PRINCETON – There’s an old saying in boxing that styles make fights.
As seventh-seeded Princeton (8-3) and tenth-seeded Louisburg (6-5) collide in the second round of the North Carolina High School Athletic Association 2-A state playoffs at 7 p.m. on Friday at Harvey Brooks Field, the Bulldogs and Warriors couldn’t be much more different stylistically.
The game can be heard locally on 98.3 FM WGBR and online at Goldsborodailynews.com.
The Warriors’ versatile offense centers around senior dual-threat quarterback Donte Strickland Jr., who has thrown for 1,407 yards with 11 touchdowns, and he has rushed for 1,005 yards with seven touchdowns. Strickland has passed and rushed for 100 yards or more in five games this season, and Louisburg is 4-1 in those games.
“Donte is a good ball player,” Warriors’ head coach Dontae Lassiter said. “He doesn’t just play quarterback for us. He lines up at running back sometimes, he plays safety when we need him to, he plays linebacker when we need him to. He’s a good football player all around.”
Six-foot-four senior receiver Tymar Kearney leads Louisburg with 31 catches for 570 yards and six touchdowns. Kearney could present a matchup problem for a Bulldogs’ secondary that has given up over 1,800 passing yards and 28 touchdowns this season.
“Louisburg beat Northwood by running the football and they’ve beaten teams by throwing the football,” Princeton head coach Travis Gaster said. “They have such a good mix of ability and just athletes all over the place. They’ve got a quarterback (Strickland) who can absolutely fly. When they spread you out completely, and you’ve got to add some guys into coverage to try to give yourself some help on the back end, all of a sudden that quarterback’s got a lot of grass to work with.”
Conversely, the Bulldogs’ physical and methodical single-wing offense will need to control not only the football, but the clock as well. Sustaining long, time consuming drives that keep Strickland and the Louisburg offense on the sidelines will be critical for Princeton’s success.
When the Bulldogs’ offense has had difficulty staying on the field this season, particularly in losses at Clinton and Eastern Wayne, an inability to consistently run the football on first and second down has been a reoccurring theme.
The Dark Horses and Warriors held the Bulldogs to 3.6 and five yards per carry respectively. In both of those losses Princeton’s offense seemed to face third-and-long situations all night.
“For us to win the game, we’ve got to be able to control the clock,” Gaster said. “We’ve got to be able to move the ball, stay on schedule in our down and distance, and be able to run our normal offense and not get outside the box.”
In the only other meeting between the Bulldogs and Warriors on Sept. 22, 2022 at Harvey Brooks Field, Princeton rushed for 625 yards and nine touchdowns on their way to a 76-28 victory.
Louisburg has given up over 1,900 rushing yards and 22 rushing touchdowns this season. The Warriors have given up 150 rushing yards or more eight times.
“Well, we played Princeton last year and they beat us pretty good,” Lassiter said. “We had quite a few touchdowns called back last year. Any time you play Princeton, obviously everybody will probably tell you that offense they run is something that you don’t see on a weekly basis. They’re good at what they do, and they do it very well. You gotta try to control them and keep them from getting to the second level, and getting that running offense from going downhill. If it gets going downhill, it can be very tough to stop. We have to be able to get them behind the chains the best that we can.”
During its current five-game winning streak Princeton has rushed for 1,819 yards and 31 touchdowns. Sophomore Austin Lewallen leads the Bulldogs with 2,104 rushing yards and 23 touchdowns.
Over the last two weeks, junior Ethan Teasley has been a welcomed addition to Princeton’s rushing attack with 278 rushing yards and six touchdowns.
“We run the ball so much that normally one person can’t handle that load and still be as explosive, and powerful and take care of the ball like we need them to,” Gaster said. “When you can get multiple guys involved, it just keeps everybody hungry. Then, when you bust a big play, you can roll a fresh one right in and not miss a beat. It just took us some time to get everyone up to speed and on the same page, where we weren’t so limited by what we could do based on who was on the field.”