The Cocalico Eagles won their first District 3 title in 25 years last weekend. Tonight they were playing in the PIAA 5A state semifinals for just the second time in program history.
And with a little luck they could have won this game.
This was a shoot out if ever there was one, that ended with a 56-49 victory for the Cheltenham Patchers (14-1).
The Eagles (11-3) missed a field goal late in the fourth quarter and Cheltenham responded with a quick touchdown with 45 seconds left in the game.
Ronald Zahm scored two TDs in the first quarter for Cocalico. However he injured his leg and left the game with 3:55 left in the quarter and did not return. That was a big loss.
The high-scoring affair at Hersheypark Stadium seemed to be stepped up to a higher gear at the start of the fourth quarter, when in just under a minute of game time, three touchdowns were exchanged between the two teams.
Cocalico pushed in a score from two yards out, only to watch Cheltenham score on the ensuing kickoff. The Eagles’ quarterback, senior Noah Palm, then returned the next kickoff to the 41 before keeping the ball on the next rush to race 59 yards up the middle and down the left sideline to score a touchdown.
The teams had been trading punches all evening on chunk plays, with four of the seven first-half touchdowns coming from 40-plus yards out. While Cheltenham had been using its rushing attack to help open up space downfield to attempt passes, the Eagles consistently pounded the ball on the ground, using a triple-option offense to keep the Panthers guessing on defense. The Eagles attempted only two passes all game: the first was intercepted and the second was on a failed flea-flicker attempt.
Cheltenham senior wide receiver Nate Edwards is fast. Ridiculously fast. That speed was on full display in all facets of the game Friday, as he took his first carry 50 yards down the right sideline and dancing over to the left for an opening score on a jet sweep. That was one of his three touchdowns.
His teammate, senior running back Jamir Barnes, also demonstrated his versatility Friday, combining for more than 280 total yards of offense between his carries and receptions. Senior wideout Lateef Harris demonstrated some elusiveness with the ball in his hands, juking the lone defender in front of him to the ground on a 60-yard touchdown pass and darting past the kickoff coverage on an 88-yard return.
And of course, the guy getting the football to those three, senior quarterback Adonis Harris, wasn’t too bad himself, tallying 262 passing yards, 39 rushing yards and three passing touchdowns.
Despite the losing effort, Palm was exceptional on the ground running read options with his assortment of backs beside him. He led the way with 189 rushing yards on 15 carries, while senior running back Cody Shay stepped up in the absence of senior running back Ronald Zahm to take 20 carries for 138 yards. There might not have been a single successful pass for the Eagles, but 493 rushing yards should be enough to get it done.