Princeton appeared to be perfectly positioned to clinch its breakthrough win over Warsaw James Kenan Friday night. The Bulldogs were up 10 points with less than two minutes to play in a battle of two of the three top-ranked 1A teams in the state.
And that’s when Kenan, the defending 1AA state champion, put together a near ideal string of plays to rally for a 26-23 victory at Harvey Brooks Field before a packed house crowd of more than 3,000.
“I don’t know how we won,” said Kenan coach Ken Avent Jr. “But we won.”
The Tigers (4-1) took advantage of a high punt snap by the Bulldogs (5-1) at the Princeton 30-yard-line with 3:35 to play, using the arm of Ken Avent III and his frequent connections with Greg Washington (six catches, 107 yards) to get within 23-20 on an 8-yard TD pass with 1:40 to play.
Kasavia Farland’s onside kick bounced perfectly and Kenan jumped on it before a Princeton player could get their hands on the ball.
Avent III found running back Khalil Savage streaking down the right sideline two plays later, for a 28-yard completion setting the Tigers up with a first-and-10 and the Bulldog 11. After a 5-yard run by Jaquan Williams, Savage took a pitch on a sweep play from his wingback position and beat the Princeton defense to the corner of the end zone for a 26-23 lead with 12 seconds to play.
The Tigers’ pass rush kept Princeton from getting off any kind of last-gasp deep pass attempt and Kenan claimed its third win over Princeton in the last calendar year. The two Carolina 1A Conference rivals also met in the 1AA playoffs last season.
“It was right there,” Princeton coach Derrick Minor said. “We were up 10 with five or six minutes to play and you just see plays starting to happen in your head. The bad punt snap, nobody going after the bouncing ball on the onside kick. It was almost like we were in shock after the punt snap.”
Princeton had bolted ahead on two touchdowns from senior quarterback Michael Wooten in the third quarter. The first was a 40-yard TD pass to Malcolm Best where Best caught a short curl pattern spun away from a Kenan defender and raced down the sideline to put the Bulldogs up 17-13. On Princeton’s next drive, Wooten kept the ball on a read option for a 3-yard TD run and a 23-13 lead.
The one constant in the game, which featured periods of domination and being dominated for both sides, was the production of Princeton senior running back Johnny Frasier. Frasier, a Florida State verbal commitment, ran for 211 yards and a touchdown on 25 carries. His 65-yard TD run in the second quarter may have been the best of his career.
He took a lead handoff from Wooten, bolted 15 yards before running into two Kenan defenders who he bounced off of and spinning away from another before breaking two more tackles during the final 20 yards of his run.
“They dominated us all night up front,” Avent said. “They had us out of sync because we couldn’t run the ball like we like to. Our kids were hurt, banged up, but they fought through it all and found a way to win.”
Avent III threw for 208 yards and two TDs (both to Washington) on 14-of-32 passing attempts. Savage had two TD runs, the first a 50-yarder in the third quarter.
Wooten was 7-of-17 passing for 137 yards.
“This was one of the best regular season games you’ll see in the state this season and we were a big part of why that was the case,” Minor said. “That’s the best 4-1 team in the state we lost to. Plenty of teams have won a state championship with one loss on their record.”