In front of an absolutely packed house, the Princeton football team gave it their all in the 2A East Regional championship game against Wallace-Rose Hill, but in the end, Wallace-Rose Hill left Princeton with a 34-25 victory.
It marked the end of a record-setting season for the Bulldogs, who end the season with a 13-1 record. Princeton moved up from the 1A classification to 2A, and the Bulldogs more than proved they belonged.
They won the Neuse Six 2A Conference title and reached the regional championship round for the first time in over a decade.
“I saw a team that played their hearts out, and they played it as good as they could play given the circumstances. I’m proud of them for everything they’ve done, and I’m fortunate to be a part of it and witness their work,” Princeton head coach Travis Gaster said. “They carried this program and town to a place it hadn’t been in a long, long time.”
Princeton punted on the game’s opening possession, and Wallace drove down the Bulldogs’ 16-yard line. Peyton Mitchell then intercepted Xzavier Pearsall’s pass, but the Bulldogs fumbled, and Wallace recovered the ball at Princeton’s two-yard line.
Kanye Roberts’ plunge into the endzone gave Wallace a 7-0 lead with 4:09 left in the first quarter.
Starting at their own 36-yard line, Princeton executed a tremendous 17-play 64-yard drive that took over 10 minutes and ended with Jaydon Brooks scoring from five yards out.
Eash team had one more possession in the second quarter, but the score remained 7-7 at halftime.
“They’ve been resilient all season long. Any time they’ve faced adversity, so nothing fazes them, and they didn’t flinch in the face of adversity,” Gaster said. “I hope that’s something they can take with them for the rest of their lives.”
On the opening possession of the second half, Roberts had a 59-yard touchdown run that gave Wallace a 14-7 lead.
The Bulldogs responded with another long drive that ended with Mckinley Uzzell nailing a 27-yard field goal.
After forcing Wallace to punt on the ensuing possession, Princeton got the ball back with 1:11 left in the third quarter, but another turnover gave Wallace the ball back, and on the first play of the fourth quarter, Roberts got loose for a 73-yard touchdown run.
“You’re talking about special, special ballplayer in No. 5,” Gaster said about Roberts, who finished the game with 355 yards rushing and five touchdowns.
The Bulldogs refused to quit and made the score 21-17 moments later with a 22-yard touchdown from Paul Edens. Christian Perris then ran across the goal line for the two-point conversion.
However, Wallace responded with a 72-yard touchdown drive that ended with another touchdown from Roberts.
With 4:35 left in the game, the Bulldogs kept fighting and pulled off a 12-play 65-yard touchdown drive, culminating with Perris scoring from two yards out.
“We’ve seen that before, being behind in the playoffs, so it was not new, so they were able to lean on that and trust that we would get it fixed,” Gaster said. “We were able to fix some stuff on offense, but we just ran out of time.”
After an unsuccessful onside kick, Roberts scored his final touchdown night to seal the win for Wallace. Perris rushed for 185 and one touchdown on 27 carries, while Brooks carried the ball 16 times for 163 yards and a touchdown.
Princeton will lose 14 seniors to graduation, and they left an incredible legacy at Princeton. Over four years, they have a 39-5 record, won three conference titles in four years, and reached the regional championship round of the playoffs.
The seniors will be missed, but the future remains bright for Princeton’s football program.
“I don’t’ believe that could be matched by a lot of people,” Gaster said about his seniors’ accomplishments. “I’m just proud to be a part of what they were doing. Their work ethic and attitude is what’s beautiful about them.
“It’s very rare to have a class that leads by example.”
Gaster added Princeton’s fantastic season would not have been possible without the support of the Princeton community.
“Princeton is a special place, and I’ve been saying that since I got here. I love raising my family here. It’s great for me personally, it’s great for my kids, and there’s no limit to what this community will do for these kids.”