Ryan Palmieri accounts for 4 TDs, leads Pine-Richland back to state championship game
Friday, December 2, 2022 | 10:49 PM
ALTOONA — Pine-Richland football coach Jon LeDonne changed his philosophy for Friday’s PIAA Class 5A semifinal.
Instead of putting his defense on the field if he won the toss, he decided to see how his offense would respond.
LeDonne won the toss, sent his offense on the field and the group made an immediate statement.
Quarterback Ryan Palmieri found speedy flanker Bradford Gelly behind the Cocalico secondary for a 61-yard touchdown, and the Rams were off and running.
Palmieri completed 9 of 10 passes for 201 yards and three touchdowns and rushed for 73 yards and a score to lead Pine-Richland back to the state championship game with a 34-12 victory. The Rams (12-3) will face District 12 champion Imhotep Charter (11-2) at 7 p.m. Dec. 9 at Cumberland Valley.
The Rams last made the state final in 2020, defeating Erie’s Cathedral Prep, 48-7.
“I usually defer and put my defense out first,” LeDonne said. “But with their ground attack, I knew early we had to get adjusted to their speed. We counted on the offense to get us the lead first. I never expected to score in two plays, but my offensive coordinator liked what he saw and we went for it.”
Palmieri said the Rams recognized Cocalico liked to play man against the spread and the WPIAL champs liked that matchup.
“Bradford made me look good,” Palmieri said of the Rams wide receiver. “He’s probably the fastest guy on the team.”
Cocalico (10-5), a run-heavy offense, was bottled up much of the first half by the Pine-Richland defense.
Fullback Samuel Steffey, who finished with 48 yards, and quarterback Joshue Myer, who had 28 yards, couldn’t find much running room in the middle of the Pine-Richland defense.
The Rams increased their lead to 14-0 before the end of the first quarter when Palmieri capped an 80-yard drive by scoring from the 8. Palmieri connected on a fourth-and-8 pass to Giovanni Aiello to keep the drive alive.
“We didn’t lose this game, they won the game,” Cocalico coach Bryan Strohl said. “That’s a great football team. We left some plays out on the field that we connected on last week.”
Before the end of the first half, Palmieri connected on a 17-yard strike to Andrew Mellis to make it 21-0 at halftime.
“We had to adjust to their speed on offense,” LeDonne said. “Our defense was in great position all game.”
Cocalico found some success in the second half by running the edge. Myer scored on a 1-yard sneak, and Aaryn Longenecker, who rushed for 129 yards, scored on a 3-yard run after he ripped off an 83-yard jaunt.
Pine-Richland, however sandwiched a 1-yard by Ethan Pillar between the scores. Pillar rushed for 101 yards.
The Rams the iced the game early in the fourth quarter when Palmieri and Gelly connected of a 56-yard touchdown pass to make it 34-12. The play came on third-and-21.
Gelly finished with three catches for 126 yards.
“This is an awesome opportunity,” LeDonne said, “from where we were at the beginning of the season starting out 1-3, to now. This senior group was there in 2020. We have some experience being there.
“We have to have all hands on deck and ready to go.”
Paul Schofield is a Tribune-Review Staff Writer. You can contact Paul by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter .
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