For most of the year, the coin flip fortunes have worked in the favor of the Cocalico High School football team on Friday nights.
“Most of the season we got the coin flip and deferred and played defense,” Eagles coach Dave Gingrich said.
So things were a bit out of the ordinary when Cedar Crest instead won the pregame flip on Friday and deferred to the second half, giving host Cocalico the ball to start, going into a steady wind.
The Eagles responded with a game-opening 16-play, 70-yard scoring drive. That set the tone for what became a 42-7 victory over the visiting Falcons in a chilly District Three Class 5A quarterfinal matchup that saw temperatures dip into the mid-20s by the end. Players often huddled around sideline heaters when they weren’t in on the action.
The victory sets up a rematch at rival Manheim Central (11-0) in next week’s semifinal round. More on that in a bit.
“That first drive took like seven minutes. It was a long drive,” Gingrich said. “That’s a pretty good way to start the game.”
The sixth-seeded Falcons (8-3) moved to Cocalico’s 26-yard line on their first drive, only to fumble the ball away. Cocalico quarterback Noah Palm then took a 58-yard rushing attempt to the house on the very next play. And, just like that, it was 14-0 to close the first quarter.
Things would only get worse for Cedar Crest. On its next possession, Logan Horn, the Falcons’ junior quarterback, got drilled while standing tall in the pocket during a pass attempt that landed in the hands of Cocalico senior defensive back Conlan Kerschner. It was one of six takeaways on the night for the Cocalico defense.
Horn lay prone on his back for a moment before trainers helped him up and walked him off the field. He didn’t return, leaving the signal-calling duties to senior backup Tanner Miller the rest of the way. The Falcons promptly fumbled away the handoff exchange on the first play of their next drive. The third-seeded Eagles (10-1) scored three plays later to make it 21-0.
Cocalico put two more touchdowns on the board in the final 3:20 of the first half to take a commanding 35-7 advantage into the break. Brandon Brubaker’s third rushing score — from 1 yard out — gave Cocalico a running clock at the 8:02 mark of the third quarter.
While Brubaker’s three scores were noteworthy, sophomore quarterback Noah Palm stole the show with 150 rushing yards on 17 attempts (8.8 yards a carry), including the 58-yard score.
“We’ve improved a lot just in being able to see things and read things,” Palm said when asked about his progression as a first-year starting QB.
Palm also connected with sophomore back Ronald Zahm for a nifty 28-yard passing score just before the half that saw Zahm tiptoe down the sideline and stretch out over the pylon.
Led by solid blocking from offensive linemen Collin Hall, Hunter Nash, Brock Gingrich, Josh Hoover, Derek Sauder and tight end Brad Heck, Cocalico finished with 290 rushing yards on 44 attempts.
The only blemish for Cocalico was 105 penalty yards, something coach Gingrich noted his Eagles will certainly need to clean up with the rematch against Manheim Central up next.
It’s a rematch of last year’s district semifinal, which the Barons won, 50-13. Their meeting early this season was much closer, with Manheim Central controlling the second half en route to a 17-7 win. It’s Cocalico’s only loss this season.
“We welcome the opportunity,” Gingrich said. “They beat us the last time. We’ll find out if we made any kind of improvements.”