BY JEFF FALK
PALMYRA – The Palmyra football team has displayed an incredible level of consistency this season. To be undefeated, a certain degree is required.
But last night, the Cougars may have put forth their most consistent performance to date. And it might be that the Cougars’ best is yet to come.
On a beautiful Friday night at Buck Swank Stadium, Palmyra’s ability to get not too high and not too low served it well, during a wild 42-36 homecoming triumph over Steel-High. In a back-and-forth, high-scoring affair it was Cougar senior quarterback Grant Haus who had the final say, as he scored the winning touchdown on a ten-yard keeper with 1:47 remaining.
The TD scamper capped Palmyra’s game-winning five-play, 65-yard march that began with the score tied at 36. Haus also ripped off a 30-yard rumble in the drive, and hit junior receiver Kasey Shughart for an 11-yard reception.
On the evening, Haus scored three touchdowns with his feet and used his arm to hit three different teammates for scoring passes.
The victory extended the Cougars’ win streak to begin the season to six, and left them 3-0 in the Capital Division of the Mid-Penn Conference. Steelton-Highspire slipped to 3-3 overall and 1-2 in the Capital.
“I think our players felt it was really great,” said Palmyra head coach Chris Pope of the win. “We were predicted to get walloped. I think they had a little chip on their shoulders. Every game is the most important game. We’ve got a lot of stuff to fix.
“I think we’ve had moments where we played well in all of our games,” continued Pope. “But tonight I thought we had a higher level for more of the game. I feel like the kids responded. They knew what they had to do.”
“It doesn’t start on Friday,” said Shughart. “It starts on Monday and goes throughout the week. We try to do the best we can every game.”
In a contest that featured big plays, long drives, 821 yards of total offense and 78 points, neither side ever led by more than one possession.
Down a point, the Cougars assumed a 36-29 advantage with 5:30 remaining, on a 15-yard-scoring collaboration between Haus and receiver Sean Carter, and a subsequent two-point hook-up from Haus to Carter. That scoring play came at the end of an 11-snap, 60-yard Palmyra possession.
But it took the Rollers exactly 1:45 to respond, as quarterback Nicari Williams found Saleek Clayton in the end zone, with a 13-yard strike that tied the score for the fourth time.
“There were a lot of question marks about ourselves,” said Pope. “But to go 5-0 takes a certain degree of talent and commitment. Steel-High’s a really good football team. This is obviously a huge shot of confidence for our team.
“We knew if we stuck with it and worried about us, we could bring it down to the end,” Pope continued. “It could’ve gone the other way. When you have a dogfight with good teams, isn’t that what always happens?”
“It feels amazing, since nobody thought we could do it,” said Shughart. “We felt disrespected. We just take it one week at a time. One-and-oh each week. Survive and advance.”
After they had experienced three different seven-point deficits, the Cougars assumed their first lead late in the third quarter, thanks in part to a Sean Stauffer interception. Palmyra grabbed a 28-21 lead by notching a pair of touchdowns in a span of 1:07.
First, Haus hit junior Drew Chapin with an eight-yard touchdown toss. Then, the dynamic senior leader ran one in from five yards away.
“A lot of our offense revolves around run-pass options,” said Pope. “Usually they (the Cougar offense) try to work for some sort of balance. I think he (Haus) pulled the ball a lot, and with a lot of the passing he did, he was patient.
“His leadership is phenomenal,” added Pope. “He does things that I don’t think other guys in high school are doing. It’s impressive just the way he handles himself.”
“This was definitely our best offensive game,” said Shughart. “It doesn’t matter how we did defensively, we got the win. Grant was being Grant. He’s amazing, in all of his sports.”
Each side notched touchdowns on its first two possessions, and the first half ended in a 14-all draw.
Haus’ 20-yard touchdown jaunt with 1:39 of the opening quarter remaining knotted the score at seven and capped a nine-play, 66-yard possession. Cougar tailback Caleb Hawkins carried four times on the drive.
Palmyra re-tied the game 7:56 before the break, on Haus’ 31-yard TD throw to Nick Morder. Haus had extended the play and improvised, before finding Morder behind the Roller secondary.
“When we went into halftime, I told them we were exactly where we wanted to be,” said Pope of his troops. “We were in the hunt.
“In my talk, I reminded them (his players) that they’re (the Rollers) a quality opponent,” Pope added. “When you play in that type of game, there’s going to be adversity. It’s in those times when you’ve got to believe in yourself, the person next to you and your coaches. In the end, the team that wins is the one which believes the most, the longest.”
Thanks in part to Williams’ big right arm, Steel-High out gained Palmyra 483 total yards to 338. Williams completed 27 of his 42 throws for 392 yards and two interceptions.
Haus carried 16 times for 123 yards and completed 12 of his 19 pass attempts for 137 yards.
“Our whole thing was ‘the next play’,” said Pope. “It’s over, so you’ve got to think of the next thing that’s going to happen. When you’re in a shoot-out, you’ve got to have a short memory.
“Their quarterback is a great athlete. He has an unbelievable arm,” continued Pope. “You always look at defenses and see how many points the opponent scored. But you’ve got to look at the offense you’re playing against. I thought we had a great defensive outing because we kept it even. We gave ground grudgingly.”
“We didn’t play amazing defensively,” said Shughart. “But when we needed a stop, we made a play. He’s (Williams) a great quarterback. We knew he was going to throw long.
“When the quarterback can throw that deep, it’s a challenge,” continued Shughart. “And they had three great athletes who could catch the ball.”
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|7:00 PM||W 21-17|
|7:00 PM||W 31-10|
|7:00 PM||W 44-20|
|7:00 PM||W 28-21|
|7:00 PM||W 35-21|
|7:30 PM||W 42-36|
|7:00 PM||Boiling Springs High School|
|7:30 PM||Palmyra High School|
|7:00 PM||Trinity High School|
|7:00 PM||Middletown High School|
Capital Division Standings
PIAA District Three
Class AAAAA Power Rankings
|21||Spring Grove Area||1-||4-||0||0.421329||0.247312||0.634016||1.2||35.6||3.5||20.6|
|27||Mechanicsburg Area Senior||0-||6-||0||0.290824||0.000000||0.646277||0.0||36.5||5.2||20.0|