Moving up a classification can be a daunting challenge for any team, but it’s one the Princeton Bulldogs have taken in stride. The Bulldogs moved up from 1A to 2A and have more than proven they belong.
After defeating East Duplin and Richlands, a 2A and 3A school, respectively, in non-conference action, the Bulldogs opened Neuse Six 2A Conference play with a 28-6 victory against Eastern Wayne on Friday evening.
“To come on the road for the first game, there were definitely some nerves,” Princeton head coach Travis Gaster said. “Moving up to 2A, I think our non-conference schedule was good for us, but there are still some unknowns. There’s a little doubt in the back of everybody’s mind. There‘s a little doubt in the back of my mind like ‘hey what are we about to ourselves into.’”
“So, for the kids to come out and really put it out there and just get in that groove was exciting to see.”
Princeton got the ball to start the game, and the Bulldogs began to drive down the field, but the Bulldogs made a rare mistake when Jaydon Brooks fumbled on the seventh play of the drive, and the Warriors recovered it at their own 26-yard line.
Eastern Wayne promptly marched down the field, and Dennislyn Swinson capped off a six-play 74-yard touchdown drive with a 10-yard plunge into the end zone.
“We don’t really get too riled up about anything that happens early,” Gaster said. “It’s more about just trying to fill out how they’re trying to stop us and what we have to do to stop them.”
On their second drive. the Bulldogs turned the ball over on downs but got the ball back one play later when Christian Perris intercepted Trevor Warren’s pass with 3:35 left in the first quarter.
Nine plays later, Brooks’ four-yard plunge into the end zone tied the game 6-6. McKinley Uzzell’s extra point sailed through the uprights, and Princeton led 7-6 at the end of the first quarter.
Paul Edens picked off Warren on the Warrior’s ensuing drive, and the Bulldogs responded with a touchdown drive that Perris finished off with a 35-yard touchdown run.
“They played well. They really did,” Gatser said about his team’s defense. “They were really able to buckle down and play well defensively.”
With 3:12 left until halftime, the Warriors, starting from their own seven-yard line, drove down to the Bulldogs’ 23-yard line, but the Warriors could not get into the end zone and found themselves down 14-6 at halftime.
Warren was injured at the end of the first half, so C. J. Battle took as the Warrior’s quarterback for the second half. Eastern Wayne opened the second half with another long drive that took up half of the third quarter, but the Warriors’ drive stalled out at the Bulldogs’ 10-yard line.
“Our o-line is a blessing to us. J.B. Artis is a blessing to us. Paul Edens is a blessing to us,” Gaster said. “We’re blessed right now to really have some players that fit our system well, and we try to let them do their thing, and we try not to get in the way of it.”
Following the Warriors’ turnover on downs, the Bulldogs embarked on an 11-play 90-yard touchdown and eventually found paydirt on Perris’ 28-yard touchdown run.
Another extra point from Uzzell pushed Princeton ahead 21-6 with 35 seconds left in the third quarter.
Princeton struck paydirt one more time in the fourth quarter when Perris broke loose for a 25-yard touchdown run that put the Warriors away.
“That’s a great win to kick off a new conference, and a new classification,” Gaster said. “Eastern Wayne is a good football team, and they got some big kids and some unbelievable athletes.”
Brooks finished the game with 212 yards rushing and one touchdown on 31 carries, while Perris ended up with 122 yards rushing and three touchdowns on 11 carries.
Princeton (5-0 overall, 1-0 NSC) hosts Goldsboro (2-4, 1-0) next Friday, while Eastern Wayne (4-2, 0-1 ) travels to Spring Creek (3-2, 0-1).