference realignment taketh away, Mid-Penn Conference realignment also giveth.
After two full seasons of being out-manned, overmatched and sometimes overwhelmed, the Cougars are back where they belong. And feeling more comfortable with one’s surroundings can make a world of difference when it comes to stuff like enthusiasm, self-esteem and aspirations.
Over the past two years, amid waning hope, Palmyra went 1-19 against larger, more established and mostly Class AAAA schools. While Cougar pride runs deep, their history in the sport – especially over recent decades – is not one that is prone to producing large turnouts, college football-playing student-athletes or playoff juggernauts.
“When you look at it in terms of sizes of teams and depths of teams, we’re more suited for this division,” said Palmyra Head Coach Chris Pope of the Capital. “Up in the Keystone, we just weren’t ready for that. Our program isn’t established enough for that. We’re up and coming. We’re headed in the right direction.
“They’ve (his players) worked really hard,” continued Pope. “It’s not just about winning. But when you have seniors who stuck with it, you want to see them get that payday. We’ve been true to the process. Now it would be nice for kids to experience some payoffs.”
From a program-low of 23 players two years ago, Palmyra’s numbers have survived a downturn and rebounded to a comfortable 42. This season the Cougars return nine starters on defense, eight on offense and feature enough depth to avoid having too many two-way players.
“It’s always nice to have a little more depth,” said Pope. “We’re coming off two tough seasons, and we’ve had to build our numbers back up during one of our toughest stretches. I’m happy with our numbers. The move to a new division means we should be more competitive, and that attracts more players.
“We have a lot of returners,” Pope added. “The Keystone was so difficult. But with our experience and our returners, I’m excited, and so are the kids.”
What will drive the Cougars this fall is the most dynamic passing combination in all of Lebanon County football – senior quarterback Michael Lewis to elusive senior receiver Mitchell Cooper. While there is a certain chemistry that exists between the two, Palmyra will reach its goals by further diversifying its attack.
“They definitely have a chemistry there,” said Pope of Lewis and Cooper. “They were a connection last year that produced a lot of passing yards and touchdowns. I think Michael has grown as a quarterback. He’s really diversified and opened up to who he throws it to. But there’s always going to be something there between those two.
“One of the things I came into the season liking is that they (his players) do a lot of things together outside of football,” added Pope. “We have players who are good, but they’re close and committed to each other. When they’re your friends outside of football, it makes it easier to be close on the field.”
To avoid having opponents thinking ‘Lewis-to-Cooper’ all the time, Palmyra will have to balance its offense with the run. That’s where guys like sophomore running back Carl Reigle, sophomore back Mason Sosnoski, junior Ethan Harro, junior Tyler Gallagher and sophomore Mason Cooper come in.
“Skill-wise, I’d say that’s our strength,” said Pope. “But our line has made progress and has really come along. We know we can throw the football. But we have to be able to run enough for teams to respect our running game.
“We talked about the carry-over effects from last year,” Pope continued. “We can’t be defined by what happened the last two years. But you certainly can take things from the past that drive you into the future.”
Palmyra’s lines will be anchored by small but mighty senior Pheng Ly. Juniors Prestyn Crawford and Tyler McGaw are bookend tackles, while junior Noah Reale and sophomore Alon Rhette will play off of them.
“It’s no secret that the make-or-break part of our season is the offensive line,” said Pope. “We need to get bigger and stronger. With what we can do on the edge, we’ve got to show we can run the football. The run will sort of open up the pass for us.
“When we were lining up against some of those bigger teams, we needed some of them to self-destruct,” Pope continued. “I feel we’re in a good position now. The players know what they’re headed into. I was proud of how our players fought hard. Now I think they’re excited to see what they can do.”
To shed some of that self-doubt and establish a certain level of confidence, it is imperative for the Cougars to get off to a good start, and that includes Friday, August 29th’s season-opener against East Pennsboro, at Buck Swank Stadium.
“I wouldn’t say it’s a make-or-break situation,” said Pope. “Our guys are pretty resilient. But it would be nice to get a ‘W’ right off the bat. An opening day win puts energy back into the system. I’m just looking forward to the season. It’s been a rough two seasons, but I think we weathered the storm.
“I really felt like we were on track in 2010 and 2011,” added Pope. “But I felt like we were put in a place where we didn’t belong, and that it hurt our numbers. I think we can see the light at the end of the tunnel. I feel like we’re going in the right direction.”
2014 Palmyra Football Roster
|57||Braden Barker||DT, OG||2018|
|88||Jake Blauch||DE, TE||2016|
|57||Jeff Boucher||MLB, OT||2015|
|47||Cole Bowman||CB, K, RB||2015|
|9||Gerry Cassel||CB, WR||2017|
|76||Scott Collier||DT, OT||2017|
|20||Austin Combs||CB, RB||2015|
|21||Mason Cooper||DE, TE||2017|
|7||Mitchell Cooper||SS, WR||2015|
|78||Prestyn Crawford||DE, OT||2016|
|81||Noah Davis||DE, TE||2016|
|71||Zach Depew||C, DT||2016|
|17||Ian Fogleman||SS, WR||2016|
|8||Tyler Gallagher||SS, WR||2016|
|19||Zach Haney||OLB, QB||2017|
|3||Ethan Harro||CB, WR||2016|
|59||Nick Henry||DT, OG||2018|
|82||Vance Hermanson||DE, TE||2016|
|87||Nick Hurst||CB, WR||2016|
|28||Adam Kennedy||LB, RB||2015|
|17||Tyler Kreiser||DB, WR||2015|
|84||Wade Kurzinger||CB, WR||2017|
|15||Michael Lewis||P, QB||2015|
|53||Pheng Ly||DT, OG||2015|
|11||Noah Martin||DB, WR||2015|
|75||Tyler McGaw||C, DT||2016|
|–||Joe McNew||SS, WR||2016|
|79||Ryan Monk||DT, OT||2015|
|–||Jeremy Plummer||MLB, RB||2017|
|73||Kyle Reheard||DT, OG||2017|
|22||Carl Reigle||CB, RB||2017|
|42||Alon Rhette||MLB, RB||2017|
|9||Peter Robertson||FS, WR||2017|
|20||Devan Sosnoski||RB, SS||2018|
|70||Dan Sweeney||MLB, OG||2015|
|70||Dan Sweeny||LB, OL||2015|
|10||Sean Taylor||FS, WR||2016|
|12||Zach Yingst||QB, RB, SS||2016|
2014 Palmyra Football Schedule
|8/29||vs. East Pennsboro||7 p.m.|
|9/5||@ Elco||7 p.m.|
|9/12||vs. Donegal||7 p.m.|
|9/19||@ Trinity||7 p.m.|
|9/26||vs. Steel-High||7 p.m.|
|10/3||vs. Boiling Springs||7:30 p.m.|
|10/10||@ Camp Hill||7 p.m.|
|10/17||vs. Middletown||7 p.m.|
|10/24||@ Milton Hershey||7 p.m.|
|10/31||@ West Perry||7 p.m.|