Memories of the 2019 Carolina 1A Conference title game haunted the Princeton coaching staff.
The Bulldogs lost to their archrival Rosewood 42-35 in overtime and the loss hurt even more because Rosewood defeated the Bulldogs at the Fred L. Bartholomew Jr. Athletic Complex.
“I don’t know how much of it was on our kid’s minds because it’s a completely different family, but it was on my mind and our coaching staff’s mind a lot,” Princeton head coach Travis Gaster said. “We studied that film as much as we studied this year’s film.
“We wanted to get a reminder of how bad it hurts to lose this game because it was a conference championship game and the rivalry.”
So, when the Bulldogs entered Branch Pope Field to play Rosewood on Friday evening with the Carolina 1A Conference title on the line for the third straight season, the Bulldogs were ready to not lose this game again.
Using their wing-T offense, the Bulldogs broke big play after big play, and behind the strength of three different running backs, Princeton rushed 450 yards and sprinted to a 58-27 victory over Rosewood.
Princeton’s entire offense came on the ground.
Jaydon Brooks led the Bulldogs with 291 yards and three touchdowns, followed by Christian Perris’ 103 yards and three touchdowns.
Tay Worelds racked up 50 yards on just two carries, while quarterback Paul Edens had one carry for six yards.
“I saw lot of good physical play, which is kind of what we want out of our guys,” Gaster said. “I thought our kids did a great job of doing whatever we can to move the ball.”
Princeton jumped out to a 7-0 first-quarter lead when on a third-and-long, Perris broke loose for an 81-yard touchdown run.
On the ensuing drive, Rosewood tied things up when Will Harris ran for a 46-yard touchdown run.
However, Perris returned the kickoff 90 yards for a touchdown, and from the point on, the game belonged the Bulldogs.
After the Princeton defense forced the Eagles to punt, the Bulldogs responded with four consecutive TD drives to take a 42-7 lead.
Rosewood snuck in a touchdown right before halftime, but Princeton still led 42-14 at halftime.
“I don’t ever expect a rivalry game to be a blowout. Rosewood showed they have major talent and are well coached,” Gaster said. “You always hope for it, but you don’t expect it.”
The Bulldogs barked back even louder even the second half.
On the Eagles’ opening possession of the second half, the Princeton defense forced safety, and Brooks retuned the safety kick 80 yards for a touchdown.
And suddenly with 10:11 left in the third quarter, the Bulldogs had a 50-14 lead.
Rosewood attempted to cut into Princeton’s big lead, Harris scored another touchdown early in the fourth quarter to make it a 51-20 ball game, but that is as close as the Eagles would get.
Every Rosewood score was topped by Princeton’s rushing attack, and Gaster said the Bulldogs did a good job of getting ‘a body on a body’, and the running backs excelled at finding holes.
Princeton’s defense forced turnovers, got stops, and put the offense in great field position the entire game.
“Our defense is a smaller than we have been, but we’re faster, and our coaching staff had a great scheme defensively,” Gaster said. “Our kids did a great job of tackling. Defensively our kids just fly around.”
With the win, Princeton wins its second conference title in three seasons, improved its record to 7-0 this season, and earned the conference’s automatic playoff bid.
The loss drops Rosewood to 6-1 overall, but both teams are back in action next week when the NCHSAA 1A playoffs start.