WARSAW — James Kenan needed its best defensive effort when it counted to survive in a track meet of a football game.
It wasn’t until Princeton ran out of downs at its 30 with just over a minute that the favored Tigers could finally breathe easy, holding off their conference rivals 43-36 in the second round of the NCHSAA 1-AA playoffs Friday night at Taylor Field.
Kenan (12-0) was the regular-season champion of the Carolina 1-A while Princeton (9-4) finished second.
The Tigers won their regular-season meeting 35-22 here on Sept. 27.
Kenan was able to hang on despite 297 yards and four touchdowns from the Bulldogs’ junior running back Johnny Frasier, who already has scholarship offers from all three ACC schools in the Triangle.
“You hate to see it end,” said second-year Princeton coach Derrick Minor, whose team was 2-8 in the regular season last year before advancing to the fourth round of the state 1-A playoffs. “That’s a fun game there, back and forth.
“I’m saddened by the end result, but never disappointed in our kids.”
Al Owens had 116 yards and a touchdown on 17 carries for Kenan, while Dominique Barnes threw a pair of touchdown passes to T.J. Fullwood and rushed for another.
Kenan led 41-30 at halftime.
“It was pretty wild,” Kenan coach Ken Avent said. “We knew we were going to have to score a lot of points on them all week. Frasier is as good as we’ve seen. We’re not used to seeing a lot of spread teams, but we were able to make some adjustments in the second half and held on to win.”
The Wildcats led 7-0 with 5:38 left in the first, as Marcelias Sutton scored from 3 yards out.
Princeton responded with a quick drive two possessions later after Reggie Perry returned an interception 43 yards to the Kenan 17. Frasier scored from 15 yards out two plays later.
Kenan went up 14-7 on Dominique Barnes’ 24-yard pass to T.J. Fullwood with 11:53 left in the half.
Frasier scored from 30 yards out at 9:35, but Barnes hit Fullwood for a 67-yard scoring connection at 9:15 to make it 21-14.
The Tigers took a two-touchdown lead on Barnes’ 1-yard plunge at 3:55, and went up 35-14 on an 8-yard Sutton run at 2:28.
Frasier scored on a 69-yard run and added the conversion run at 2:05.
And after the Tigers made it 41-22 on a 10-yard Al Owens run at 44.8, Frasier’s 64-yard burst and two-point conversion ended the first-half scoring.
Princeton cut it to 41-36 with 8:29 left in the third on a 4-yard run from Adrian Whack, with a 47-yard Frasier run keying a five-play, 65-yard march.
But it went to 43-36 with 5:15 left in the fourth on a punt snap out of the end zone.