Saturday afternoon football can be just as exciting as Friday night football.
Up 14-3 at halftime, Princeton watched its lead slip away during the second half.
However, down 15-14 with 2:39 left in the fourth quarter, the Bulldogs pulled off a miraculous comeback to beat East Duplin in the season opener for both teams.
“It does not feel like we’re in February. This felt like an August game, but the resiliency, the fight against a superior opponent. Football is a crazy game, and the ball bounces funny but it bounced our way,” Princeton head coach Travis Gaster said. “We were lucky enough to be in the right spot.”
Princeton fumbled on its first possession of the game, and East Duplin took over at Princeton’s 25-yard line, but the Bulldogs’ defense limited the Panthers to a field goal.
The Bulldogs then took control of the game. Jaydon Brooks capped off a 15 play nine-minute drive with a two-yard touchdown run to give Princeton a 7-3 lead.
Princeton’s defense forced the Panthers to punt on their next possession, but East Duplin’s punter fumbled, and the Bulldogs recovered.
With 1:42 left until halftime, Nate Starling burst down the field for the 14-yard touchdown run, which gave the Bulldogs a 14-3 halftime lead.
But in the second half, East Duplin started to turn the tables on the Bulldogs.
On a fourth and 15, East Duplin’s Nick Cavanaugh threw a 29-yard touchdown pass to Brady Johnson with two minutes left in the third quarter, which cut Princeton’s lead down to 14-9.
Princeton had to punt on its next possession, and East Duplin took advantage with a six-play drive that ended with a Johnathan Scarborough eight-yard touchdown run.
Fisher Hill intercepted Cavanaugh on the two-point attempt, but East Duplin now led 15-14 with 8:43 left in the game.
“You put in as much work as these kids have, then it’s hard to give up, and they didn’t want to give up,” Gaster said. “They knew what they’ve worked for, and it wasn’t to lose.”
Princeton fumbled on its next possession, and it looked like East Duplin would escape with the win, but with 2:39 left in the fourth quarter, East Duplin fumbled, and Riley Allen scooped up the ball, and it returned it for a 50-yard touchdown.
“That was an awesome accomplishment for Riley Allen,” Gaster said. “He had to step in with very little practice and no varsity game-time experience, so to be in the right place at the right time is awesome.”
Brooks plunged into the endzone during the two-point conversion, and suddenly Princeton was back up 22-15.
The Panthers started their next drive at their 35-yard line, and East Duplin drove down to Princeton’s 17-yard line, but with 10 seconds left in the game, Peyton Mitchell intercepted Cavanaugh, which sealed the win for the Bulldogs.
“To end the game with an interception against a team as good as East Duplin. I can’t put it into words,” Gaster said.
Princeton (1-0 overall) hosts Riverside next Friday. Riverside knocked Princeton out of the playoffs in 2019 and 2018, and Gaster said the Bulldogs are looking to avenge those losses next week.
“They’ve knocked us out twice, and we’ve knocked them out once,” Gaster said. “So, we’re looking forward to seeing them again.”