GOLDSBORO — When Princeton travels 114 miles Friday night to take on eastern 1A football power Plymouth, forgive the Bulldogs if they aren’t intimidated.
For that matter, forgive the Bulldogs if they don’t know how to react.
“I’m very excited,” Princeton senior Kameron McDougald said after the team’s 27-7 win over Rosewood in the third round of the NCHSAA 1A playoffs Friday night. “I don’t know how to act right now, I really don’t.”
Princeton, which finished the regular season with just two wins and eight losses, has won three straight playoff games on the road.
The Bulldogs have relished the role of underdog the past three weeks and have listened closely to the words of first-year head coach Derrick Minor, who emphasized to his team after its victory over rival Rosewood that the early tests have paid off.
It’s a second chance for a football team that has come a long way in so short a period of time.
“We felt all along that we were this good; we just didn’t show it,” Minor said. “We were young, we were learning to win, we were learning to play and my heart goes out to these guys because everybody represents that Princeton community.”
While all three phases of the game have played an important part in the November winning streak, the play of the defense has shown the most improvement from the regular season.
The last setback, an Oct. 26 43-41 triple overtime loss to Rosewood, has served as motivation for a defensive unit that has stepped up.
“It’s just pure anger,” Princeton’s Cody Garner said of the mentality that has sparked the defense’s turnaround since that tough defeat. “Redemption (has fueled that anger). Rosewood’s the biggest rival that we’ve got and with it being the third round and with everything on the line … we want to go to states.”
Garner’s interception and two more from Adrian Whack prevented the Eagles from rallying Friday night and complemented nicely the job done by the defensive front, which allowed just 67 yards rushing in the third round victory after surrendering 422 yards in the loss four weeks before.
One side of the ball
“Part of it is that we’re getting healthy,” Minor said of the sudden and vast improvement of his defense. “We’re limiting our two-way players so everybody’s pretty much (on) one side of the ball, and in a small school, if you can do that, it keeps everybody fresh.
“When you go against a team that has multiple two-way players, we wear them down at the end. … We’re staying fresh and staying healthy.”
Plymouth has averaged 49 points a game during its 11-game winning streak. The Vikings last lost to 2A Edenton Holmes 18-14 on Aug. 31 but are undefeated against 1A schools.
The Bulldogs will rely on sophomore running back Johnny Frasier to keep the ball away from the high-powered Vikings and, with more than 1,600 yards rushing and 20 touchdowns, the young standout welcomes the challenge.
“My coaches and the people in the community have stood behind me,” said Frasier, whose 19-yard touchdown run late the fourth quarter sealed the game for the Bulldogs last week. “They give me the spirit.”