CALYPSO — Princeton looked at its 1A football playoff opener against North Duplin Friday as the ultimate second chance. It was a second chance for the Bulldogs to show themselves they could play much better than their first encounter with the Rebels and a chance to finish off the thrilling victory they almost notched in the season finale against Rosewood.
The Bulldogs did just that, beating a North Duplin that ran for more than 500 yards in their first meeting, 28-21 and moving into a second round date against North Edgecombe.
That earlier performance was etched into the Dawgs’ minds all week leading up to the game.
“It motivated our kids,” said Princeton coach Derrick Minor of that first meeting with North Duplin. “They came out feeling like they didn’t play like the could the first time we played them. It motivated them all week.
“They wanted to prove that that’s not who we are, that we’re a better team.”
Princeton jumped out to a 21-7 halftime lead on the strength of two touchdown connections between quarterback Michael Wooten and Johnny Frasier and a 1-yard Wooten touchdown run.
“The momentum and confidence we built in the fourth quarter and overtime against Rosewood carried over,” Minor said. “We started believing in ourselves, how good we could be.”
“Our passing game really came on. When we watched the first North Duplin film we were scouting ourselves as much as we were them. We made a commitment to open it up more and win by throwing the ball.”
The Rebels closed to within 21-14 in the third quarter, but were held on fourth down twice inside of the 20-yard-line, including once at the 1.
Freshman linebacker Adrian Whack made the touchdown-saving tackle for Princeton on a late fourth down from inside of the 5.
“The fourth-and-goal from the 1 was just one of several occasions where our defense stepped up,” Minor said. “We knew if we stopped the run, we were going to win.”
North Duplin ran for 375 yards on the night, but when Princeton needed key stops down the stretch, its defense continually came alive.
“We played really great team defense,” Minor said. “Our defense gave us that momentum.”
The Bulldogs relied on the middle of their defense against North Duplin. Minor praised the play of linebackers Cody Garner and Jake Sullivan, safety Jamaal Allen and defensive tackles Bobby Keene and Quinton Rhue.
“Bobby and Quinton were responsible for taking the guards out of the equation,” Minor said. “They really helped our defense effort even though they didn’t make many tackles.”
The Bulldogs notched the winning touchdown on a 51-yard run by Kameron McDougald with less than five minutes to go in the fourth quarter.
“It’s one of those plays in our single-wing package that if we call it at the right time, it pops big,” Minor said. “If it’s not the right time, it blows up. The guys executed great and Cameron walked into the end zone untouched from 50 yards out.”
Frasier ran for 107 yards on the night for Princeton, while Wooten threw for 120 yards.
But most importantly, the Bulldogs lived to play again this week, earning the right to prove something again, both to themselves and the opposition.
Correspondent Jay Mumford contributed to this report.