With homecoming festivities taking place, the Palmyra football team needed a reminder of what the task at hand was Friday night.
South Shelby’s Dylan Threlkeld gave the Panthers just that on the second play from scrimmage. The Cardinals quarterback broke free for a 52-yard run to put the Panthers in an early 6-0 hole.
Instead of igniting the visiting Cardinals, it served as a spark for the Panthers offense.
Palmyra scored 37 unanswered points for a 37-6 romp, improving to 3-1 on the season.
“Coach just told us to calm down,” Panthers quarterback Jacob Kroeger said of the message after the Cardinals’ early score. “We knew there would be a lot of people here tonight watching us with it being homecoming so we just needed to calm down and focus, take a breath and go back out there and get a stop.”
The Panthers offense seemed to have a case of being too anxious from the hyped-up crowd in the early going as well.
The Panthers fumbled the ball away on their first offensive possession.
Then the defense took over.
Peyton Plunkett stepped in front of a pass from Threlkeld on the Cardinals next possession but lost the ball on the return.
The Panthers defense then forced a 3-and-out.
Kroeger returned the punt to the Cardinals 19-yard line, where Plunkett scored two plays later.
After taking over on downs, the Panthers looked poised to extend their 7-6 lead, but once again lost a fumble on the first play in the second quarter. The fumble came inside the Cardinals’ five.
But again, the defense came to the rescue.
After nearly recording a safety on the first two plays, the Panthers defense didn’t miss on third down. Jackson Powell and Tucker Aeschilman teamed up for the safety, giving the Panthers a 9-6 lead.
“The defensive line really stepped it up tonight,” Kroeger said. “They stepped up to a level I have not seen them reach this year.”
Three plays later, Kroeger extended the Palmyra lead to 16-7 when he scrambled 39 yards down the left sideline for a touchdown.
The score came on third-and-14 and Kroeger dropped back for a pass.
The Cardinals defense flushed the Panthers signal caller from the pocket, and Kroeger did the rest.
“He makes such great decisions back there,” Panthers coach Kevin Miles said of his quarterback. “He knows when to pull in down and run with it when need be.”
Two possessions later, Braxden Neil stepped in front of a pass and scored from 13 yards. The defensive touchdown put the Panthers ahead 23-6 with 2:54 left in the half.
Neil also had help on the score.
He was hit by Cardinal players just as he stepped inside the 10, but his teammates pushed the pile that ended up in the end zone.
“Just a great team effort,” the Panthers defensive back said of the touchdown.
Neil would stepped in front of another South Shelby pass on the next possession, giving him seven on the season.
“Braxden, my goodness,” Miles said. “That kid is pretty impressive. He has had a really great season.”
Kroeger and Plunkett added 17 and 8-yard scores in the second half, respectively, for the final tally. Plunkett finished the game with a game-high 116 yards rushing on 20 totes. Kroeger added 111 yards on 13 carries.
“Those two are pretty dang solid,” Miles said of his quarterback and fullback. “Peyton is just Peyton and just runs really hard every time he touches the ball. Jacob had another great game, but really my hats go off to the offensive line. They played a great game as well.”
Tucker Aeschliman added 32 yards on 14 carries.
The Panthers rushed for 259 yards in the game, while holding the Cardinals to 200 yards from scrimmage.
Threlkeld led the Cardinals with 78 yards rushing.
Palmyra has won three straight games after a season-opening loss.
“We are a young team and we were really still trying to figure things out then,” Kroeger said. “I feel like everyone is learning all the different schemes really well now and I hope we can keep it going.”
The Panthers travel to Clark County next Friday.