STEELTON >> There's no way a coaching staff can draw up a game plan against Mother Nature. So, when it's rainy and raw and just plain miserable, sometimes a high school football team has to rely on defense, special teams and old-fashioned grit.
That's what Palmyra did Friday to pull out a tough 17-6 victory at Steel-High and reach a perfect 5-0 at the season's midway mark.
As the drizzle fell continuously at the old and fabled stadium atop Cottage Hill, the Cougars (5-2, 2-0 Mid-Penn Capital) overcame a sluggish first half that produced two first downs and 19 total yards. But the defense and special teams were splendid to keep the Cougars undefeated.
Mason Cooper blocked a punt deep in Steel-High territory to set up Ethan Harro's 26-yard field goal on the first play of the second quarter — the only scoring of the opening half. Carl Reigle picked off a badly underthrown ball and sprinted 52 yards for a touchdown with 7:01 left to give the Cougars their 17-6 cushion. And Zack Yingst sealed the win with an interception with 3:24 left — the fourth pick off Rollers' sophomore quarterback Malachi Young.
And so, Palmyra is 5-0 for the first time in a long time.
"It feels pretty good," said Cougars coach Chris Pope, who quickly put things in perspective. "But we constantly talk about reaching our full potential. We've got five weeks to go."
In addition to the four interceptions, the Cougar defense came up big by forcing the Rollers (1-4, 0-2) in 11 negative plays. Yet Steel-High actually earned a 6-3 lead on the second play of the second half when senior Shamari Jones hit a big hole with a burst of speed and raced 56 yards for the touchdown.
The Cougars were resilient and came right back, getting their ground game untracked in the process. After being stymied by the Rollers' defense in the first half — the Cougars' longest possession was eight plays — Palmyra embarked on an 88-yard drive, capped by junior Alon Rhette's 26-yard touchdown with 7:10 left in the third. Harro's extra point made it 10-6, and the Cougars would not look back.
Rhette gained all but five of the yards on that drive, and finished the night with 192 yards on 29 carries. But the Cougars' next two possessions went nowhere, making Reigle's interception return huge in the final quarter.
"Carl's to the house was big for us because we were moving the ball well and then they kind of took that away from us," Pope said of Reigle's play. "Steel-High played us tough. They're a resilient team."
The Rollers refused to die, then marching to the Palmyra 19. They converted a gutsy fourth-and-seven call when Steve Pryor hauled in a 18-yard pass from Young.
Six plays later, the Rollers went for broke and had two receivers open in the end zone momentarily. But another underthrown ball by Young was picked off by Yingst, and the Cougars ran out the clock.
Late in the first quarter, Cooper got through the line quickly and blocked the Rollers' punt. Four plays later, Harro connected on his field goal.
"We work really hard on special teams," Pope said. "It was a big momentum shift for us."
The Rollers shot themselves in the foot time and again, with nine penalties stalling several drives. The Cougar defense also came up with some key sacks, the most impressive by Wade
Kurzinger, Zach Depew and Prestyn Crawford.
Palmyra 17, Steel-High 6
P — Harro 26-yard field goal
S-H — Jones 56-yard run (kick blocked)
P — Rhette 26-yard run (Harro kick)
P — Reigle 52-yard interception return (Harro kick)
PS-HFirst downs911Rushes-yards39-18632-116Passing0-7-05-17-4Passing yards076Total yards186192Punts5-27.63-22.6Fumbles-lost1-02-0Penalties-yards7-509-55