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Brooks’ kickoff return rescues Princeton against Granville Central

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After Granville Central senior running back Jed Evans dove into the endzone at the end of a 44-yard run to tie the game and eventually take a 24-22 lead on a two-point conversion, Princeton head coach Travis Gaster said he told his team not to panic. With 2:07 left to play, his team had two timeouts and plenty of time for one last drive.

“We were just going to try to run our offense,” said Gaster, breaking down his gameplan before a huge play gave his team the 28-24 victory.

Gaster admitted after the game, with the sight of the oblong ball rolling in the wrong direction and the Panther kickoff team approaching, he had panic written all over his face — despite what he had just told his team. The chance to even march down the field no longer looked like a given.

But then Brooks scooped up the ball at the 9-yard line, maneuvered to the left and waited for a few blocks to develop. He took off down the sideline, escaping a host of would-be tacklers for a 91-yard touchdown while his teammates out of bounds, jumped up and down or took off with him on his first-ever kickoff return for a touchdown in a game. 

Brooks said in that moment, he was thinking of everyone but himself.

“I was like, I’ve got to do this for our seniors,” Brooks, a sophomore, said. “It’s their last year, they can’t go back and regret anything, so I had to do it for my seniors.”

After the second half the team played, the Bulldogs were happy the game hadn’t fallen out of reach. Headed into a bye week, Princeton is 2-0 early after a come-from-behind victory on Thursday night and a trouncing of Pamlico County in the season opener.

On the game’s first drive, the Bulldogs fumbled after just four plays. When Granville Central took over and lined up for its first offensive play, the defense left a tight end unguarded and Evans ran for a 72-yard, gut-punching score to go up 8-0.

“It caught us off guard,” Gaster said.

Princeton then responded with a Brooks rushing touchdown from 12 yards out to punctuate a seven-play, 66-yard drive to tie it up, forced the Panthers to punt and started driving again.

After a slow, methodical 11-play rushing attack, Bear Earp ran it in from six yards out for the score. With four minutes to go until the half, Granville Central quarterback Brady Smith connected with Evans from 19 yards away to take a 16-14 lead at the half.

But when play resumed, the Bulldog defense did not give up a score like they had in each of the previous two quarters. 

Princeton forced Granville Central into three straight punts in the third quarter, giving up just 16 yards of offense during that stretch to offset the Bulldogs own offensive woes with an interception and turning it over on downs twice.

“I don’t what what it is about us, but we always come out (strong) in the second half and I guess is is one of those games that showed it,” defensive back Harley Bartholomew said. 

Gaster was also pleased with how the defense was flying around all night, giving up 151 yards of offense after that big first play and adding two sacks. 

“Our defense was huge all night long,” Gaster said. “I thought they played great.”

The first touchdown of the half came in the fourth quarter, when Bartholomew trucked the only defender who stood in his way for the 10-yard score.

“All I saw was just one guy in my way and I knew I had to get that touchdown, so I just put my head down and drove,” Bartholomew explained. “As soon as I felt that pop, I knew I had him because I started falling back and it just felt great.”

Bartholomew’s score briefly took the lead with about seven minutes left to play before Evans’ long touchdown knocked the wind out of the home team; then it came right back with Brooks big play. It was an unconventional way for the game to end, and far from the one Princeton expected, but it’s perfectly content with that being the way it heads into a bye week the first week of September.

“I’ll take a kick return any day,” Gaster said.

Injuries hamper North Johnston against Rosewood

GOLDSBORO — After being outscored 12-0 in the first quarter, the North Johnston High varsity football team could not keep up with the offensive pace of Rosewood and was defeated 46-24 on the road Thursday night.

“They have a phenomenal offensive line and they have a great coach,” head coach Michael Barnett said of Rosewood.

The Eagles (1-1) of the 1-A Carolina Conference scored two rushing touchdowns, but punctuated the bulk of their scores through the air with four passing TDs.

The 2-A Eastern Plains Conference Panthers (0-2) have already been hampered with injuries this season. Junior Garrett Brown started in place of the usual signal caller, senior Camden Aycock, and threw two touchdowns before going out with an injury in the third quarter.

After junior Nate Clifton returned a kickoff for a 75-yard touchdown to give his team its first score, Brown connected with senior Carsse Lucas in the second quarter for a 25-yard score. Brown threw one more touchdown to Justin Vann, another senior, from 15 yards out before being knocked out of the game.

Freshman Carter Aycock played quarterback for most of the second half. Another quarterback, up from the junior varsity, was expected to play, but broke his shoulder the night before.

Senior Alton Pratt scored a rushing touchdown in the fourth quarter to lessen the deficit, but by then the Panthers were already down by more than 20 points.

On the other side of the ball, Barnett said the defense also had a number of injuries.

“We got beat up tonight,” Barnett said. “Our last three or four series of defense, we were working with a makeshift defense.”

In hopes that his team can get healthier in the coming weeks, North Johnston will play Warsaw James Kenan on Friday at home. 

Pirates comeback against West Johnston

Quarterback Matt Cozart threw for 180 yards and a committee of ballcarriers ran for 273 yards as the Corinth Holders football team rallied from a rough first half to beat 3-A Greater Neuse River Conference foe West Johnston 31-14 on Aug. 30. Win the win, the team is now 2-0 for the first time since 2016.

“It feels good,” head coach Adam Khavari said. “It has been a long time since Corinth has been 2-0. More than anything, i has been rewarding for our kids who have been through a lot of bad seasons.”

The Pirates found themselves down 14-7 to the Wildcats just before halftime, but scored once before the first half ended to tie the game after what hadn’t been the team’s best half of football. 

The defense gave up a long touchdown pass and struggled to stop the run that opening half, but played much better in the second half, when the team score 17 more points, but allowed just a touchdown. 

In the win, the Pirates fumbled four times and had penalty yardage that amounted to over 100 yards. Khavari said the fumbles and penalties were due to “stuff they did to themselves” rather than the West Johnston defense punching out the balll.

But Khavari said when his team wasn’t turning the ball over, it had little trouble scoring.

Kambron Whitaker led the way for the offense, rushing for 101 yards on 13 carries. Jadyn Parker-Leslie followed behind him with 10 carries for 73 yards.

Khavari said the offense opened up in the second half due in part to the progress and solid play of a young offensive line.

“It’s still a work in progress, but that young offensive line has developed well these first two weeks,” Khavari said. “We’re happy with where they’re at right now.”

Marcus Bland Jr. also returned an interception for 75 yards, while Bland also threw a 49-yard pass to Cozart for the score.

The Pirates will play Clayton (0-2) Sept. 4 at 6:30 p.m. with the date moved up due to Hurricane Dorian.