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Princeton rushing attack rebounds against East Carteret

Bulldogs beat Mariners 62-7 in NCHSAA 1-AA first round

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PRINCETON — Princeton High did not take last week’s 1-A Carolina Conference loss to Rosewood lightly and took out its frustrations by punishing East Carteret, 62-7, in the first round of the North Carolina High School Athletic Association 1-AA football playoffs Thursday night.

For a team that has boasted a high-powered rushing attack all season, the Bulldogs had a special night against the Mariners. Princeton exploded for 581 rushing yards, scoring nine touchdowns — five with the ball carrier scoring untouched — to leave no doubt about who would advance on to the second round.

“We’ve been practicing so hard, lifting in the weight room really hard,” said senior Seth Blevins, who scored five touchdowns and ran for 231 yards on eight carries in what was a career night. “We just had to take that anger out on this next team here, and get it all out.”

The holes opened up all game were enough for every running back on the team to fit through at once, the offensive line working hard to leave plenty of room to run. 

“We made some big adjustments from last week and got back to the basics and did some really good stuff from our offensive line,” Princeton head coach Travis Gaster said.

The Bulldogs played angry from the start, wasting no time at taking a lead. After forcing the Mariners into a turnover on downs to start the game, it took just three plays before the counter left was called and Blevins scored his first touchdown from 34 yards out, running up the gut without being touched. 

“It’s a beautiful play,” freshman tackle Jake Crocker explained of the counter play that was run so successfully. “The coaches designed it up perfectly and called it at the perfect time. Our guys execute it and it works out.”

After earning a punt out of East Carteret, another counter handed from Jaydon Brooks to Blevins six plays into the second drive, this time to the right side, went for 31 yards to the end zone. 

As it turned out, Blevins’ night was just getting started.

The 5-foot-8 senior scored four of five touchdowns in the first half — Brooks had the other on a 68-yard run — and Princeton entered halftime up 35-7.

The Mariners’ lone score of the half turned out to be their only of the game. Quarterback Jacob Nelson, who later exited with an injury, threw a pass to Qualik Nolon and Nolon took it all the way down the right sideline for a 64-yard touchdown that cut the deficit to 14-7.

The rest of the way, East Carteret wouldn’t be so lucky.

The Princeton defense never let up in the second half, holding the Mariners to just seven yards of offense on three drives after a 138-yard effort in the first half.

The hard work by the defensive unit ensured the offense stayed on the field most of the night, where the Bulldogs shined.

Right out of halftime, Blevins scored his final touchdown. Then Deviyeh Simmons captured his own score and sophomore Deontae Richardson piled on two more in the final two drives of the game in relief.

“It feels good to bounce back,” Gaster said. “The kids played well and it’s good for our seniors to win on our home field.”

The win at home will likely be the last game for the Princeton seniors. The Bulldogs will travel to No. 4 North Rowan next Friday and won’t be back home unless an upset sets up one more Friday night under the lights of the Princeton football field this season. 

But the team has no plans on pulling up just yet. After breaking through a barrier the Bulldogs couldn’t quite overcome last season — the first round — the program plans to continue to drive ahead by the attitude that won it by a convincing margin on Friday night.

“We knew someone had to pay,” Crocker said. “And we knew someone had to get beat to move on.”