BY JEFF FALK
PALMYRA – The effort was there. The consistency was there. The unity was there. So what was different from the previous seven Friday nights?
Well, beside the outcome, it had to be the opponent.
On a cool Senior Night at Buck Swank Stadium, Palmyra finally ran into a football team better than itself – at least on this particular evening – as rival Milton Hershey handed the Cougars their initial loss of the campaign, by a 28-14 count. Using superior athleticism to generate big plays, the talented Spartans Hershey raced out to a 21-0 halftime lead, and the Cougars could never close closer than two possessions.
After rattling off seven straight impressive wins to start the season, Palmyra is now 7-1 overall and 4-1 in the Capital Division of the Mid-Penn Conference. The Cougars are still very much alive for a division championship and a berth in next month’s District Three Class AAAAA tournament.
Milton Hershey moved to 7-1 on the fall and 4-1 in the division.
“Their defense was really good,” said Palmyra head coach Chris Pope, whose offense was held to a season-low point total. “They were able to slow our running game down. They were able to control up front. And they have a really good running game. They scored points and we didn’t answer back.
“When there’s athletes on the field, at any moment they can go to the house,” continued Pope. “You’ve got to stay focused, make plays and get off the field. On a night like tonight, you’ve got to be very careful.”
Down three scores early in the third quarter, the Cougars turned a turnover into hope.
A fumble recovery by Jaden Kreiser set up the touchdown that pulled Palmyra to within 21-7 of the lead. Four plays following Kreiser’s recovery, Cougar running back Caleb Hawkins took it into the end zone from four yards away.
But two snaps later, the Spartans responded in a big way. Milton Hershey back Dion Bryant turned the corner and sprinted down the right sidelines for an 81-yard touchdown.
“It was pretty clear we didn’t have our offense and defense clicking at the same time,” said Pope. “It’s about having a complete game. When you play a great football team, you’ve got to have all phases of the game going. I don’t think that was the case. If you don’t, you’re not going to be able to compete against a team like Milton Hershey.
“We responded well,” Pope continued. “There’s a lot of teams, going into the locker room down 21-0, that might not come back. We were still competing at the end.”
Palmyra’s best drive of the evening – an eight-play, 60-yard possession – came late in the third quarter. Cougar quarterback Grant Haus found teammate Kasey Shughart with a five-yard scoring strike, and Palmyra made it a 28-14 contest, with 2:58 of the third period remaining.
The Cougars possessed the ball in Milton Hershey territory on three separate occasions in the fourth quarter, but each time they were turned away.
“Anytime you lose, it’s hard,” said Pope. “I thought our players fought hard. It’s especially tough on senior night. But it’s just one loss.
“I was proud of the way we fought together,” added Pope. “We fought to the very end. I felt like we came back. But it would’ve been nice to close the gap a little further.”
The Spartans had notched a pair of touchdowns in a 2:31 span late in the opening stanza to establish a 14-0 cushion.
First, Naeem Cross’ 13-yard scoring scamper capped a seven-play, 71-yard drive. Then, Milton Hershey’s Chiago Anyanwu rumbled 56 yards to the house.
But the back-breaker for Palmyra was the touchdown that Milton Hershey scored with two seconds left in the first half – a 14-yard collaboration between quarterback Tigere Mavesere and receiver Josh Parra.
“They were extremely good,” said Pope of the Spartans’ offense. “They broke so many tackles. They’re tough to bring down. Number seven (Anyanwa), he’s very dangerous.
“We didn’t get the offensive turnout at the beginning,” Pope added. “And I’m not sure why.”
Milton Hershey out gained Palmyra 380 total yards to 220. The Cougars’ largest play of the first half was an 11-yard Hawkins carry.
The Spartans limited Haus to 102 passing yards on 13-for-23 throwing. Cross toted the pigskin 22 times for 139 rushing yards.
“Even if we had won, we’d be talking about the next game being the most important one,” said Pope. “We’re going to learn from this.
“I feel like our leadership is amazing,” continued Pope. “They’re a great group of guys. I think we’re going to respond just fine. We’re going to stay together. We’re going to work to get better.”
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2018 Palmyra Football Results
|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||W 47-7|
|7:00 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
|22||Mechanicsburg Area Senior||1-||6-||0||0.388800||0.181102||0.642653||1.2||45.1||5.2||25.1|
|23||Spring Grove Area||1-||6-||0||0.372223||0.184000||0.602273||1.2||42.4||5.1||28.0|