Most of the players on Princeton High School’s football team were born around the turn of the century, which was 17 years after the Bulldogs’ last conference championship.
But after Thursday night, 1983 never seemed so close to present day.
From the opening kick until the final play Princeton was in control against North Duplin, rolling to a 40-19 victory over the only other fellow Carolina 1A Conference team that entered the week without a loss. The win leaves the Bulldogs (4-4 overall, 3-0 conference) with a direct path to the conference championship.
Matthew Stallworth returned the opening kick off 64 yards, setting up a short 20-yard touchdown drive — that was kept alive by a rare Princeton pass that converted a fourth-and-5 between quarterback Adam Crocker and Trace James — capped by the first of four consecutive Earl Gibson touchdown runs on the night. The first of five consecutive two-point conversions followed the opening TD and the Bulldogs never trailed.
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Defensively, Princeton held the Rebels on a pair of fourth-down attempts inside of the Bulldogs’ 20-yard-line and forced two fumbles, both of which the visitors recovered.
They Said It
“Our physical-ness set the tone early and allowed us to play the game the way we wanted it played,” said Princeton coach Travis Gaster. “North Duplin is a very physical team and they brought it on defense. I’m glad we were able to match that effort and then exceed it.”
Princeton led 16-7 after a 39-yard TD run by Gibson and went with an onside kick, which it recovered. It was the first of two consecutive onside kicks the Bulldogs grabbed — Lamar Wilkins got the first, John Lockamy the second.
Those plays, combined with Princeton’s offensive execution expanded the lead from nine points to 25 in less than seven minutes of playing time.
Three to Watch
Earl Gibson, Princeton: Gibson scored the Bulldogs’ first four touchdowns and finished with a game-high 143 yards rushing on 27 carries.
“We stuck to our game plan and did what we do best,” Gibson said. “I’m just blessed to play with this offensive line. I said earlier in the season that they’re one of the best in the state and I really believe that.”
Matthew Stallworth, Princeton: Stallworth added 116 yards rushing on 18 carries, a rushing TD and three two-point conversion runs.
The Bulldogs totaled 272 yards rushing out of their double-wing attack and ran the ball 55 times on the night.
Will Archer, North Duplin: The Rebels’ limited offensive success came mostly from their junior quarterback, whose option keeper runs were the only thing Princeton’s defense couldn’t figure out for a while at H.E. Grubbs Field. Archer ran for a 20-yard TD on the Rebels’ opening drive, returned a kick off 50 yards for a touchdown and threw a fourth-quarter touchdown pass.
He finished with 111 yards rushing on 11 carries.
By the Numbers
3: Consecutive offensive possessions by Princeton thanks to those back-to-back kick off plays.
19: Straight plays from scrimmage the Bulldogs reeled off without a North Duplin play from scrimmage during that stretch.
536: Seconds of clock time — that’s 8 minutes, 56 seconds — the Rebels went playing defense or with their kick off return team on the field.
41: Consecutive running plays Princeton ran between pass attempts from late in the first quarter until midway of the fourth quarter.
37: Years old the Bulldogs’ head coach — Gaster — turned on Thursday.
Luke Braswell, Princeton: Luke will represent the entire Princeton offensive and defensive lines here, whose physical play allowed the Bulldogs to control the flow of the game. On defense, he recovered a fumble and was in on a key sack of Archer.
The effort was not lost on Gaster, who had team members in his weightlifting class lifting during school the day of the game.
“It’s an every day thing,” Gaster said of the focus on weight training. “It’s special to see the time spent on that show up on the field. It makes the time you spend on it as coaches, as players during the summer and throughout the fall worth it.”
Entering Friday night’s game there were three teams with only 1 loss behind Princeton in the standings. The Bulldogs have games remaining against two of those, including Lakewood this coming Friday, and Spring Creek on Nov. 10. In the middle of that is a battle with arch rival Rosewood.