PALMYRA >> Palmyra football coach Chris Pope was hoping to see plenty of big plays when his Cougars took the field on Friday night against Milton Hershey.
He got what he was looking for, but not from the right team most of the time.
The speedy Spartans used their dangerous, big-play ability to rack up three touchdown runs of more than 50 yards en route to handing Palmyra its third straight loss — a 28-7 decision at Buck Swank Stadium.
Now 6-3 overall and 3-3 in the Mid-Penn Capital Division after a 6-0 start to the season, the Cougars were burned for a 71-yard scoring dash by Milton Hershey quarterback Keonte Lucas in the first quarter and TD jaunts of 56 and 53 yards from Qwasif Shabazz and Marcus Smith after intermission to mar an otherwise solid Palmyra defensive effort and continue the bleeding that began with a tough-to-take 28-24 loss to Camp Hill two Fridays ago.
"When you think big plays, you want them to be with you," said Pope, after seeing the Cougars surrender 339 rushing yards but just seven first downs. "Unfortunately, the big plays were not with us in this game. They've got a lot of good playmakers, but you can only keep a team in check for so long before something's gonna give."
Outside of Lucas' 71-yard TD run with 48 seconds left in the opening quarter, the Cougar 'D' performed superbly prior to the break, allowing just 90 total yards and one first down.
In addition, Palmyra forced three turnovers in the first half — interceptions by Mason Sosnoski and Ian Fogleman, and a Wade Kurzinger fumble recovery that set up the Cougars' lone score. That came on a 7-yard TD pass from Tyler Gallagher to Peter Robertson with 49 ticks left in the half that made it a 7-7 game at intermission.
Unfortunately for Palmyra, that was its lone productive possession on a night when it managed a pedestrian 210 total yards and failed to put together any lengthy drives that would keep the Spartans' big-play guys off the field.
"We played a good half at the beginning, I thought that was good," Pope said. "But we never really sustained long, long drives and finished them. We weren't able to come out and control the football in the second half and they were able then to tear out some big plays."
Milton Hershey (6-3, 4-2 Capital Division) wasted no time tearing out its first big play of the second half, getting a 56-yard sprint to paydirt by Shabazz 1:38 into the third quarter that made it 14-7.
After the ensuing Palmyra possession bogged down at the Milton Hershey 35, the Spartans struck again and needed just two plays to do so after a 59-yard burst by Lucas set up Tyeair Diggs' six-yard touchdown for a 21-7 lead.
Marcus Smith then put an exclamation point on Milton Hershey's night of big plays with a 53-yard romp with 10:27 to play.
Once a shoo-in for the district playoffs in Class AAA, Palmyra now heads back to the drawing board in an attempt to stop the losing skid next week against West Perry in the regular season finale.
"I'm not quite sure if you can pin it on one thing," Pope said of the three-game slide. "(Against Camp Hill) I thought we played well, we just ran into a good team. The second loss (49-13 to Middletown) we just didn't show up. I will say that we showed up tonight and played.
"Maybe we took a step forward tonight, but it's still not good enough. It's unacceptable. You practice all week to win. We need to get off the losing streak and back on the winning."
Palmyra 28, Milton Hershey 7
MH — Lucas 71 run (Herrington kick)
P — Robertson 7 pass from Gallagher (Harro kick)
MH — Shabazz 56 run (Herrington kick)
MH — Diggs 6 run (Herrington kick)
MH — Smith 53 run (Herrington kick)
MHPFirst downs712Rushes-yards32-33941-180Passing3-8-24-19-1Passing yards2030Total yards359210Punts3-36.46-36.9Fumbles-lost1-12-1Penalties-yards3-303-20
Rushing — MH: Shabazz 16-118, Lucas 10-160, Smith 4-57, Diggs 2-4, P: Rhette 16-58, Hawkins 3-45, M.Sosnoski 2-32, Reigle 11-25, Gallagher 6-15, Yingst 2-4, Hurst 1-1.
Passing — MH: Lucas 3-8-2-20, P: Gallagher 4-18-1-30, Yingst 0-1-0-0
Receiving — MH: Richards 1-13, Brown 1-5, Diggs 1-2, P: Robertson 3-22, Rhette 1-8