PALMYRA — The future of this district may be uncertain, but in the present, football is fun at Palmyra-Eagle High School thanks to a senior class loaded with skill talent.
The Panthers piled up the yards once again on Friday night, airing it out 40 times for 313 yards. But they were unable to finish off several deep drives and lost to defending Large Trailways champion Horicon/Hustisford 27-13.
Palmyra-Eagle (3-1, 1-1 in conference) caught Horicon/Hustisford’s defense completely off-guard on the first play of its opening series. Senior quarterback Brandon Wilde flipped a bubble screen pass to senior receiver Danny Hammond, who pulled up and hit a wide open senior receiver Nolan Kopydlowski for a 65-yard touchdown pass.
Aiden Calderon’s extra point made it 7-0 Panthers just 10 minutes, 21 seconds into the game. But the Panthers committed five turnovers from there and were stopped on multiple fourth down attempts, allowing Husticon (3-1, 1-0) to gradually take control.
Husticon senior quarterback Dylan Schmitt struggled with accuracy early, but as the defense he helped anchor at safety continued to turn the Panthers back, the conference’s reigning Offensive Player of the Yearstarted settling into vintage form.
Schmitt completed 10-of-21 passes for 169 yards with two touchdowns and one interception and ran 22 times for 147 yards and a score to win the quarterback duel with Wilde, who finished 20-of-33 for 244 yards with one touchdown and four interceptions.
Husticon (3-1, 1-0) tied the game when Schmitt hit senior running back Damien Voigt with a 36-yard touchdown pass. Nathan Spoerl’s extra point tied the game at 7-7 with 9:38 to go in the half. Schmitt found Voigt wide open over the middle on a slant route from the wing, and he spun right and caught a block on the outside and scored untouched.
“Football is a game of big plays and momentum swings,” Palmyra-Eagle football coach Kevin Wilde said. “One of the big plays of the game, we had a 7-0 lead, they had third and long, threw it over on their sideline and the ref ruled them out of bounds. Then all of a sudden their sideline starts screaming and all of a sudden now it’s a first down. Well, they end up scoring on that drive. That to us, we (could have headed) into half up 7-0 instead of tied all because a ref changed his call because their coach told him to. That’s super frustrating.”
The Panthers lost a fumble on their second series and Wilde threw the first of his four interceptions to junior defensive back Dylan Kuehl, who was matched up with P-E senior receiver Danny Hammond in a battle of 6-foot-6 athletes.
Kuehl gave Hammond a large cushion to prevent Hammond from beating him deep, and Hammond took advantage with big plays underneath in the first half. He finished with seven catches for 85 yards. But Kuehl also picked off Wilde twice on deep vertical routes. The one time Hammond did get behind him, he recovered and batted away a sure touchdown on a fourth-and-5 play from Husticon’s 35 late in the second quarter.
The Panthers had two more chances in Husticon territory in the third quarter but came up empty. Kuehl’s second interception stopped the first drive, and Hammond was tackled short of the sticks on a middle screen on a fourth down play on the next series.
From there, the Marshfalcons took control.
Schmitt ripped off two runs for 58 yards, but the Panthers held when Kopydlowski intercepted a jump ball in the end zone.
But with field position flipped, Husticon quickly got the ball back and scored on its next two possessions to take control.
Schmitt threw a 43-yard TD pass to senior receiver Zach Kehl on a bubble screen to make it 14-7 with 1:16 left in the third quarter. Schmitt then scored on a 33-yard touchdown run with 9:31 left in regulation.
Kopydlowski, who led the Panthers with five catches for 138 yards and a touchdown, rallied his team with a 58-yard gain after a defender slipped covering his short route. That set up a first-and-goal at the 7, and Wilde finished the drive with a 15-yard TD pass to senior running back Levi Musselman to cut the lead to 21-13 with 5:19 remaining.
The Panthers had two more possessions in the closing minutes, but Kuehl broke on underneath routes twice for interceptions, and returned the final one for a score with 58 seconds to go.
Palmyra-Eagle (3-1, 0-1) was missing three linebackers due to ACL injuries, including senior standout Cade Fleischmann. Coach Wilde would have liked to face Husticon at full strength, but gave the Marshfalcons credit.
“They made a nice adjustment where they used their motion guy to lead back on their quarterback sweeps and he broke off two long runs there in the third quarter,” coach Wilde said.
“We had opportunities to make plays. We dropped a touchdown right before half that was huge. They made the plays they needed to make. We made enough plays to stay in the game. That’s two good teams. I told our kids I was proud of them, each and every one. They competed.
“Husticon, they are a good team. They were conference champs last year. They are well coached. They have good athletes. Their schemes are right on. We knew it was going to be a tough game and it was. They just made the plays and we didn’t and that was basically the difference.”
Musselman scored on a pair of 53-yard TD runs against Dodgeland last week. He was held to 11 yards on 10 attempts on Friday. Though the Panthers struggled to run the ball, they made enough plays in the passing game to take this one down to the wire.
“WisSports had Husticon favored to win (the conference) in their preview,” coach Wilde said. “We were in a one-possession game. We got smoked by them last year 41-6, so to lose our three starting linebackers and it’s a one possession game late in fourth quarter (is heartening). Our kids are disappointed, but we’ve come a long way. That’s sports. Some days, the ball bounces your way and some days it doesn’t.”
The Panthers play at Pardeeville on Friday.
Horicon/Hustisford 27, Palmyra-Eagle 13
Marshfalcons 0 7 7 13 — 27
Panthers 7 0 0 6 — 13
First downs 16 15
Yards rushing (att-yds.) 37-177 15-11
Yards passing 169 313
Attempts 21 40
Completions 10 22
Had intercepted 1 4
Total yards 346 324
Penalties, yards 7-55 2-15
Fumbles, lost 0-0 1-1
P-E — Kopydlowski 65 pass from Hammond (Calderon kick)
HH — Voigt 36 pass from Schmitt (Spoerl kick)
HH — Kehl 43 pass from Schmitt (Spoerl kick)
HH — Schmitt 33 run (Spoerl kick)
P-E — Musselman 15 pass from Wilde (pass failed)
HH — Kuehl 46 interception return (kick blocked)