The first time Princeton played Carolina 1A Conference foe Lakewood, it was big passing plays that were the Bulldogs’ undoing. This time it was big runs that proved to be the difference between the conference co-champions as the Leopards beat the Bulldogs 42-22 in the second round of the N.C. High School Athletic Association 1AA football playoffs.
Princeton’s game plan was to keep the ball away from the high-powered Lakewood offense as much as possible and the proud Bulldogs’ running game was effective. However, Lakewood (10-3) proved to have too many weapons and too many big plays for Princeton (7-6) to go toe-to-toe against.
Carsell Bennett ran for 127 yards scoring on a 63-yard run and also on a 58-yard touchdown reception with each score sandwiching an Earl Gibson Jr. touchdown and conversion to give the hosts the 14-8 lead after one quarter.
Lakewood’s Dre Oates scored on runs of 15 and 10 yards and quarterback Zack Tanner ran one in from 39 yards out as the Leopards had an answer each time Princeton cut into the lead.
“They busted some long runs on us…we covered better but we didn’t tackle as well,” said Princeton coach Travis Gaster. “If you don’t tackle a good team in the second round of the playoffs, you’re going to struggle.”
Quarterback Adam Crocker got the Bulldogs to within 35-22 early in the fourth quarter on a 25-yard strike to Garrett Klein on fourth down but Princeton could inch no closer.
Gibson Jr. recorded his 13th 100-yard rushing game of the season, finishing with 119 yards on 29 carries. Trace James added 56 yards on the ground and a touchdown.
Lakewood will host Wallace-Rose Hill in the third round next week.
Princeton’s season ends after making history as the Bulldogs won a share of its first conference championship in 33 years.
“They’re champions and that was our goal at the beginning of the season. “Gaster said. “We beat James Kenan; it’s the first time any one’s been able to win the conference championship other than James Kenan since the conference started.”
He continued: “They played as a family, they played as a team and I couldn’t be prouder of them.”