The anticipation and excitement began to build the moment the IHSA 3A playoff pairings were announced Saturday, Oct. 26 as Princeton and Hall players and fans alike looked ahead at the possibilities.
They all knew they would draw one another should both win opening rounds, and they all got their wish.
Princeton (9-1) blasted Poplar Grove North Boone 61-26 on Friday, while Hall (7-3) shut out Peotone 20-0 Saturday, setting up second-round showdown between the Bureau County rivals. Game time is 1 p.m. Saturday at Richard Nesti Stadium in Spring Valley.
Like their fans, members of both teams can’t wait.
“It’s going to be an amazing atmosphere to play in. We’re excited to get the chance to play one of our biggest rivals in a playoff game,” PHS junior lineman Grant Foes said. “We gotta stay focused this week because we know it’s going to be a dogfight.”
“It’s Hall and Princeton and it’s a playoff game this hasn’t happened since 1993 this should be an awesome atmosphere,” Hall coach Randy Tieman said. “It’s not that often you get to play your rival with this much on the line.”
It will be the third second-round playoff meeting in Spring Valley between the Bureau County rivals, with Princeton wining 13-7 in 1989 and Hall winning 21-13 in 1993.
Princeton, as they did to all of those in their path on the way to the Three Rivers Mississippi Conference championship this season, throttled Hall 41-0 in their mid-season matchup in Princeton. That game marked the return to full-time duty for senior quarterback Grant Resetich, and the Red Devils’ offense struggled with just three yards net rushing against the mighty Princeton defense.
ieman is hopeful for a better showing the second time around, a must if they are to make a game out of it.
“Princeton is the best team we have played all year. They have a lot of athletes,” Tieman said. “We have to be able to establish our run game and mix in the pass. I think being at home helps along with Grant having a better grasp of the offense and Greg being on the field for us.
“No matter what, we have to play our assignments on defense. With all that said, it’s going to be a tall task to beat them, but our kids are looking forward to the opportunity to play a great team and try to compete with them.”
Tiger coach Ryan Pearson said it won’t necessarily come as easy this time as last time, as some might think, against the rival Red Devils out for revenge.
“Our boys know what kind of game this is going to be,” he said. “We have to travel to their place and play them for the second time. That is never easy. We fully expect this to be a four-quarter battle. This will be an old-fashioned, who wants it more, dogfight.”
Hall can expect to see a heavy dose of PHS junior standout Ronde Worrels, who last week became Princeton’s all-time leading rusher with more than 2,400 yards.
With all-state wide receiver candidate Wyatt Davis out last week with an injury and not expected to return, the Tigers turned heavy to their run game and Worrels. He rushed for 252 yards and five touchdowns in three quarters against North Boone.
Hall senior Marshal Walk knows the Red Devils must do a much better job than their first meeting with Princeton and is confident they can.
“We need to improve on our defensive responsibilities from last time, and we need to be able to move the ball better. If we are able to establish an offense early while also stopping Ronde from running all over us, it will be a totally different ball game,” Walk said.
“We just need to come out at home with same mentality we had this past week. We do not want this to be our last game, so we will do everything we can to make sure it is not.”
PHS senior Sammy McClure has similar feelings from the Tiger camp.
“We all just need to do our jobs and have a flawless practice for both sides of the ball and then execute during the game. If we play as a team, it’ll be a good game,” he said.
The winner of Saturday’s game will draw the winner between No. 5 Paxton-Buckley-Loda at No. 4 Farmington in the 3A semifinals.
#1 Princeton (9-1) at #9 Hall (7-3)
• Game time: 1 p.m., Saturday, Nesti Stadium.
• Notes: This marks the third time the Bureau County rivals have met in the second-round of the 3A playoffs. PHS won 13-7 in 1989 while Hall won 21-13 in 1993. ... The Tigers were ranked No. 7 in the final AP 3A Poll.