SPRING VALLEY — Heavily favored Princeton found it had a battle on their hands in Saturday’s Class 3A playoff game with rival Hall at Richard Nesti Stadium.
Princeton scored seven times in a 41-0 rout over the Red Devils in front of the PHS homecoming crowd last month. Not this time, however.
The Tigers clung to only a 6-0 lead through three quarters of play on the strength of a first-quarter 26-yard touchdown pass, and added a field goal and touchdown in the fourth quarter for a 16-0 win.
“This was a great game. We’re going to remember it. We had some things that didn’t go our way, but we capitalized well,” PHS junior lineman Grant Foes said. “It was a good day. It was a great game. I salute (Hall). I have mad respect for them.”
PHS senior center Cole Reynolds and Tiger coach Ryan Pearson knew it was going to be a much tougher time the second time facing Hall, both calling it a dogfight.
“It’s really hard to beat a team twice, and this is probably the hardest game I’ve ever played,” Reynolds said. “It was just a dogfight the entire time, and I’m just glad we got the win. I’ve got a lot of respect for Hall. They played a really great game today.
“We knew it was going to be a lot tougher. They had Greg Larsen coming back, and he’s a big boy. And we just knew it was going to be a lot tougher.”
Pearson added: “That’s the name of the game. It’s all about being able to survive and advance. I’m extremely happy for our kids. We knew coming in it was going to be a dogfight. Any time these two teams get together, especially having to play them for the second time, we knew it wasn’t going to be the kind of game it was for the first time.”
With the win, the top-seeded Tigers (10-1) advance to the 3A quarterfinals for the second time in five years. They will host No. 5 seed Paxton-Buckley-Loda (9-2), a 27-7 winner at Farmington Saturday evening. Game time will be 1 p.m. Saturday at Bryant Field.
“That’s what we play for,” Pearson said. “All the hard work our kids put in, starting last November. It all leads up to this moment and this kind of opportunity. I’m happy our kids get to bring the quarterfinal back to Princeton.”
Saturday was an old-school battle between old-time rivals, one that the many former players from past two second-round PHS-Hall clashes (1989, 1993) on hand could appreciate.
The Tigers looked jittery to start the game, throwing an interception on their first possession of the game and fumbling the ball away on their second. They had four turnovers in all, including two more fumbles in the third quarter. PHS also overcame 100 penalty yards on 12 penalties.
“We’ve done such a great job of taking care of the ball (this year) and Ronde (Worrels) hadn’t had a fumble up until today,” Pearson said. “Our kids did not get upset, they responded to it. They didn’t get down and hang their heads. Our kids got some grit and kept fighting and made the plays when they mattered, and we’re able to move on. That’s what we wanted.”
The Tigers finally broke through late in the second quarter, taking to the airways. Junior quarterback Tyler Gibson and Noah Atkinson connected for a 23-yard pass to the Hall 17, and three plays later, hooked up again for a 26-yard TD strike to give the Tigers a 6-0 lead with 3:45 left in the half.
Jamie Reinhardt missed the PAT attempt on the Tiger touchdown, but split the uprights for a 22-yard field goal with 11:48 left to play to put the Tigers ahead 9-0.
Princeton added a 4-yard touchdown by junior Jacob Starr with 4:29 to play to put the game away.
While pleased with the Red Devils’ defense, Hall coach Randy Tieman was disappointed with their offense. In eight quarters of play against Princeton this year, Hall did not score a single point, held to 62 net yards Saturday.
“Our defense was outstanding. I think we forced (four turnovers). You should win a game like that,” he said. “Offensively, we didn’t get it done. It didn’t happen. Their defense was very good. Their linebackers just fly to spots. We thought we had a plan to lock them up, and it didn’t work. They’re just good. They get to the ball. They get a lot of hands up.”
Tieman said the Red Devils (7-4) made some adjustments defensively from the first game to help slow the Tigers’ offense down, specifically standout back Ronde Worrels, who was held to 78 yards rushing.
“We saw some things to adjust to their offense and with Wyatt (Davis) not playing, that’s a big difference. You can focus more on Ronde,” he said. “We thought we had a good defensive plan coming in. I thought I had a good offensive plan. Thought we’d run at them straight without pulling and trapping and stuff we’d be able to neutralize the backers a little bit. But it didn’t work out that way for us.”
“Our defense did a great job just doing everything right. We had like (four turnovers). Usually you win the game,” Hall senior Marshall Walk said. “Couldn’t really get the ball moving much offensively. Defensive-wise, I think everybody played awesome. We had some really big stops. Some fourth-quarter turnovers. We made them kick a field goal when they were really close in the red zone.”
Reynolds and Foes said the Tigers are ready to take the next step and some more.
“We’re going to enjoy it tonight and tomorrow and study up on Monday and be ready to go and get back to work because we got a big game, next week, quarterfinal,” Foes said. “Last time quarterfinal was at home, 2015, they had a tough team in IC Catholic. We’re hoping to move on farther this time.”
“I’m just really excited,” Reynolds said. “Seeing the 2015 team when I was in the eighth grade get to the quarterfinals, and I’m just ready to go farther and hopefully get to the state game.”