The Princeton Tigers fought back from a 10-point fourth-quarter deficit Friday night and held on in the final seconds to hang a loss on county rival Bluefield, 32-29, before a capacity crowd at Anne S. Hunnicutt Stadium.
Princeton (2-0) running back Tahj Sho-Johnson followed up his 147-yard performance last week by gaining 199 yards on 31 carries.
Bluefield (1-1) quarterback R.J. Bourne surprised the Tigers defense with 96 rushing yards on nine attempts.
But his final rush, from the Princeton 1 yard line, was stuffed by the Tigers defense, setting off a wild celebration from the home fans.
The Beavers surged 80 yards on their opening series and claimed the lead when D.J. Stewart dashed 27 yards on a misdirection play.
Princeton answered with an 11-play drive ending with Jordan Jones cutting upfield with a pitch play. Sho-Johnson's kick was wide right, however, and Bluefield added to its lead in the last minute of the quarter on a weaving run to the goal line by Stewart.
After the Beavers were called for roughing the passer, Princeton quarterback Jay Palmer kept the ball on a run up the middle, but fumbled it and Bluefield's D.J. Sims recovered. A scuffle broke out at the end of the play and five penalty flags flew.
The result was four offsetting penalties and Bluefield took over the ball – temporarily. Jones pulled off an interception and ran it back 44 yards. A penalty for a horsecollar tackle advanced the ball to the Bluefield 19. Palmer then arced a rainbow pass to 6-foot-5 senior receiver Zen Clements on the back line of the end zone. He got his toes down, and Sho-Johnson's kick brought Princeton within a point at 14-13.
With 3:49 left in the half, Bluefield came up short on a fourth-down play, with Nick Wood making a saving stop. Sho-Johnson then rushed the ball twice, for 11 yards and for an electrifying 68-yard burst, and the Tigers led 19-14. The point-after kick again failed.
That lead did not last. The Beavers marched 65 yards in nine plays. D.J. Edwards ran the final 5 yards to the end zone, diving in and crossing the plane just before losing the football. Stewart ran a two-point conversion in and the visitors led 22-19 at the half.
Princeton took the second half kickoff and held the ball for more than 10 minutes, but had no points to show for it. Bluefield senior Cody Gore, a stalwart on the line all night, stopped Sho-Johnson on a fourth-down play to give the Beavers the ball back. Bourne immediately took charge, scrambling for 55 yards and completing a pair of passes. On the second play of the fourth quarter, he ran behind his right guard for a 2-yard touchdown. The point-after kick by Francisco Desiderio increased Bluefield's lead to 29-19 with 11:32 left. Palmer again found Clements open, this time on the right side of the Bluefield secondary, for a 27-yard touchdown pass to bring Princeton within four. Corey Coppola stopped the point-after run attempt.
Sho-Johnson intercepted Bourne to end the Beavers' next drive, which had been hampered by two false start penalties.
The Tigers then drove for the winning touchdown, using a dozen plays and taking more than five minutes off the clock.
With 1:30 left, Princeton called time and Sho-Johnson bulled over from one yard out on the next play. He added the extra point kick for a 3-point lead.
The Beavers did not go quietly. Bourne lofted a pass to Edwards for 23 yards, and on the next play Justin Carter's halfback pass landed in the hands of Brandon Lilly near the sideline to put the ball on the Princeton 7.
With time running out, Bourne tried a dive play from the Princeton 1 and came up short. Bluefield attempted to line up for a last play, and just before the scoreboard clock went to zero, the officials called time, drawing a roar of disapproval from the Princeton fans and coaches.
After talking to coaches for both sidelines, the officials announced a delay of game penalty on Princeton for kicking the ball in the end zone after the previous play. The ball was placed half a yard from the goal line, and three seconds were put back on the game clock. With emotions running high, Bourne's sneak was met by a tide of Princeton defenders and the game was over – Princeton's second win in three years over their county rivals.
“Bluefield, they gave us everything they had,” said 335-pound Princeton senior lineman Aaron Taylor. “We just had a little bit more. We've been working hard this off-season, and we just put it to them, man.”
“That goal-line stand was just awesome!”
Princeton head coach Randy Peek said, “Our kids showed a lot of character.” He said Princeton's off-season workouts “showed tonight. The kids were in shape. They got after it. Bluefield was hanging in there, too, but our kids, I think, wanted it a little more.”
Peek added, “Somebody's watching over us tonight.”
Bluefield head coach Fred Simon said, “Our kids played hard. We made some mistakes that hurt us a little bit, and we'll learn from it. But daggone it, we played hard and never quit, and that's all I can ask from them. And we'll move on.” Princeton travels to Capital High in Charleston next Friday night for their first road game, a Mountain State Athletic Conference contest.
The Beavers will be off next Friday and will host Gate City on Sept. 20 at 7:30 p.m.
— Contact Tom Bone at email@example.com
At Anne S. Hunnicutt Stadium
Bluefield......................................14 8 0 7 – 29
Princeton.....................................6 13 0 13 – 32
Blfd – D.J. Stewart 27 run (Francesco Desiderio kick), 7:56
Pctn – Jordan Jones 4 run (kick failed), 1:47
Blfd – Stewart 18 run (Desiderio kick), 0:38.3
Pctn – Zen Clements 19 pass from Jay Palmer (Tahj Sho-Johnson kick), 9:35
Pctn – Sho-Johnson 68 run (kick failed), 3:22
Blfd – D.J. Edwards 6 run (Stewart run), 0:11.4
Blfd – R.J. Bourne 2 run (Desiderio kick), 11:32
Pctn – Clements 27 pass from Palmer (run failed), 7:52
Pctn – Sho-Johnson 1 run (Sho-Johnson kick), 1:26
RUSHING — Blfd, D.J. Edwards 13-71, D.J. Stewart 14-72, Corey Coppola 9-77, R.J. Bourne 8-96, Team 1-0. Pctn, Tahj Sho-Johnson 31-199, Jay Palmer 16-46, Aaron Saunders 2-8, Jordan Jones 3-21, Devin Allen 4-18.
PASSING — Blfd, Bourne 4-9-54 yards-0 TD-2 intc.; Justin Carter 1-1-23-0-0. Pctn, Palmer 4-6-63-2-0.
RECEIVING — Blfd, D.J. Stewart 2-1, Justin Carter 1-30, D.J. Edwards 1-23. Pctn, Zen Clements 2-46, Devin Allen 1-8, Kirkland Perdue 1-9.