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Ryan Palmieri leads Pine-Richland over Imhotep Charter, 28-14, in the Class 5A final

Written by: on Saturday, December 10th, 2022. Follow Joseph Santoliquito on Twitter.


Photo courtesy of Matt Topper

MECHANICSBURG, PA — Ryan Palmieri was still back in the locker room cleaning up after the mess that was Pine-Richland’s homecoming game against Seneca Valley back in September. Everyone was mulling around, struggling to piece their emotions together, when Rams’ coach Jon LeDonne pulled everything in with a terse passing comment to Palmieri, “You’re going to quarterback.”

That changed everything for Pine-Richland.

Led by the 5-foot-11,180-pound Palmieri, the Rams exploded on a 12-game winning streak, concluding with their third state title in school history, beating District 12 powerhouse Imhotep Charter, 28-14, in the PIAA Class 5A championship on Friday night at Chapman Field at Cumberland Valley High School.

All Palmieri did was rush for a game-high 195 yards on 31 carries, make 5 tackles as a roving defensive back, going 4-for-4 passing for 85 yards and a touchdown, score on a 40-yard interception touchdown return, and score twice. In between that, he taught violin and sold popcorn.

The Rams were sitting at 1-3.

The season changed on a dreary September Friday night with … “You’re going to the quarterback, that’s how coach (LeDonne) put it,” said Palmieri, basking in the victory on the cold stadium turf with his teammates. “That was it. I feel like we came together as a team. It wasn’t me. I played a little quarterback last year, but this year I took over and we started from there in Week 5.”

It was Pine-Richland’s fifth trip to the state finals (2003, 2014, 2017, 2020, and 2022). The Rams (13-3) are 3-2 in state title games. They stopped an Imhotep Charter team that was making its seventh trip to the finals (2013, 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018, 2021, and 2022, winning in 2015).

Senior left tackle Brady Carrigan, junior left guard Jonathan Smith, senior center Isaiah Kerns, massive junior right guard Ryan Cory (6-4, 290), and junior right tackle Logan Alexander created massive holes for Palmieri to flush through for big yards.

“After every game, we got in on Saturdays and watched the film so when our QB went down (Kanan Huffman), it was going to be either Ryan or sophomore (Vaughn Spencer), and I had a suspicion it would be Ryan,” said Cory, who had an excellent game and is receiving a ton of looks from Division I schools. “It wasn’t as much the skill difference as it was the leadership. I can’t thank Ryan enough for leading us, and he’s easy to block for. Imhotep said they prided themselves on their d-line. We respected that, but we prided ourselves on our offensive line. We just grinded them. We had to fight this year; they didn’t really have to fight at all.

“They didn’t know how to fight. We grinded them the entire game. They didn’t know how to go four quarters. We had more motor and more heart than them. We wanted it more.”

Pine-Richland had no problem moving the ball against the vaunted Imhotep defense. The Rams gouged the Panthers (10-3) for 380 yards of total offense and scored a season-high 28 points against them. The previous high against Imhotep was 20 points in an early-season 20-13 loss to Archbishop Spalding (MD) in September.

“I remember drawing up some plays right after the Seneca Valley loss,” LeDonne recalled. “I remember going back in the locker room and told Ryan, ‘You’re our guy.’ Those changes came right after that game. Ryan was still cleaning up in the locker room and I told him we would get back on Saturday morning and start drawing some stuff up.

“It all started from there.”

With 4:18 left in the third, Palmieri scored his third touchdown of the game, putting the Rams up, 21-7, on a one-yard plunge. Possibly the play of the game came when Palmieri’s underthrown 37-yard completion to Bradford Gelly kept the drive alive on a third-and-eight from the Pine-Richland 41.

Four plays later, Palmieri scored.

Imhotep answered with a touchdown, pulling within two scores, 28-14, with 7:02 left to play. But needing a turnover, Palmieri and the Rams drained the clock and with it what hopes Imhotep had left.

“The Palmieri kid played a great game and they had a great game plan, we just came up short,” Imhotep Charter coach Devon Johnson said. “I’m very proud of this team. We lost 20 seniors from last year and not too many people thought we would be back. I’m not happy with the final result, but I’m happy with the way my guys played and we’ll be back. We’ll be back.”

On the second play of the second half, Palmieri snapped a 7-7 tie with a 40-yard pick-six with 10:58 left in the third quarter. On the play, the pass was intended for Imhotep tight end Johann Hennigan, who ran into the ref interfering with his route. Imhotep quarterback Mikal Davis didn’t see it and threw to where Hennigan was supposed to be. Instead, Palmieri had a gift land in his hands and took off.

The teams went into halftime tied at 7-7.

At the outset, Pine-Richland’s no-huddle offense may have caught Imhotep by surprise in real-time. The Rams took the opening kickoff 65 yards over 14 plays, sitting literally inches from the goal line. But Pine-Richland stumbled when the Panthers’ defense tightened by the goal line and on fourth-and-goal, a high snap flew over the head of Palmieri, who was forced to flop on the loose ball at the Imhotep 19 killing the drive.

Imhotep wasted little time in capitalizing.

On the Panthers’ first drive, Mikal Davis hit a breaking Corey Downing for a 52-yard touchdown pass and a 7-0 Panthers’ lead with 2:34 left in the first quarter.

That didn’t deter the Rams, who answered with a 14-play, 76-yard drive that chewed up 7 minutes, 10 seconds. Palmieri tied it by slamming four yards up the middle with 7:18 left in the half. Over Pine-Richland’s first two drives, despite using its rapid-fire offense, it churned out 28 plays and ate up 13 minutes, and 25 seconds.

Imhotep was fortunate to reach halftime tied.

The Rams dominated the time of possession from 18:24 to 5:36. They ran off 35 plays to Imhotep’s 15 while holding a 164-109 edge in total yards.

Pine-Richland got the ball inside the Imhotep three-yard-line on two of its three drives in the first half and came away with one touchdown. The high snap on the first drive squashed that series, and Grant Argiro missed a 20-yard field goal attempt to end the Rams’ third drive and the first half.

It seemed only a matter of time before Pine-Richland would break the game open.

Scoring Summary

Imhotep Charter (10-3) 7 0 0 7-14

Pine-Richland (13-3) 0 7 14 7-28

1st Quarter

IC – Corey Downing 52 pass from Mikal Davis (Kenneth Wosesley kick), 2:34

2nd Quarter

PR – Ryan Palmieri 4 run (Grant Argiro kick), 7:18

3rd Quarter

PR – Palmieri 40 INT return (Argiro kick), 10:58

PR – Palmieri 1 run (Argiro kick), 4:18

4th Quarter

PR – Luke Rudolph 30 pass from Palmieri (Argiro kick), 10:36

IC – Davis 1 run (Wosesley kick), 7:02

Joseph Santoliquito is an award-winning sportswriter who has been covering high school football since 1992 and is the president of the Boxing Writers Association of America. He can be followed on Twitter @JSantoliquito. Follow on Twitter @EPAFootball.

Follow on Twitter @EPAFootball

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