Cocalico runs past the Golden Mules, 63-28

By on November 8, 2017
Cocalico’s Devon Fichtorn (15) and Nik Anderson (58) corral Solanco ball carrier Alex McDonald during Friday’s regular-season finale in Denver. Photo by Missi Mortimer

Cocalico’s Devon Fichtorn (15) and Nik Anderson (58) corral Solanco ball carrier Alex McDonald during Friday’s regular-season finale in Denver. Photo by Missi Mortimer

It was a unique sight, one that put things in perspective of the bigger picture.

Usually after a high school football game, the teams shake hands and form separate huddles on the field for their respective coaches to talk.

Last Friday, Solanco and Cocalico shook hands following the Eagles’ 63-28 victory in Denver and then everyone took a knee at the 50-yard line, Golden Mules and Eagles equally dispersed in this impromptu circle. Coaches stood behind them.

Some players — many on opposite teams — linked arms, others rested their hands on the shoulder pads of the person next them and some Cocalico and Solanco players grabbed hands.

Eagles’ coach Dave Gingrich asked one of his players to start. Everyone lowered their heads and three players led the teams in prayer.

They thanked God for the opportunity to play this game and for safety, making it clear there is more to life than this sport.

As the teams broke the huddle, two Solanco coaches barked out encouragement to the Eagles.

“Represent the section well in districts,” one coach said. “And if you get a chance, beat Manheim,” the other coach remarked, making it clear that Cocalico’s season is not over, that there is more football to play.

“Three or four of our players are heavily involved in the Fellowship of Christian Athletes,” said Gingrich about the teams huddling after the game. “Tonight was pretty cool. Both teams seemed to really embrace it.”

Two hours earlier, both teams looked like mirror images of each other, in the first half anyway.

Both clubs feature an athletic quarterback, Noah Palm for Cocalico and Joel McGuire for Solanco; both have bruising fullbacks, Brandon Brubaker for Cocalico and Nick Yannutz for Solanco; and both utilize scat backs in Austin Landers for Cocalico and Alex McDonald for Solanco.

The Golden Mules (3-4, Section Two, 4-6 overall) and Cocalico (6-1, 9-1) run the same offense, and in the first quarter neither defense could stop the other team’s offense, in a back-and-forth affair that had the score tied at 14 after one period and the Eagles leading 28-21 at halftime.

“They (Solanco) executed very, very well offensively,” Gingrich said. “I thought we had a good game plan for defense, but they executed their blocks. I thought we made some nice plays. I knew it would be a physical game. They (Solanco) have pride. They are well coached and won’t back down.”

The Mules certainly didn’t back down early in this one.

After Solanco scored on the opening drive of the game, going 60 yards on five plays, the Eagles countered with their own five-play, 55-yard drive, tying the score on Palm’s first of five touchdowns, this one a fake handoff and run up the middle from 8 yards out.

Solanco scored on its next possession, running the ball a total of 13 times in the game for two scores, looking a lot like Cocalico’s offense in the process.

Brubaker and the Eagles countered with a 2-yard run to tie the game at 14.

Landers scored the first of two big-play touchdowns, this one a 24-yard run that put the Eagles up 21-14. The second big play was a 27-yard TD catch.

The Mules tied it one more time at 21 before Cocalico pulled away.

Cocalico benefited from a key Solanco fumble that the Eagles’ Brad Heck recovered on the Mule 3-yard line.

Palm scored two plays later to tie game at 14.

In the third quarter Owen Zimmerman recovered a Solanco fumble and converted the turnover into points on Palm’s 27-yard pass to Landers.

“That’s the one thing that we’ve done all year,” Zimmerman said about capitalizing on Solanco’s turnovers. “We’ve capitalized on mistakes all year. That’s why we are winning.”

Other key plays in the game included Solanco turning the ball over on downs three times on fourth down, including Cocalico holding on a goal line stand just before the half to keep the Eagles ahead by seven.

“That was a big stop at the end of the half to keep it at 28-21,” Gingrich said.

Other notable plays included thwarting Solanco’s onside kickoff to start the second half, turning the short field into a touchdown on senior Owen Zimmerman’s 15-yard score on a pitch from Palm.

Three Cocalico players had notable performances.

Zimmerman had a big game offensively, defensively and on special teams with several long returns.

Both player and coach commented afterward.

“(Adin) Frey had a nice block and our wideout Clay (Weaver) sealed off his man,” Zimmerman said of his 15-yard TD run.

Gingrich, speaking about Zimmerman, said, “The thing about Owen Zimmerman is the improvement he’s made from his sophomore year until now. He’s tough and he plays smart. He’s just tough. He is maybe 5-foot-6, 170 pounds. He had a nice game. With run, fumble recovering and the punt and kick returns.”

Palm, who scored on runs of 8, 2, 4 and 45 yards, demonstrated his throwing ability, adding a toss to Landers from 27 yards. Palm rushed for 144 yards and threw for 82.

“The run sets up the pass,” Palm said on his versatility to run or pass. “It starts with blocking. They (Cocalico’s offensive line) were tough in the trenches and won the battles. I just put it up and trusted my receivers to make the catch.”

“Noah’s an exceptional athlete,” Gingrich said of Palm, “and not only being an exceptional athlete, he’s very coachable. He’s an unselfish person and he reads plays well. I think he played very well tonight. He made nice decisions. At times he hesitates and I tell him if the pass is not there immediately to use his legs and he did that tonight.”

Landers scored on a 24-yard run and 27-yard catch.

“Our offensive line worked their butts off,” he said. “With all their blocking, I just executed the plays.”

“Austin is banged up with some bumps and bruises that he’s working through, but when the ball is in his hand he makes things happen,” Gingrich said. “I’d like to see him block a little better, but when he gets the ball in his hands he does some nice things.”

Cocalico finished with 433 yards on offense (351 on the ground), had several key stops on defense and made many long gains on kick and punt returns.

It appears the Eagles are clicking on all cylinders just in time for the District Three Class 5A playoffs, which begin Friday with a home game in Denver.

“It’s definitely a big push for next week,” Larson said. “It’s very gratifying to have a game at home.”

Gingrich, when asked if this win prepares the Eagles for districts, said, “We need to get off blocks defensively. Offensively, we got to get a push.”

Spoken like someone who is thinking about the big picture, someone who knows there is more football to play.

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