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Raiders hold on to win battle of the unbeatens; they jump to 17-point lead and hold on vs. Palmyra

By Larry Etter, Press & Journal Staff
Posted 10/11/17

From start to finish, the Palmyra Cougars did everything they could to break the Blue Raiders’ long regular-season winning streak Friday, but the home team fell short in the key Mid-Penn …

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Raiders hold on to win battle of the unbeatens; they jump to 17-point lead and hold on vs. Palmyra


From start to finish, the Palmyra Cougars did everything they could to break the Blue Raiders’ long regular-season winning streak Friday, but the home team fell short in the key Mid-Penn Conference Capital Division matchup. 

Amped up by a standing-room-only crowd for Homecoming at Buck Swank Stadium, Middletown and Palmyra squared off in a battle of unbeaten teams in a game that turned out to be a fight to the finish. 

Despite numerous penalties and playing short-handed, the Blue Raiders found a way to win, 17-10, to lift their record to 6-0. The Cougars were dealt their first loss of the year. 

“With all the guys we had sitting on the bench with injuries, some of the other players had to step up, not only in the game but at practice this week,” Middletown head coach Brett Myers said after the game. “Sometimes you have to deal with adversity and work through it.” 

The Blue Raiders return to action at 2 p.m. Saturday for its Homecoming game, playing host to Camp Hill (3-3, 1-2 in the Capital Division) at War Memorial Field. 

The following weeks bring games against teams at the bottom of the Capital Division (at Boiling Springs, 0-6, on Oct. 20 and home for Milton Hershey, 2-4, on Oct. 27) before another big matchup on the road to end the regular season— 5-1 Steelton-Highspire, which survived in a 28-27 comeback win Friday at Trinity during the Shamrocks’ Homecoming. The Rollers were the last team to beat the Blue Raiders in the regular season, 19-18 on Oct. 30, 2015.

Against Palmyra on Friday, senior running back Brady Fox was one of the injured players, so the coaching staff had to rely on sophomore Jose Lopez to bear the brunt of the ground game. Although the Palmyra defense did a good job of limiting Lopez’s gains, he still ended up with 101 yards on 22 carries and a touchdown. 

The offense went to the air a bit more than usual, and junior Scott Ash connected on 7 of 14 passes for 121 yards and a touchdown — not great numbers, but good enough to aid in the victory. 

On the other side of the ball, the Raider defense gave up some yards but was outstanding at times as the Cougars went deep into their playbook. The Blue Raiders gave up less than 250 yards despite several big plays. The Blue Raiders have given up only 65 points this season through six games, with more than half — 34 — coming in the Sept. 29 win vs. Trinity.

But, on the negative side, the Raiders were flagged for multiple penalties, a problem that has haunted them all season. That was also part of the adversity Myers talked about. 

The game started well for the Blue Raiders, who got the ball first on the balmy evening. Starting at their own 35, the Raiders netted zero yards on the first two plays but Ash connected with Kyle Truesdale for 11 yards and a first down to keep the drive moving. 

A 7-yard run by Lopez and a 4-yard catch by Tyreer Mills earned another fresh set of downs. On second and 6, Ash scrambled away from pressure and fired a strike to Chris Plummer. The play resulted in a 34-yard touchdown with 8:32 left in the opening quarter. Donovan Brady’s kick gave the Blue Raiders the 7-0 lead. 

The defensive stars for the Middletown side were many. Ethan Miller, Quincy Reinnegal, Cole Senior, Arthur Dash, Antonio Gamble, Ryan Hughes, Blake Jacoby, Mills, Zach Souders and Truesdale led the way in keeping the Cougars from scoring until the final seconds of the first half. 

On a drive that started at the Middletown 48 with 1:20 left in the first period, receptions of 15 yards by Hughes and 34 yards by Mills moved the ball to the Palmyra 14. 

But a personal foul on the first play of the second quarter pushed the Raiders back to the 29. An 18-yard run by Ash came up short of the first-down marker, and Middletown settled for a 27-yard field goal by Brady. That lead held up after the Cougars drove deep into Middletown territory on their ensuing possession and Palmyra misfired on a field goal attempt of their own. 

The teams exchanged interceptions during the next minute of play. Palmyra’s Kyle Wasilewski intercepted Ash two plays into the Raiders possession but Tre’ Leach picked off Grant Haus’ throw two plays later at the Middletown 33. 

That turnover led to a Middletown touchdown three minutes later. A personal foul penalty against the Cougars following a 10-yard run by Leach put the ball on the Palmyra 40. 

After losing three yards on first down, Lopez turned in the play of the game. Starting up the left side, Lopez broke a tackle at the line, stayed on his feet after getting spun around near the 35 (Palmyra would get flagged for a face mask penalty on the play), broke another tackle two steps later and burned the defense as he raced to the south end zone. The kick gave the Raiders a 17-0 lead with 2:58 left in the half. 

But Palmyra came back and picked up yardage on a big run by Eddie Cannon and passes from Haus to three different receivers. On third and 9 from the 17, the Raiders were flagged on a questionable holding call that gave the Cougars a first and goal at the 7. Haus took it from there and made it a 17-7 game with 36 seconds left before halftime. 

Palmyra picked up one first down on the opening offensive series of the second half, but back-to-back tackles for loss by Senior and Dash and a saving tackle by Hughes at the end of a 15-yard pass killed the drive. A short punt gave the Raiders good field position at their 42, but a holding penalty and a dropped pass forced the Raiders to punt. Palmyra, taking over at its own 20, earned one first down and then got help from a pair of Raider personal foul penalties that aided a drive that ended with a 32-yard field goal by Griffen Weidler at 2:25. 

The Raiders came up half a yard short on third and one and were forced to punt. But the Cougars were also stopped short of the first down marker when Jacoby stopped Haus on the first play of the fourth quarter. With 11:03 left, this was still anyone’s game. Tension mounted with each play. 

As much as the penalties caused concern on the Middletown sidelines, a pair of Palmyra infractions turned out to be major factors in the outcome. 

The first one came on a Middletown punt that pushed the Cougars’ back to their own 29. Three plays later on third and four, Palmyra was flagged for a personal foul that pushed the ball all the way back to the 10. Following a punt, the Raiders took over at the Palmyra 49 with 5:52 left. A pass from Ash to Mills and a 6-yard run by Lopez gave the Raiders a first-and-10 at the 39. On third and four, Lopez gained 5 yards and another first down at the 28. Looking to keep the ball moving and run out the clock, the Raiders made a couple mistakes that had the Middletown fans groaning. 

The first was a delay of game and the second was a false start that had the Raiders facing a first and 20. Lopez picked up 5 yards but another false start a play later wiped out that gain. On third and 20, Ash rifled the ball downfield into the hands of Mills, who caught the ball before being pushed out of bounds at the 10. But the Raiders were penalized yet again, and what could have been a game-sealing play was erased. One down later, Wasilewski recorded his second interception and the Cougars took over at their own 20.

With 80 yards in front of them and 1:46 on the clock the Cougars tried to rally. Palmyra picked up one first down but three plays netted just six yards, bringing up a fourth and 4. Under pressure, Haus tried to connect with his receiver but the pass fell short and the defense celebrated the stop and the victory.