Neither Rosewood nor Princeton has relied on home-run plays this season, but each has experienced some explosiveness on the gridiron.
It may, or may not, happen tonight when the Carolina 1-A arch rivals meet at Branch Pope Field with the regular-season title on the line. Each team is 4-0 in league matters.
“Every year that I’ve been here when we’ve played Rosewood, it’s been an unbelievably exciting game,” Bulldogs head coach Travis Gaster said. “I wouldn’t mind not having an exciting game, but I feel this year will be no different. Everything is lined up for it to be an unbelievable atmosphere.”
And a much-anticipated test of wills between Princeton’s single-wing offense and Rosewood’s stout 3-3 stack defense.
The Dogs, led by senior back Lamarr Wilkins, average an eye-popping 484.8 yards per game. Wilkins ranks number one among area leaders in rushing yards (1,706) and touchdowns (21).
Princeton scores 46.6 points a game.
Gaster said sustained drives are crucial and expects Rosewood to tweak its defensive tactic to hopefully force some three-and-out series. The Eagles’ defensive unit has posted four shutouts and allowed just four touchdowns in the last 16 quarters of play.
“Their defense stats are incredible, especially against the rush,” Gaster said. “They won’t be able to run the 3-3 exactly like they’ve been playing because our formation dictates that they’re going to have to move a little bit. It will be interesting to see what their answer is to it and what we can combat that with on the offensive side.”
Rosewood’s coaching staff has instructed its defense to do the following: read the keys, make the game smaller in their eyes, play disciplined, stay focused and limit yards after contact. If the team starts to play wide-eyed against the Dogs’ misdirection scheme, it could drop its seventh straight game to its rival from across the county line.
“Besides all 11 guys being disciplined and focused on what their [individual] job is, the other thing we have to do is gang tackle,” Eagles head coach Robert Britt said. “All of their backs run the ball extremely hard. Once we go through our reads, if we don’t have everybody getting to the ball and securing the tackle, then there is going to be extra yards they’re going to get after contact.
“We have to eliminate that as much as possible.”
Princeton, says Gaster, faces its own defensive test.
Though Rosewood hasn’t piled up quite the offensive yardage as Princeton, it does feature a balanced attack with backfield mates Dhimani Fenty and Michael Reid, and quarterback Will Harris. Fenty and Reid have combined for nearly 1,500 yards and 23 touchdowns.
A sophomore, Harris has matured in the Eagles’ option scheme.
“Both number one (Reid) and number 22 (Fenty) are big guys who really run the ball hard,” Gaster said. “Except when you are playing them, it’s fun to watch them on film because they play the game the way it’s supposed to be played. Their receivers, they catch short passes and turn them into home runs time after time on film.”
Gaster and Britt agree that keeping possession with reasonable down-and-distance plays, managing the clock, avoiding non-effort penalties and spreading the ball around to their athletes are pivotal to each team’s success.