BY JEFF FALK
PALMYRA – Luck isn’t the same as good fortune. Fortune occurs when preparation meets opportunity.
On Friday night at Buck Swank Stadium, the Palmyra football team created its own breaks and also had the intestinal fortitude to take advantage of them, during a well-earned 30-22 victory over Elco. After the Raiders had erased all but one point of a 23-7 deficit, the Cougars again gained control of the outcome with Carl Reigle’s four-yard touchdown scamper with 7:24 remaining.
But the result didn’t become final until Palmyra dodged a bullet at the end. A muffed Cougar snap out of punt formation gave Elco one final play from the Palmyra 29-yard-line with five seconds remaining, but the Raiders couldn’t cash in and ended up fumbling the chance away themselves.
Two minutes earlier, Elco had not gained the benefit of an apparent pass interference call, on a fourth down play near midfield.
With the result, Palmyra improved to 2-0 on the young year. Elco slipped to 0-2.
“When you get into a game like this, it’s not about who believes in victory, it’s about who believes in victory the longest,” said Palmyra head coach Chris Pope. “We made it interesting. Obviously it’s not ideal. We’ve got to get better. We have some things to work on.
“I liked the resiliency,” continued Pope. “We were really tested. We didn’t panic. Our defense came out and played big, and our offense came out and played big. These guys got it done.”
“Oh my gosh, we played much better,” said Elco head coach Rob Miller of a season-opening 30-8 loss at Hamburg. “I couldn’t be prouder. Every play, no matter what happened, they didn’t give up. It was a one-score game. We were in it the whole time. Palmyra is a dang tough team.
“We’re 0-2, and we’re going to win if we continue to get better,” Miller continued. “We’re fine. They’re (the Cougars) a tough team. Their backs run hard.”
Elco drove 74 yards in seven plays to get an eight-yard Tyler Horst touchdown run with 3:24 of the third quarter remaining. And when the Raiders turned a bad extra-point snap into a Kyle Knight-to-Nate Beamer two-pointer, they were within one at 23-22.
But Palmyra responded with a 12-play, 54-yard march of its own, one that culminated in Reigle’s touchdown that made it 30-22.
The final stats showed Elco enjoying a slight 316-313 edge in total yards.
“This took a lot of years off my life,” sighed Pope. “This was an awesome win. We were able to do the things we needed to do to hold them off.
“I think this team has a lot of potential,” added Pope. “But it’s potential. We’ve got to keep working each week and elevate our play.”
“I told our guys that if they want to win they need to be men of character,” said Miller. “If they want to win, they have to make a 24-hour commitment to being men of character. We played tonight without some starters not being men of character. The guys who played, I couldn’t be more proud of their effort.
“I thought we played great the whole game,” Miller added. “There were little miscues, but we played a complete game, effort-wise. Our players need to be men of character 24 hours a day.”
The first half was one of big plays.
Two minutes in, Palmyra turned an interception into an Ethan Harro 28-yard field goal and a 3-0 lead. Then three minutes later, Reigle took a short pass from quarterback Tyler Gallagher 55 yards to ‘The House’ for a 10-0 advantage.
Elco struck back in the form of Travis Zimmerman’s 49-yard touchdown strike from senior Jeff Martin, with 3:10 left in the opening quarter.
“We have some good athletes who can make plays,” said Pope. “Alon (Rhette) is fast, and he can take it to ‘The House’. They (the Raiders) have some good athletes too. If you miss a tackle, it’s a big play.
“We had some big plays on defense,” Pope continued. “We had some interceptions. Some time in the third quarter we were able to get into a formation and run the ball.”
“One of those interceptions was on a tipped ball,” said Miller. “But the kid (Martin) played a great game. He played well. This is who we expect him to be. And that should’ve been a pass interference at the end. That ball was on the money.”
Rhette got into the act late in the first quarter.
His 47-yard touchdown run up the gut of the Elco defense upped Palmyra’s advantage to 16-7. Then, a 68-yard Rhette scoring run made the Cougars’ lead 16 points.
But the Raiders got a much needed touchdown 1:09 before the break, when Martin hooked up with Andrew Olson on a 35-yard scoring strike down the right sideline. It was 23-14 Palmyra in the locker room.
“It was what we expected,” said Pope. “They (the Raiders) were big up front. At times, we got handled up front.
“We want to make sure we come off the ball and block better,” added Pope. “Obviously there were errors at the end that could’ve cost us the game.”
“Did you see ten jerseys at the ball on every play?,” said Miller of his side’s defensive effort. “It was a sea of white. We made them earn it. It was a great game and a great effort. The hustle was unbelievable. We had three turnovers in the first half, and we didn’t break.”
Rhette carried 15 times for 161 yards, while Reigle contributed 22 attempts and 92 yards. Martin went 11 for 26 for 212 yards.
Last season in Myerstown, the Cougars stopped the Raiders 41-30.
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P — Harro 28 FG
P — Reigle 55 pass from Gallagher (Harro kick)
E — Zimmerman 49 pass from Martin (Hackman kick)
P — Rhette 47 run (kick failed)
P — Rhette 68 run (Harro kick)
E — Olson 35 pass from Martin (Hackman kick)
E — Horst 8 run (Beamer pass)
P — Reigle 4 run (Harro kick)
Rushing — E: Horst 14-68, Martin 8-16, Bidelspach 4-16, Knight 2-12, P: Rhette 15-161, Reigle 22-92, Gallagher 2-1
Passing — E: Martin 11-26-2-211, P: Gallagher 4-12-1-87
Receiving — E: Olson 3-79, Zimmerman 3-67, Horst 3-17, Rolon 1-23, Knight 1-12, Beamer 1-9, Miller 1-4. P: Robertson 3-30, Reigle 1-57.
Lebanon County Pre-Season
Scholastic Football Rankings
1. Cedar Crest
2. Northern Lebanon
6. Lebanon High