By Andy Sandrik:
Coach: Chris Pope
League/division: Mid-Penn Keystone
2019 record: 4-6, 3-4 in Capital
Postseason: Did not qualify
Passing: Comp-Att., Yards, TD
Seth Robertson: 19-45, 190, 0
Rushing: Att-Yards., Avg., TD
Nick Wallaesa: 78-381, 4.9, 3
Receiving: Rec.-Yards, Avg., TD
Jacob Deimling: 12-113, 9.4, 1
Key Players: Jordan Blauch, Jr., OL-DL; Luke Gaughler, Jr., OL-DL; Tyler Shertzer, Sr.,TE-DL; Nick Wallaesa, Sr., RB-S; Seth Robertson, Sr., QB-S; Sam Landon, Sr., SS; Jacob Deimling, Jr., WR-CB; Jack Stretch, Sr., DE; Connor Holzman, Jr., OL-DL; John Eisenhooth, Jr., OL-DL; Kyle Chapin, So., OL-DL; Brady Holwig, Jr., LB; Alex Fuhrman, Jr., LB; Brady Coburn, Sr., CB; Tristan Murawski, Sr., WR-S; Max Klipa, Jr., WR; Richie Kowalski, Jr., RB-CB
OUTLOOK: Palmyra is the new kid on the block in the electric Keystone Division, where Cedar Cliff and Bishop McDevitt aim to remain supreme, but don’t expect the Cougars to blink against their top-tier competition. Pope believes his team’s stint in the Capital Division — against the likes of MPC powers Middletown, Steel-High, and Milton Hershey — will have the Cougars ready to play under the bright lights of the Keystone. Of course, being competitive in this division and winning are two different things. Palmyra has the skill players to put points on the board, and a defense that shouldn’t fall victim to too many big plays, but the wins and losses will likely come down to the Cougars’ play in the trenches, where they will be facing an uphill battle against the big boys of the Keystone.
3 THINGS TO KNOW
Opening night of football in the Mid-Penn was supposed to be an intriguing, if not awkward, experience for Pope, a science teacher at Milton Hershey whose team was originally scheduled to play the Spartans.
Now, as Pope preps his team for Hollidaysburg, he also finds himself looking at the season through the eyes of his Milton Hershey student-athletes, whose football season was halted due to risks associated with COVID-19.
“I have a few of their players in class and, yeah, we talk about football,” Pope said. “They’re disappointed. They’d love to be competing.”
Pope — a Hershey graduate who is in his 25th year on Palmyra’s coaching staff — said he understands and appreciates the challenges faced by Milton Hershey. It puts into perspective how lucky his squad, and others in the Mid-Penn, are to have the chance to play football.
“We should be playing them today,” Pope said. “We’re fortunate to have the opportunity to play football. I see what the Milton Hershey kids are going through and I hope those seniors that have been working so hard get an opportunity to play some games.”
2. The Rooster, the Speedster, and the Battering Ram
Pope says he has no idea how senior RB Nick “Rooster” Wallaesa got his nickname, but it gives us visions of Rocky Balboa chasing the shifty 5-6, 150-pound Wallaesa through the streets of Philadelphia.
The slashing Wallaesa is expected to shoulder the load with the help of another gifted runner: QB Seth Robertson. This is Robertson’s first full-time campaign at quarterback, but he’s no stranger to the Palmyra offense as he got plenty of reps from the Wildcat package last fall, as well as a start in the final game of the season.
Robertson’s raw speed will likely open up lanes for the Rooster to zig-zag through the front lines, and should also provide the QB opportunities to roll out and look for his primary targets: Jacob Deimling and Gage Miller, a recruit from the baseball team.
It may be tempting for opposing defenses to stay light on their feet as to not get juked out by Palmyra’s speed, but that might prove to be a painful mistake as junior Tim Hall — who doubles as the Cougars’ defensive end — comes rumbling forward.
“I think Seth being out there with Nick puts additional stress on the opposing defense,” Pope said. “With the additional element of two nice receivers, opponents will have to cover the whole field instead of honing in on one person.”
3. Laying it on the line
Palmyra certainly has the skill players to cause headaches and defensively, with four of five members of the secondary returning, the Cougars have visions of hanging tough with Keystone Division juggernauts Cedar Cliff and Bishop McDevitt, two teams not shy about stretching out the field via the passing game.
The biggest challenge for the Cougars comes up front, on both sides of the ball, where Palmyra returns one true starter, although a number of players got to see some reps in a 2019 season riddled with injuries. Look for Kyle Chapin, Jordan Blauch, Dan Steskel, Luke Gaughler and Jonathan Eisenhooth to man the OL spots.
If the young line can quickly grow through its inexperience, the Cougars could be a bigger threat than expected in the Keystone.
“We’re still working through the process, but I think our defense will be good,” Pope said. “A lot of our younger guys got a game or two of experience last year, but right now our skill guys are the most experienced.”