PALMYRA - The Palmyra football team won't soon forget Senior Night 2016. For reasons both thrilling and heartbreaking.
Thinking a win in its regular season finale against formidable and fast Milton Hershey would essentially lock up a second straight District 3 playoff berth, Palmyra summoned a gutsy effort on both sides of the ball to produce a 30-26 victory in front of an overjoyed home crowd at Buck Swank Stadium.
Standout performances from quarterback Peter Robertson and favorite target Braden Vernet led the charge as Palmyra improve to 8-2 and seemingly sewed up a spot in the District 3 5A playoff field that will be officially announced later this weekend.
But shortly after the contest ended, final power rankings were released and Palmyra found itself 9th, leapfrogged by a Waynesboro team that was 10th going into the night. The top 8 teams in 5A qualify for districts.
Still, it was a playoff-quality win for Palmyra, which recovered from both a slow start and a 10-point third quarter lead that temporarily got away to pull ahead to stay on Alon Rhette's 14-yard TD blast with 7:26 left.
How sweet it was, or at least could have/should have been.
"We talked about having no regrets," Palmyra coach Chris Pope said of his club's lay-it-all-on-the-line performance. "Whatever happens, you want to be able to look at everybody and say we did everything we could. And I think we kind of played with a little bit of an edge that way."
"This is huge," said Robertson, who threw for two scores to Vernet and ran for another in his best all-around performance of the season. "I can't remember the last time we beat Milton Hershey, so beating them was huge. That was something we wanted to do, especially on Senior Night. And for playoffs, it was do or die and we did it."
And Palmyra did it -or at least as much as it could- against a dangerous Milton Hershey squad led by dynamic quarterback Keonte Lucas, whose 27-yard TD scramble with 11:50 left, his third of the night, erased a 24-14 Palmyra lead and put the Spartans up 26-24 and on the brink of another victory over Palmyra.
Not this time, though. The Cougars tightened their chinstraps and responded with a 10-play 65-yard march that culminated with Rhette's 14-yard dash to the end zone and the lead for good.
"One of the things we talked about was that victory was going to go to the team that fights the hardest, the longest," Pope said. "And I kinda felt we did that. We battled the whole way. I think that was key, our resiliency as a football team. These guys, they've really come a long way."
That gutsy spirit and refusal to get down was never more apparent than on the Cougars' final clock-killing drive.
Facing a 3rd and 6 at their own 47 with 1:41 left, the Cougars could have played it safe with a run by Rhette or backfield mate Carl Reigle. But instead, they opted to put the ball in Robertson's hands and it paid off, as he and Vernet connected for a 21-yard completion that put the game away.
"It was high-risk, high-reward," Robertson said, eyes widening of the final completion to Vernet. "When coach called a pass play, I was like, 'What?' But who else than Braden Vernet? I just threw it up and hoped he made a play, and he did."
And if the power rankings calculations had been more kind, Robertson, Vernet and company would have had more opportunities to make big plays next week.
Pope was one who wasn't willing to make postseason plans after the win, but in the playoffs or out, he was more than pleased with what his squad produced on Friday night in its bid for a second straight trip to districts.
"I hate saying it until it comes out," Pope said "But that means a lot. They'd be the first team to ever do that."
They almost were.
Palmyra 30, Milton Hershey 26
Milton Hershey _ 7 _ 7 _ 6 _ 6 _ — _ 26
Palmyra _ 3 _ 7 _ 14 _ 6 _ — _ 30
MH— Bones 35 run (Padmore kick)
P - Weidler 33 FG
P— Vernet 4 pass from Robertson (Weidler kick)
MH - Lucas 1 run (Padmore kick)
P — Robertson 2 run (Padmore kick)
P - Vernet 21 pass from Robertson (Weidler kick)
MH - Lucas 4 run (kick failed)
MH — Lucas 27 run (conversion failed)
P - Rhette 14 run (pass failed)
_ MH _ Palmyra
First downs _ 13 _ 16
Rushes-yards _ 41-242 _ 42-185
Passing _ 4-11-1 _ 10-17-1
Passing yards _ 47 _ 194
Total yards _ 289 _ 379
Punts _ 4-33.0 _ 3-24.4
Fumbles-lost _ 0-0 _ 1-0
Penalties-yards _ 5-44 _ 7-61
Rushing — MH: Lucas 27-117, M. Smith 11-90, Bones 3-35. P: Rhette 15-96, Reigle 18-67, Robertson 7-18, Templin 1-2, Vernet 1-2.
Passing — .MH: Lucas 4-11-1-47. P: Robertson 10-17-1-194.
Receiving — MH: Ferguson 2-17, RIggs 1-17, C.Smith 1-13. P: Vernet 8-149, Carter 1-39, Reigle 1-6.