Colonial League clash: Palisades comes up short to Southern Lehigh
On a crisp night Friday, host Palisades went into halftime having thoroughly outplayed Southern Lehigh in a battle of two 7-1 Colonial League foes.
The Pirates held the ball for 18 minutes compared to the Spartans’ 6. Palisades recorded nine first downs versus Southern Lehigh’s three. And the Pirates’ potent ground attack outgained the Spartans, 146 yards to 61.
So it was problematic that Palisades (7-2) went into the break up just 3-0.
“We blew opportunities. We were up 3-0, but we had no business being up 3-0,” head coach Kevin Ronalds pointed out. “We should have been up 14 or 21-0. We don’t usually do those kinds of things.”
The potent Southern Lehigh (8-1) offense (they averaged more than 36 points per game coming into Palisades) put it together in the second half and pulled away for a 14-3 win.
A 50-yard bomb from quarterback Travis Edmond to running back Trent Silfies keyed a five-play touchdown drive late in the third quarter. When the Spartans needed to move the chains in the fourth period, they did so, capping another five-play drive with a Jacob Del Priore 14-yard reverse that went in for a touchdown.
One big miscue on each of their first three drives marred an otherwise exceptional showing by the Pirates.
“We ended the half up 3-0, but we missed a lot of opportunities,” said Pirates lineman Ben Hardy, a 300-pound senior who is getting serious Ivy League looks. “We stopped ourselves in the first half. We had two penalties and a fumble. That cost us 21 points.”
On the very first play from scrimmage, Hardy forced a fumble that was pounced on by cornerback Andrew Koenig. But Palisades coughed the ball up six plays later at the Southern Lehigh 16.
Junior running back Christian Gretzinger had his signature play on Palisades’ second drive, bursting for 22 yards on a first and 20. The halfback, who had 129 yards on 32 carries, did the heavy lifting on an impressive 12-play, 70-yard drive. Yet an offsides call on fourth and one forced the Pirates to instead attempt a field goal, which they missed.
On its third possession, Palisades brought the ball all the way down to the Southern Lehigh 1; a personal foul instead forced a 32-yard field goal attempt that Sam O’Brien converted.
Koenig embodied the two characteristics of this Palisades team (an excellent run game and a strong defense) on Friday. He picked up 36 yards on six carries subbing for Gretzinger and made several key pass break-ups while covering Del Priore. The Pirates defense held Del Priore to just one catch.
“Andrew really played well, especially when J.D. (Donnelly) went down and he had to go both ways, which he doesn’t typically do,” Ronalds lauded. “He played his butt off against one of the leading receivers in the league.”
Palisades entered the contest on a five-game win streak, thanks to its ground game and its defense. Gretzinger has rushed for just short of 1,200 yards this season while the Pirate fleet averaged 270 rushing yards per game in their first eight clashes. Fullback Donnelly and halfback Jesse Snyder have combined for an additional 850 yards.
“It’s an honor for sure, because they’re humble guys,” Hardy replied on what it is like blocking for his talented mates. “They don’t say, ‘It was me.’ They say, ‘Thanks to our offensive line.’ It’s a lot of fun.”
“It’s effective when we’re coming off of the ball and we start to get into a little bit of a rhythm,” Ronalds replied on what makes his running game work. “The long drives with the run can be demoralizing for a defense.”
On the defensive side, Donnelly recorded two tackles for loss or no gain, and was credited with two quarterback pressures before an injury forced him from the game.
The Pirates, who have surrendered just 73 points in their last six games, kept Southern Lehigh’s passing attack in check. The Spartans are as air-oriented as Palisades is ground-focused yet they completed just seven of 21 attempts against Ronalds’ defense.
Palisades’ senior night is Friday. A win against an equally matched Saucon Valley team would nicely boost the Pirates’ playoff positioning.
“We’re a good football team and we have a lot to accomplish yet,” Ronalds reminded the team.
“It’s not the end of the season,” Hardy added. “Last year, we lost out because of this game. Tomorrow, we’re going to come next week for practice, ramp it up and get ready for Saucon.”
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