Noah Palm, the quarterback, wasn't too happy after fumbling the football away to Governor Mifflin early in the second quarter of Friday's District Three Class 5A quarterfinal game in Denver.
Good thing that Noah Palm, the defender, was there to save the day. On the very next play from scrimmage as Mifflin took over in Cocalico territory, Palm broke through and caused Mustangs' QB Kolbie Reeser to fumble, then the Eagles' senior pounced on the loose ball.
That set off a second-quarter surge of 22 unanswered points for the Eagles as they pulled away for an eventual 42-14 victory over the Mustangs.
“I was pretty mad at myself for fumbling that ball,” Palm said. “I was like dang, I really have to do my best to try to get the ball back.”
Palm keyed the Eagles’ offense, rushing for 91 yards and four touchdowns on 19 carries, while Cocalico's defense forced four turnovers and held Nick Singleton, the Berks League's leading rusher, to just 16 yards on 12 carries.
The win sends Cocalico (9-2) into Friday's semifinals, where the Eagles will host fifth-seeded Warwick (10-2), a 31-28 winner over Manheim Central.
“I'm so proud of the kids because I don't think this is the most talented team we've ever had,” Cocalico coach Dave Gingrich said. “At times this year we were starting eight freshmen and sophomores on defense, and in high school football that's not a good recipe.
“But you know, the thing I think I'm most proud of is we got better as the season has gone along. That early part of the schedule was a grind and I didn't think we'd ever get through it. But once we did, we started to get our traction and I think we are playing our best football right now … and this is the time you want to be playing your best football.”
Although the Eagles eventually gained some distance between themselves and the Mustangs, the first quarter was a grind for both teams. Cocalico did cash in on its first drive of the night as Stephen Flinton (5-46 yards rushing) took a pitch around the left side and went in from 11 yards out. But a missed extra point kept the game at 6-0.
And while Cocalico's D held up its end of the bargain, adding a 22-yard fumble return for a touchdown by Marshall Patterson to up the lead to 13-0 early in the second quarter, the Eagles sputtered on offense, capped by Palm's fumble.
But after the New Hampshire commit got the ball back for Cocalico, the Eagles took off.
First, Palm capped a quick six-play, 60-yard drive with a 9-yard touchdown run with 3:02 to go in the half. Then, after Cocalico's defense forced a three-and-out, Palm added his second score of the night with an 8-yard run around right end with 17 ticks left in the half to up the lead to 28-0.
Cocalico defeated Mifflin 26-14 earlier in the year. In Friday's rematch, Gingrich felt the difference was up front.
“I though the first time we played them they were very, very physical,” he said. “I'm not saying they weren't physical tonight, but I thought our offensive and defensive lines matched their intensity upfront, and that's what you want. To win games in November, you better be physical up front and take care of the ball. And for the most part I thought we did that.”
The Eagles put it away early in the third, taking the opening drive of the second half 79 yards in 11 plays with Palm capping the march with a 3-yard TD plunge to make it 35-0 with 8:20 left in the third.
Mifflin (8-4), which had an eight-game winning streak snapped, came into the night averaging 44.4 points per game. The Mustangs, who were held to just 99 yards on 32 attempts on the ground, did get on the board with a 1-yard run by Singleton and a 6-yard run by Branson Strausser late in the fourth, but Cocalico added Palm's fourth score of the night in the fourth to finish it.
“(Defensive coordinator Chris Laudenslager) and his staff had a good game plan on what they were going to do tonight,” Gingrich said. “And having the bye last week we really focused on fundamentals of blocking, tackling, getting off blocks and just healing. I though that was instrumental with what happened tonight. We had fresh legs and we were ready to go.”