PNE U18s ended their FA Youth Cup journey in heart-breaking fashion losing on penalties to Luton Town.
The Hatters struck first through Jack Snelus early on, but North End's pressure throughout finally paid dividends when in the 89th minute, Josh Earl headed an equaliser to send the tie to extra-time.
Neither side could find a winner in extra-time, but Preston did win a penalty only for Dylan Davidson's spot-kick to rattle the cross bar meaning penalties would decide who'd face Blackburn in the last eight.
And after Freddie Tracey's spot-kick hit the post, Alex Atkinson had the chance of booking the away side's place in the next round which he took with a cool penalty into the corner.
The away side immediately got themselves on the front foot when on five minutes, Jack Snelus surged into the box to latch onto a cross from the left, calmly slotting home from close range.
The visitors could have made it two after eight minutes when George Murray crossed into the box – it took a number of stabs at the ball from PNE defenders before the ball was eventually cleared, at one point off the line by Sean Whelan.
Murray again looked to attack, but his shot from 25-yards sailed over and into the Town End, whilst Mat Hudson was forced low to his right to save from Cameron McJannet’s driven attempt on 17 minutes.
The Lilywhites were dealt a blow with 22 minutes on the clock when tenacious attacking midfielder Adam James Robinson left the field grimacing whilst clutching his left arm; the early signs of a dislocated elbow.
His replacement, Lamin Jagne looked as though as he was chomping at the bit to enter the fray by bursting onto the field - his energy just behind the striker gave North End another dimension towards the end of the first-half, but the Town defence continued to stand firm.
On 37 minutes, Snelus reacted first after a deflection deceived Hudson to hammer into the net - and just as everybody in the stadium thought the lead had been extended to two, the linesman’s flag was up for offside to the relief of North End who were beginning to find their rhythm.
As much of the first-half belonged to Luton, there was no doubt that Preston were the better side in the second stanza, starting with Josh Earl whose cross from deep found it's way to Tracey, and despite getting the better of his marker, the forward's chip was safely into the hands of Liam Gooch.
Adam Joseph Robinson charged from full back, linking up well with Whelan on the way before delivering a ball into the box that eventually found Smith, but his shot was blocked and cleared by an orange shirt.
Just after the hour, PNE made their second sub of the game with James Boyd replacing Dylan Davidson as North End opted for more width.
Luton’s Freddie Hinds had a shot from the right which cannoned off the side netting, whilst at the other end, North End were beginning to use the flanks with greater effect; Smith’s ball into the box nearly found Tracey whose attempt kissed the post, and although North End managed to keep it alive, Tracey could only fire his effort straight at the goalkeeper.
A cross out wide from Davidson was curled into dangerous territory, only for it to be marginally in front of Tracey whose effort was comfortable for Gooch to save.
But for the third consecutive FA Youth Cup tie, Preston's youngsters plucked up the courage, spirit and determination to grab a late goal and draw level; Whelan from the half-way line played a long ball into Davidson whose cross from the right found its way to Earl at the back post who headed across the face of goal and into the net with just a minute of normal time remaining.
Luton threatened nine minutes into the first-half of extra-time; Kavan Cotter's shot span away from goal after a deflection turned it away for a corner, whilst the resulting corner was headed wide by James Justin.
Preston made their final sub of the evening late with 10 minutes to go with U16s Michael Howard coming on for Earl, whilst Davidson who continued to be a useful outlet down the right forced Gooch to punch his cross; the rebound fell to Lunney, but the Preston man couldn't get his feet together in time before a crowd of Luton players surrounded him.
With just three minutes remaining, Preston were one spot-kick away of sealing the tie after Davidson was brought down in the penalty box; Davidson took it, but his shot cracked the cross bar before sailing over.
Another nine penalties followed once the referee blew his final whistle for the penalty shoot-out and to his credit, Davidson bravely stepped up again to take another penalty which he converted, but after
Tracey's penalty hit the post, Luton's Atkinson converted their Hatters fifth and final penalty to see them progress into the final eight.
PNE XI: Hudson, Smith, Whelan (c), Boyd, (Davidson 60’) Burgoyne, A Jo Robinson, Lunney, A Ja Robinson, (Jagne 22’) Tracey, Meulensteen, Earl (Howard 112')
Subs not used: Crankshaw, Roberts,
Luton XI: Gooch, Bean (c), McGhan-George (Jones ‘72), Famewo, McJannet, Murray, (Cotter 82') Hinds, Snelus, Atkinson, Bakinson, Justin
Subs not used: Davey, Brown, Verney
Preston penalty takers: A Jo Robinson (scored) Jagne (scored) Tracey (missed) Davidson (scored)
Luton penalty takers: Justin (scored), Snelus (scored), Bakinson (scored) Potter (scored) Atkinson (scored)