Photos and article from Laieke Abebe
In a dramatic, back-and-forth shootout, Princeton found a way to rally on the road.
The Bulldogs went on the road and defeated East Duplin, 36-30 Friday night in Beulaville. Despite trailing going into the fourth quarter, the Princeton defense stepped up when it mattered most in the final minutes.
“It was too much like last year,” Princeton head coach Travis Gaster said. “No one on either side is going back home that isn’t sore. It means a lot to me to go against [East Duplin head coach Battle Holley] knowing that our fathers battled playing the same style of football.”
Similar to last week’s win over Smithfield-Selma, Princeton’s first play from scrimmage was a long rushing touchdown by senior Jaydon Brooks. His 75-yard scamper got the road team going early, but East Duplin answered right back. A lengthy drive ending with a Drew Henderson three-yard score tied it at seven.
Christian Perris would also get on the board for Princeton with a 66-yard touchdown run to close the quarter. Led by Perris and Brooks, the Bulldogs running attack was in control thanks to a stout offensive line.
“They’re a really good team and we knew that coming in,” said offensive lineman Jake Crocker. “We played together, did our jobs, and grind out a big win.”
Once again, the Panthers would respond this time with Avery Gaby scoring on a short touchdown run to tie it again.
East Duplin would force a punt on the ensuing possession and go on a four-minute drive to end the half. Darwin Bonilla made a 35-yard field goal as time expired and the Bulldogs were down three at the break.
Despite not getting a stop in the first 24 minutes, Princeton’s defense stepped up in the final two quarters. Andrew Rose forced a fumble on the second play of the half that Paul Edens recovered putting the Bulldogs in business.
Two plays later, it was Brooks again from 16-yards out to give Princeton the lead back. Then, the Panthers and Bulldogs would continue to trade the lead in the third quarter.
Gaby would score his second touchdown on a 36-yard run. Brooks would add a 60-yard rushing touchdown in response for Princeton. Then, it was Gaby again after Nick Cavanaugh found him for a 29-yard pass-and-catch.
An unsportsmanlike conduct penalty forced on the Panthers forced a longer extra point. Bonilla would miss making it a two-point deficit for Princeton going to the fourth.
Princeton forced an East Duplin punt for the first time and in two plays got back into the end zone. Perris found paydirt with a 70-yard touchdown run to give the Bulldogs a lead they would never relinquish with 6:39 left.
East Duplin would threaten to score on their last two drives, but when it mattered most, Princeton rose to the occasion. On fourth-and-seven from the 48, the Panthers ran a double handoff play that was stopped one yard short of the first down.
Rose and Xavier Kornegay combined for the stop to force a turnover on downs. Princeton’s offense stalled and was forced to punt with just over two minutes left.
Despite giving up a long run on the first play of the drive, the Princeton defense tightened up. Linebacker Dalton Parker sacked Cavanaugh before his pass attempt to make it fourth-and-long. Then, the front four would pressure the Panthers quarterback into an errant throw out of bounds to preserve the win.
“All I was thinking about was doing my part to help the team win,” Parker said. “We got the job done and it was a total team effort.”
Princeton hosts archrival Rosewood Thursday at Harvey Brooks field. No longer conference opponents thanks to the Bulldogs moving up to 2-A, the latest edition of this rivalry will only be for bragging rights.
Princeton won last year’s finale at Rosewood to clinch the Carolina 1A conference title. For Jake Crocker and his teammates, it’s back to work in preparation for their adversaries from Wayne County.
“It’s a big rivalry,” Crocker said. “There’s always a lot of energy surrounding this game and I love it. We’re to get back to practice and prepare to face a good team.”