By Joe Phillips
For the Johnstonian News
GOLDSBORO — The Bulldogs from Princeton High paid a visit to the Rosewood Eagles Friday night looking to complete an undefeated regular season and lock up the Carolina 1A Conference crown. They accomplished both of these goals with a 52-28 win on the Eagles’ home turf.
The Bulldogs’ undefeated season is the first in school history. Princeton won a share of the conference title in 2016, sharing it with North Duplin and Lakewood, but this year’s is the first outright conference crown for the ‘Dogs in 35 years.
The Eagles won the coin toss but elected to defer, giving the Bulldogs’ potent offense the ball first. Princeton marched 67 yards in 15 plays for the opening drive score. Lamar Wilkins reached the end zone on a 4-yard touchdown run that gave the Bulldogs a 6-0 lead at the 5:16 mark after a failed PAT attempt.
The Eagles wasted no time answering the Princeton score. After the kickoff gave Rosewood the ball on the 44 yard line, Michael Reid gashed the Bulldogs defense on the Eagles’ first offensive play for a 56-yard scoring run. After kicker Logan Price added the PAT, the Eagles had a 7-6 lead with 5:03 to play in the first.
The Bulldogs’ second drive started at the 20-yard line after a touchback on Price’s kickoff. The Princeton drive stalled at the 35-yard line after five plays and the Bulldogs were forced to punt.
Rosewood started their drive at the 24-yard line after the Bulldogs’ punt. Three plays later, Reid found paydirt again on a 16-yard scamper. Price again added the PAT and the Eagles took a 14-6 lead with 1:27 remaining in the first quarter.
The next possession for the Bulldogs was a seven-play, 70-yard drive that culminated with a 15-yard John Lockamy touchdown. After a failed two-point conversion attempt, the Bulldogs trailed 14-12 with 10:43 left in the half.
Princeton managed to steal an extra first-half possession with a well-executed onside kick recovered by Deviyah Simmons. The Bulldogs capitalized with a 10-play, 54-yard drive capped by Lockamy’s second TD from 5 yards out. Another failed two-point attempt left the ‘Dogs with a 4-point lead with 5:46 remaining in the half.
The Bulldog advantage proved to be shortlived. Rosewood answered with a seven-play, 50-yard drive and an 11-yard touchdown run by Reid to regain the lead. After the PAT by Price, the Eagles had a 21-18 advantage with 2:54 to go in the half.
Princeton had an answer of its own, however. Wilkins found wideout Trey Roa on a 39-yard TD pass on the second play of the Bulldogs’ next drive. A failed PAT gave Princeton a 24-21 lead.
A Garrett Klein interception ended a promising Eagle drive on Rosewood’s next possession and allowed the Bulldogs to hang onto their lead headed into the half.
Rosewood opened the second half scoring when Reid broke loose on a 44-yard romp for his fourth touchdown of the night. Price added the PAT once again and the Eagles were back on top 28-24 less than two minutes into the 2nd half.
The Bulldogs answered once again with a 63-yard drive to retake the lead on a Wilkins 3-yard plunge. Yet another failed conversion left Princeton with a slim 30-28 lead at the 7:11 mark in the third quarter.
Princeton’s defense forced a three-and-out on Rosewood’s next possession, then proceeded to rip off a six-play, 65-yard drive to add to its lead. A 5-yard touchdown run by Tyler Whitley and the subsequent 2-point conversion by Lockamy gave the Bulldogs a 38-28 lead with 2:31 to play in the third.
Rosewood’s next possession was another promising one. The Eagles moved the ball 53 yards in 10 plays, but the drive ran out of steam on the 10-yard line. An unsuccessful 20-yard field goal attempt by the Eagles returned possession to the Bulldogs.
The fourth quarter belonged entirely to the Bulldogs. Princeton’s defense forced the Eagles offense to turn the ball over on downs on both of Rosewood’s fourth-quarter possessions. The Bulldogs, meanwhile, capitalized on both of their fourth-quarter possessions with scoring drives of 80 and 49 yards. Both drives ended identically with Wilkins 40-yard touchdown runs. Whitley added a two-point conversion to push the score to 52-28 in favor of the Bulldogs.
The Princeton-Rosewood series dates back to 1971. Although the Eagles hold the all-time advantage at 39-18, this year’s victory by the Bulldogs is the seventh consecutive Princeton win in the series.
The Bulldogs and Eagles are both idle this week ahead of the NCHSAA playoffs, which begin Nov. 16.