Written by Laieke Abebe
An excellent season from Princeton came to an abrupt end on Friday evening.
Despite leading at halftime, the fifth-seeded Bulldogs bowed out of the 1-AA state playoffs in 39-28 road loss to fourth seed John A. Holmes.
“I thought we made good adjustments throughout the second half,” Princeton head coach Travis Gaster said. “Flags started to come out and our offense is not built on being behind the sticks. We struggled in the last two quarters with penalties and we can’t do that against a good football team.”
The Bulldogs began by scoring on their second play from scrimmage with a Christian Perris 50-yard rushing touchdown. However, the Aces answered when a Perris fumble was returned for a touchdown by Teddy Wilson.
Princeton and John A. Holmes went back-and-forth in the first two quarters. The Bulldogs would score on their next two possessions thanks to a pair of touchdowns from Jaydon Brooks, but the Aces scored on both ensuing possessions.
Another score from Perris put Princeton up 28-19, but the Bulldogs gave up a late touchdown to close the first half. Landon Hoggard found Alex Bergevin for a 38-yard touchdown to close the gap with less than a minute left in the second quarter.
The Bulldogs led 28-25 at the half with the special teams being the difference blocking two extra points and stopping a two-point conversion attempt. Despite that, the Princeton offense couldn’t keep pace in the final two quarters.
Things looked good to start the third quarter when Peyton Mitchell forced a fumble with the Aces in plus territory.
Princeton would go onto punt and a lengthy drive had them on the ropes. Wilson converted a fourth-down run and scored on the next play to give John A. Holmes the lead late in the third quarter.
After going three-and-out, the Aces took control with another clock-eating drive. Despite being forced into another fourth-and-long situation, the Aces converted again with Hoggard finding TyShiem Harris for a 34-yard score to give the home team a two-score advantage.
The Bulldogs hoped for a late comeback, but an interception in the end zone by Malachi White essentially sealed the game late in the fourth quarter.
Princeton’s season ends with a 7-1 overall record including a Carolina 1A conference title. After several decades as a 1A program, the Bulldogs will be moving up to 2A starting next year.
“Things will be different, but my kids have never backed down from anybody,” coach Gaster added. “We’re a hardworking football program and I’m proud of our kids especially our seniors. Princeton has been playing football for 50 years and I’m not sure there’s been a more successful class than this one.”