Bulldogs' maturity paying dividends
By Andrew Stevens
Published in Sports on November 21, 2012 9:53 PM
As the stage has grown bigger each week during Princeton's run through the postseason, so too have the performances turned in by the Bulldogs.
The stakes grow even higher for Princeton on Friday when it travels to Plymouth in the N.C. High School Athletic Association 1-A (small-school) eastern finals. The Bulldogs are making their first eastern regional appearance since 1979 and third overall since 1976.
The Vikings carry an 11-game win streak into the contest and their double-wing offense averages 49 points a game.
After surrendering 34 points a game during the regular season, Princeton's improving defense has given up just 13 points a contest in the playoffs. Getting healthy at the right time and limiting the number of two-way players it uses has paid dividends for the Bulldogs.
Princeton (5-8 overall) held Rosewood's run-oriented offense to 71 yards on the ground and intercepted three passes. The Bulldogs also played solid defense against North Duplin and North Edgecombe in the first and second rounds of the playoffs, respectively.
The Rebels were stopped twice on fourth-and-1 inside the Princeton 10-yard line in the Bulldogs' 28-21 victory in the first round. Princeton recorded 19 tackles that either resulted in zero or negative yardage and held North Edgecombe to 12 points in the second round.
First-year Bulldogs' head coach Derrick Minor is counting on the experience gained against similar offenses pays off against Plymouth.
"It is one of those things where you feel like you've got some experience," Minor said. "The boys feel like they can play against these types of offenses. The kids are believing in themselves and trusting in the guy next to them to do their job."
Princeton's offense began to click in a 43-41 triple-overtime loss to Rosewood on Oct. 26 and has continued to gain momentum. The Bulldogs have averaged 35 points a game during their last four contests.
Sophomore tailback Johnny Frasier has rushed 490 yards and eight touchdowns during that four-game stretch, and has 1,638 yards and 20 touchdowns this season.
Sophomore quarterback Michael Wooten continues to progress in his first year as a starter while benefiting from the play-making abilities of speedy receivers Jamaal Allen and Kameron McDougald. Wooten has thrown for 1,062 yards and seven touchdowns. Allen and McDougald have combined to catch 36 passes for eight touchdowns. Allen also has a touchdown pass to his credit.
Attacking holes in Plymouth's 3-3-5 defensive scheme and avoiding third-and-long situations is key to Princeton's success.
"They have a lot of speed and they are pretty physical up front," Minor said. "They have a big nose guard so we'll have to make sure we are blocking him. Our key is we are catching the balls that early in the season we dropped. In the running game we are executing with blocks that we missed early in the season and our quarterback is stepping up and making throws."
As the season has worn on, Minor has watched his team bursting at the seams with underclassmen maturing with each passing week. Players in key positions who were members of the junior varsity team a year ago have learned to make better decisions while gaining more confidence in themselves and one another. As the Bulldogs hit the road for the fourth consecutive week against that experience and confidence could prove to be valuable against a heavy favorite in the Vikings.
"You can't take away from game experience," Minor said. "You can practice all you want, but in a game to be able call an audible with one word and to have everyone know what we are going to do is huge.
"In a lot of those situations early in the season we would have to call a timeout. A lot of these guys were playing JV last year so you can't replace that game experience."
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