For the first time since 2012, Princeton is in the fourth round of the playoffs.
The Bulldogs amassed 463 yards on the ground and ran over Nash Central 63-12 in the third round of the N.C. High School Athletic Association 2A playoffs on Friday evening. No. 1 Princeton (12-0 overall) will host No. 5 St. Pauls (11-0) in the fourth round next Friday.
“I’m just proud of the kids for being resilient. When you start spring ball, and then we rolled right into the summer. There was no break for these youngins,” Princeton head coach Travis Gaster said, “They’ve been playing football for a long time. Their bodies are sore, and it’d be easy to do something else, and I just don’t think our senior group is going to allow our team to do that, and that’s a credit to them and how much they love this sport and community.”
It did not take long for the Bulldogs to get rolling.
Christian Perris returned the opening kickoff to Nash Central’s 36-yard line, and six plays later, Brandon Turner scored from 22 yards out to give Princeton a 7-0 lead.
Nash Central responded on the ensuing drive when Timothy Holiday got loose for a 43-yard touchdown run. However, from that point on, the game belonged to the Bulldogs, who went on to score 49 unanswered points.
Leyton Pearce blocked Nash Central’s extra point attempt, so the Bulldogs still led 7-6.
“They (Nash Central) came out, and it’s always an adjustment when you see great team speed on the other side of the ball,” Gaster said. “We just can’t simulate that with our scout team, but I think our guys got caught up with the speed of the game. They hit the big counter on us, but we fit it right after that.
“The defense played great, and the offense did what the offense does.”
Princeton then orchestrated a 63-yard drive that culminated with Perris’ 12-yard touchdown run, and after forcing Nash Central to punt, Perris’ 61-yard touchdown run pushed the Bulldogs ahead 21-6.
Nash Central turned the ball over on downs on its next possession, and three plays later, the Bulldogs found the endzone again on Peyton Mitchell’s 45-yard touchdown run with 4:50 left in the second quarter.
Starting at its own 25-yard line, Nash Central’s Jayden Ellis was sacked and fumbled, and Khalyb Robinson recovered the ball at Nash Central’s two-yard line.
Mitchell then plunged into the endzone, and the Bulldogs’ lead grew to 35-6.
Nash Central punted again on its next possession, and once again, the Bulldogs took advantage when Turner scored his third touchdown of the game, and Princeton led 42-6 at halftime.
“Our line leads our team. There’s not a doubt about it. When they can move people and set the line scrimmage, that’s what we’re looking for,” Gaster said. “Our coaching staff does an unbelievable job of scheming every week.
“I know it looks simple, but there’s a lot of planning that goes into what we do each and every week.”
Nash Central fumbled again on the opening possession of the second half, and eight plays later, Paul Edens’ 13-yard touchdown run put Princeton up 48-6, which started the running clock.
Turner tacked on another touchdown, this time from 20 yards out, and gave Princeton a 56-6 lead. Nash Central managed to score its second touchdown of the game at the end of the third quarter.
The Bulldogs then proceeded to score one more touchdown. Turner ran 33 yards to the endzone to cap off the Bulldogs’ scoring.
Turner finished the game with 200 yards rushing on 17 carries and four touchdowns. Perris rushed for 127 yards and two touchdowns on 11 carries, while Mitchell rushed for 67 yards and two touchdowns.
Princeton’s strong night on the ground was impressive considering the Bulldogs were missing Jaydon Brooks, who was out with an injury and hopes to be back on the field soon.
“When your horse goes down, you have to find something else to ride, and Christian was huge. He stepped up,” Gaster said. “We were able to put Brandon in there, and Brandon had a ton of carries and ran his butt off.”