11/28/09 — Princeton falls to Mount Airy

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Princeton falls to Mount Airy

By Phil Goble Jr.
Published in Sports on November 28, 2009 11:48 PM

MOUNT AIRY -- Princeton saw its hopes of a comeback, and upset of No. 1-ranked Mount Airy, end in a 35-second span Friday evening.

The fourth-seeded Bulldawgs trailed, 35-14, but had been moving the ball against the defending 1-A state champion. Then, in a short span early in the fourth quarter, the Granite Bears collected 16 points on five plays.

Mount Airy (14-0 overall) eventually triumphed 51-20 and eliminated Princeton in their N.C. High School Athletic Association Class 1-A (small-school) western regional semifinal game. The Granite Bears play perennial Smoky Mountain power Robbinsville for the regional title Friday and a trip to Winston-Salem on Dec. 12.

The Dawgs concluded the season 10-4.

"We lost momentum," said Princeton head coach Russell Williamson. "They made some big plays. We couldn't work our way back into it."

The Granite Bears, winners of 30 consecutive games, scored five of their seven touchdowns from at least 25 yards out. Three of those scores came from 55 yards or further.

Two of those long strikes came in that loss-clinching 35-second eternity.

Mount Airy opened the fourth quarter with a 66-yard touchdown strike from quarterback Ben Hinson to wideout Justin Collier. The pass culminated a five-play drive that started near the end of the third quarter.

On Princeton's ensuing possession, the Bulldogs started at their 8-yard line. Quarterback David Gurganus threw an incompletion and, on the next play, was sacked in the end zone for a safety.

The Bulldogs booted the free kick out of bounds, setting Mount Airy up just 45 yards from scoring. It took just two plays -- an 11-yard run by Hinson followed by a 34-yard burst by Luke Wheeler.

Mount Airy led 51-14.

"We knew they were going to pass and that meant we would get extra possessions," said Mount Airy head coach Kelly Holder. "We knew we had to take advantage of those possessions."

It looked for a while like Princeton's spread passing attack might unseat the champs.

Mount Airy led 6-0 when Gurganus and Patrick Jacobs hooked up on a 13-yard scoring pass in the first quarter. When Amber Brush booted the PAT, the Bulldogs led, 7-6.

Mount Airy regained the lead, 14-7, but Princeton answered when Gurganus hit Benton Myers on a 5-yard scoring pass with 2:22 left in the first quarter.

The opening period ended in a 14-14 tie.

The Granite Bears went up 28-14 in the second quarter, but Princeton never gave in, driving to the Mount Airy 7-yard line with 1:08 to play. Two running plays and two incomplete passes -- both into the end zone -- ended the threat.

"One thing that hurt us was we didn't score at the end of the half," said Williamson.

Princeton racked up 209 yards of total offense in the opening half, compared to 234 for Mount Airy.

Gurganus completed 21-of-42 passes for 339 yards and three touchdowns, and ended up just shy of the 4,000-yard mark for the season. Benton Myers caught eight passes for 148 yards and Jacobs grabbed seven for 130 yards.

Mount Airy racked up 515 yards of total offense -- 334 on the ground. Luke Wheeler carried nine times for 189 yards and caught two passes for 79 more yards. He scored four touchdowns.

"Coming in, he was the main one I was worried about and he hurt us," Williamson said of Wheeler.

Hinson finished 8-for-15 for 181 yards and two touchdowns.

The loss ended the high school careers of 17 Princeton seniors.