PALMYRA, Mo. – The way the end of the football season ended was uncommon for the Palmyra football team.
After winning its first six games of the season, Palmyra’s season unraveled as it lost three straight to finish the regular season and four out of five to end the year 7-4 and crash out of the Class 2 district semifinals. Palmyra lost three straight games – which came against Clark County, Macon and Monroe City – for the first time since 2011, the first season with coach Kevin Miles on the sidelines.
Clark County ended Palmyra’s season in a 36-0 loss.
"That put a sour taste in our mouth," Miles said. "We know we’re going to play good teams throughout the year and in districts. We’re not going to say we’re going to win all of those games, but we’d like to be competitive and say we belong there."
Palmyra had shown it has over the years. But a three-year district championship drought has the Panthers wanting to show it again.
"We need to get that mindset back in Palmyra we are going to win in the playoffs," senior quarterback Corder Lehenbauer said. "I think the last few years we haven’t had that. We just felt it was another year. We need to win this year."
Lehenbauer will be looked upon to make sure that happens. He was thrust into the starting quarterback role during the 32-28 victory over Kirksville in Week 6 when quarterback Jacob Kroeger suffered a season-ending knee injury.
Lehenbauer had taken snaps in game throughout the season, but playing against the top teams in the Clarence Cannon Conference while chasing the league title was a difficult task.
He finished the season completing 19 of 53 passes for 321 yards. He had six touchdowns and four interceptions. He also ran for 529 yards and scored three times.
"It was a good experience," Lehenbauer said. "I didn’t come out the way I needed to. I really wanted to come back next year stronger."
While the Panthers have their quarterback, they graduated their top running back in Jarom Alexander. He ran for 611 yards and seven touchdowns on 98 carries. Kroeger also ran for 439 yards and six touchdowns.
Besides Lehenbauer, senior back Dakota Compton had the most carries of any returning player with 75 carries for 380 yards. He’ll likely get the bulk this season.
Defensively, the Panthers lose their top three tacklers in Brady Barnett (110 tackles), Tucker Aeschlimann (81) and Alexander (52). However, Mason Scholl and Dylan Redd both return, along with several defensive veterans like Weston King, Abe Haerr, Peyton Timbrook and Wade Begley.
The defense had allowed just 8.3 points per game in the first six games of the season last year. Palmyra allowed 22 points per game across the final five games.
"We have to pick up where we left off after those first six games last year," Begley said. "We had some injuries that were a big loss to the team and that really hurt us."
It has added fuel to the Panthers’ drive to win a district title.
"The schedule we have gets us prepared for these games," Miles said. "We just tell them it’s not where we are now, it’s where we are in Week 10 and hitting on all cylinders.
"We just have the consistency with the staff and kids that have been around for a long time. Those expectations are going to help these guys be so much better this year."