For the second straight week, Cheltenham experienced a playoff game that was decided in the final minute.
The Panthers snuck by Academy Park to win the District 1 Class 5A title last week, and Friday’s PIAA Class 5A state semifinal game against Cocalico ended in a similar fashion.
Senior Nate Edwards scored one of his three rushing touchdowns with less than one minute remaining in the contest as Cheltenham defeated the Eagles, 56-49, to advance to the championship against Archbishop Wood next Friday at 7 p.m. at Hershey Park Stadium. The Panthers (14-1) have won 12 straight.
Two of Edwards’ three touchdowns came late in the fourth quarter to help the Panthers escape with the victory. His 28-yard run tied the game, 49-49. Then, Edwards punched in the go-ahead 4-yard rushing score that gave the Panthers the lead in the final minute.
The Eagles fumbled on the kickoff after Edwards’ score to put away the game.
Cheltenham is a balanced, big-play team that features a talented group of seniors. Entering the game, quarterback Adonis Hunter had 1,883 passing yards with 23 touchdowns and 14 rushing touchdowns and running back Jamir Barnes, a Monmouth recruit, notched 1,117 rushing yards 12 touchdowns. Edwards, a dynamic playmaker, had 561 yards and nine touchdowns before the game against Cocalico.
Hunter tossed three touchdown passes in the victory over the Eagles. Two of those passes went to senior wideout T.J. Harris, and Barnes hauled in another. Harris also returned a kickoff for more than 85 yards in the third quarter to give the Panthers a 42-41 lead.
Cocalico took a 49-42 lead early in the fourth quarter thanks to senior quarterback Noah Palm’s rushing touchdown. Palm, a New Hampshire recruit, had two scores on the ground. He entered the contest with 1,432 rushing yards and 33 touchdowns. Eagles senior Ronald Zahm added two rushing touchdowns.