Princeton finds self belief
By Andrew Stevens
Published in Sports on November 8, 2012 1:53 PM
Moments after his team knocked off North Duplin 28-21 in the first round of the N.C. High School Athletic Association 1-A (small school) football playoffs last Friday night, Princeton's Derrick Minor had the look of a head coach who fully expected to win.
Despite the Bulldogs' 2-8 record prior to their trip to Calypso, their four-game losing streak that included a 41-20 loss to North Duplin on Oct. 5, Minor had seen glimpses all season of what is team was capable of doing each Friday night.
Minor finally got to see his team perform for four quarters the way he knew they were capable of all season against the Rebels. From brilliant play-calling, timely execution and most importantly, a belief from every Bulldog that they could win the game, Princeton had every ingredient necessary to pull off the upset.
Game film from that Oct. 5 meeting with North Duplin proved to be invaluable to Minor and his staff in preparing for a second contest with the Rebels. Minor noticed the Rebels crowding the box to take away the Bulldogs' running game. The result was a more pass-oriented offense early and multiple pass interference calls against the Rebels throughout the game. Quarterback Michael Wooten's 24-yard touchdown pass to Kameron McDougald gave Princeton a 7-0 lead.
"Familiarity helped a lot because we were able to pinpoint some weaknesses that they had on defense which is why we threw the ball so much early on," Minor said. "They weren't respecting our running game. In the Rosewood game we got our passing game going and our quarterback and receivers got confidence.
"Tonight, we just tried to do that from the get go."
Once Wooten and the passing game got on track, sophomore back Johnny Frasier was able to find running room behind the Bulldogs' offensive line. Frasier finished with 119 yards and a touchdown.
Minor reached into his bag of tricks just before halftime and Princeton executed a hook-and-lateral to perfection for a touchdown. Minor pressed the right buttons once more midway through the fourth quarter as McDougald took a handoff from Frasier on a reverse and raced 51 yards to the end zone.
The Bulldogs never looked rattled when Tyler Royal's third-quarter touchdown pulled the Rebels to within 21-14. Princeton's defense turned in a pair of critical stops on fourth-and-1 with North Duplin inside the 10-yard line each time.
"Our kids stood up tall," Minor said. "When young guys can step up under this pressure and put the game on their shoulders and not waiver when the momentum shifted a little bit, it says a lot about the character of this team. Our kids are hungry because they know the potential we have and they are just now showing it."
The Bulldogs have momentum and last week's win as a reminder that hard work does not go unrewarded heading into Friday's second-round game at North Edgecombe.