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Palmyra edges Elco again in season opener

PALMYRA – Considering the history of tough, physical battles between the Elco and Palmyra boys soccer teams, it was certainly a treat to have the teams open the 2016 season against each other. Especially after seeing two one-goal thrillers between the teams last year, including last year’s District 3 Class AA play-in game that saw the Cougars escape with a 3-2 win with 13.3 seconds left.

And the 2016 edition saw the same highly intense drama unfold, this time on the stage featuring the dawn of a new season.

Thanks to Sam Sheils' go-ahead goal off an assist from Alec Haldeman with 8:44 left in regulation that survived a mad scrum for a loose ball, it again was Palmyra edging out Elco in a one-goal affair – this time a 2-1 final – Friday afternoon at In the Net Sports Complex.

Sheils' eventual game-winner also went just off the hands of Elco’s No. 2 goalkeeper Hunter Keppley in the biggest battle for the ball of the entire 90 minutes.

“It was kind of similar to a play we had earlier that we just didn’t finish,” Sheils said. “But on this one it just bounced right to me and I just touched it in. It had a couple of deflections and went in.”

After letting a 1-0 lead slip away very early in the second half, Cougars coach AJ Hull says Sheils' go-ahead tally was a prime example of his team’s play when it mattered most.

“It was just a big hunger goal. We were definitely hungrier in the last ten minutes, which gave us that opportunity. When they scored on us in the first 29 seconds of the second half it was a wake-up call for us,” Hull said. “When we were able to make runs and possess, they were able to out-muscle us, and I think we started to match their intensity in the last fifteen minutes.”

Keppley however, was put in a vulnerable position in the Raiders net, having to sub in for starter Matthew Berger late in regulation after Berger was involved in a nasty collision with the Cougars’ Colin Wise, resulting in a head injury.

“It was a knee or foot that caught him in. He had come and then turned and braced himself and there was contact,” said Elco coach Kirk Keppley.

Kirk Keppley did say Berger had a headache, but the trainer on site didn’t feel Berger suffered a concussion.

“I think he’ll be OK. We just need to keep an eye on him,” Keppley said. “Hopefully he’s cleared and ready to go for next Wednesday against Lancaster Catholic.”

“It was unfortunate to see their starting keeper go down,” Hull said. “Nobody plans on that happening.”

Despite giving up the eventual game-winning goal, Kirk Keppley felt his sophomore back-up did well for himself among the challenging circumstances.

“Sure, when you’re sitting the whole game and all of a sudden there’s not much time and boom, ‘get ready, you’re in,’’ Keppley said.

“I think he did some good things. It just unfortunate with the goal, but you’ve got to be ready. I think he was ready, but having his first real varsity experience…that’s a tough situation.”

Gavin Kerr gave the Cougars a 1-0 lead with 33:26 left in the first half on an assist from Wise. Evan Gettler was responsible for tying the game for the Raiders just under 30 seconds into the second half off a throw-in. Elco's Clay Hain then missed a golden opportunity on a penalty kick caused by a handball inside the box that would've given his team the lead with about 18 minutes left.