Panthers defense still has teeth

Brayden Madden, left, and Jose Juarez, right, block Luke Triplett during a two-on-one drill during training camp at Palmyra High School on Tuesday.

PALMYRA, Mo. — One of the big keys behind Palmyra’s run to the district championship last season was their formidable defense that held opponents to under 10 points on five occasions in 2020.

Although several key pieces from last year’s team graduated, Palmyra has plenty of playmakers left and emerging players ready to step up.

“I think for us, it’s just coming in and starting over,” said Palmyra football head coach Kevin Miles. “We kind of live off what we did, but for the most part it’s a new group. We are pretty excited about this group, but it’s a new process. Take the enthusiasm that we bring back and prepare for a new season. Keep working.”

The biggest change will be on the defensive line, with Clarence Cannon Conference Defensive Player of the Year Weston King and All-Conference selection Josh Lickfield graduating from last year’s team.

The Panthers had a lot of depth at the position last season and have more than capable replacements on hand. Palmyra will rely on Brayden Madden and Luke Triplett to anchor the defensive line and have several emerging players coming up.

Triplett was an All-Conference selection as on offensive lineman and served as a backup defensive lineman last season. Madden made some key players down the stretch during Palmyra’s postseason run in the shadow of King and Lickfield.

“I feel like those two kids could had been really exceptional last year if they were on any other team but ours with Josh and Weston being there,” Miles said. “I feel like our defensive line replacements are going to be pretty good. They have some big shoes to fill, but we feel like they are up to the challenge.”

One area that could be even stronger than last season is the secondary, which returns All-State safety Landyn Smith and All-Conference safety Collin Arch.

Miles feels like those two players, along with a trio of cornerbacks will provide a stingy secondary this season.

“(Arch and Smith) were like two peas in a pod last year,” Miles said. “They were identical players. We will have those two lead that defensive backfield.”

The Panthers will have junior Carter Crane, junior Ethan Redd and senior Christian Johnson pegged as their top-three cornerbacks going into 2021. They will be counted on to fill the shoes of Zane Meyers and Brody Lehenbauer, who graduated from last year’s team.

“Those guys are stepping up and doing some great things at corner,” Miles said. “We feel pretty good with where we are there and it’s just a process of getting those guys comfortable with learning the concepts of what we want to do over there.”

Smith plans on taking more of a leadership role in his senior season.

“I feel like as a defensive captain on that side of the ball, I need to reflect that,” Smith said.

Miles pointed to Smith’s competitiveness and versatility as assets to the team.

“We are pretty excited with is leadership and the things he does to promote himself and this team,” Miles said. “Landyn is where we want him to be and we look forward to great things out of him on both sides of the ball.”

Arch enters 2021 as Palmyra’s starting quarterback, but has also been putting in time on the defensive side of the ball in preparation for the upcoming season.

“I’m still working on both sides of the ball,” Arch said. “Last year, we had a really good defense. I think we will be able to fill those shoes (of players that graduated).”

The linebacking corp remains mostly the same, with the exception of the graduations of All-Conference selection Peyton Timbrook and Wade Begley.

Timbrook was injured midway through last season, and it gave a chance for Adam Goodwin and Nolyn Richards to emerge.

“I think with what they had to do last year to fill in for some guys (who) were hurt, we feel confident with what they can do for us right now,” Miles said.

Another key to Palmyra’s defensive success is that each player takes a team-first approach.

“I’m more of just a role player,” Smith said. “I like to do my own job and let my teammates do their job.”

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