PALMER -- The McCann Tech football team came as close as you can get to defeating Tri-Country League rival Palmer for the third consecutive year.
The Hornets, who posted a fairly easy 22-point victory against the Panthers when they made their last visit to Palmer two years ago, were trailing the Panthers by more than 10 points at halftime on Sunday afternoon for the second year in a row.
A year ago, the Hornets trailed by 14 points at the break, but they were able to celebrate a come-from-behind home victory after scoring 26 unanswered points in the second half.
The Panthers, who held a 13-0 halftime lead in this year's meeting between the two teams, bent but they didn't break during the second half, as they escaped with an exciting 13-12 victory at Legion Field.
"This is a big victory for us because it's our second win of the season. We're starting to climb out of the hole we dug ourselves into at the beginning of the season," said Palmer coach Bill Gallagher "I just told my players that our final three games of the season will be like playoff games."
The one-point victory improved the Panthers, who lost their first four games of the season, are now 2-5 overall on the season. Their league record is now 2-3. They're also one of the Division 4 teams still battling for one of the four playoff spots.
McCann Tech, who snapped a four game losing streak with a win at Dean Tech in their previous game, also
"I think this loss probably takes away any chance that we might have had to making the playoffs," said McCann Tech coach Bob LeClair. "We really needed to win all of our remaining league games. This was like a playoff game [Sunday] because Palmer was in the same boat as us."
Palmer junior quarterback Tyrus Gaynor, who made his second start of the season, completed a touchdown pass and ran for another one during the opening half.
The Panthers put together a long scoring drive, which took more than six minutes to complete, on the opening possession of the game.
In the middle of the drive, the Panther's were flagged for illegal procedure and pass interference on back-to-back plays. Two plays later, the home team was forced to punt. The punt by senior Tim Siddle glanced off the hands of a Hornet player and it was recovered by senior Will Contois at the Hornets 22-yard line.
Following a sack by senior defensive tackle Jared Radke for a six-yard loss and an incomplete pass, Gaynor, who'll be the Panthers starting QB in the final three games of the season, connected with Siddle down the right sideline for a 27-yard touchdown reception with 3:43 left in the first quarter. Siddle also booted home the extra point giving the home team a 7-0 lead.
The Hornets answered back with an 11-play drive. The first 10 plays of the series were runs by senior John LeClair, junior Dylan Darling, senior T.J. Therrien and senior quarterback Justin Cote, which moved the ball down to the Panthers 20 yard line.
The drive ended two minutes into the second quarter when a fourth-down pass thrown by Cote was batted down by Siddle.
After the McCann Tech defense forced the Panthers to turn the ball over on downs, the Hornets offense took over the ball again at their own 29 with 2:10 left in the opening half.
Instead of running out the clock and entering the second half trailing by only seven points, the Hornetswent with a hurry-up offense. The move backfired, as the Panthers got the ball back at their own 38 yard line a minute later.
"Looking back on it, I should've just run out the clock at that point of the game," LeClair said. "We gave them the ball right back and they wound up scoring another touchdown."
Senior Demetri Cardenales picked up eight yards on first down run and Gaynor sprinted down the left sideline to the Hornets 40.
With time running out on, Gaynor found another big hole on the right side made by the offensive line led by seniors Josh Pedigo, Brett Kearney, Derek Bechard, Jordan Deshai, and Contois. Gaynor rushed 40 yards into the end zone with 1 second remaining in the half. A pass on the 2-point conversion attempt was incomplete, but the Panthers led 13-0 at halftime.
At the end of the third quarter, Cote completed back-to-back passes to senior Anthony Duprat and Therrien moving the ball inside the red zone. Two plays later, Cote hooked up with Therrien again for a 10-yard TD pass completing the 13-play drive, which covered 66 yards, with 17 seconds left in the quarter. A run on the conversion try was stopped short of the goal-line.
With 3:05 left in regulation, Cote capped off another 13-play scoring drive, which covered 70 yards, with a two-yard run up the middle making the score 13-12. It appeared like the Hornets would take the lead when LeClair scored on the conversion try, but the score was nullified because of a holding call on a Hornetsplayer. A pass attempt on the second try from the 13-yard line was batted down by Gaynor.
"I thought our defense did a nice job in the second half," Gallagher said. "It was a big play by Gaynor when he broke up the pass on the 2-point conversion attempt."
The Hornets would get the ball right back when senior Mitch Zajac recovered an onside kick at midfield.
The Panthers defense would force them to turn the ball over on downs for the second time in the game.
The visitors did have one last chance to take the lead, but a Hail Mary pass thrown by Cote on the final play of the game was incomplete in the end zone.
"I thought our intensity level picked up in the second half and we just started to make a few more plays," LeClair said. "The momentum changed after our first touchdown, but we came up one point short. We had several chances to score at the end of the game, but we couldn't get the ball into the end zone."
While the Panthers will have a week off to enjoy their one-point victory, the Hornets will return home to face Ludlow in another league game on Saturday afternoon.