(Photo by Bill Allen/NJ SportAction)
In the fall of 2002, the Princeton High school football team was hardly a breeding ground for all-star players.
The program won just one game that season, marking their first on-field victory since the 2000 campaign.
But with a determined group of freshman utilizing its spirit and talent to give the program a jolt, things started to turn around.
In 2003, the Little Tigers doubled their win total and a year later they gained respectability by going 5-5.
The PHS Class of 2006, though, saved its best for last as it posted a 6-4 record, coming within one win of making the state tournament, a feat PHS hasn't accomplished since the mid-1990s.
Across town, the Princeton Day School football team wasn't turning out blue chip players either. The Panthers suffered through a combined 3-13 record in the 2002 and 2003 seasons.
But with its Class of 2006 staying the course, PDS turned the corner, going 4-4 in 2004 and then posting a sparkling 7-1 mark last fall to match a program record for wins.
Reflecting the reversal of fortunes in the two programs, players from PHS and PDS were all over the field last Thursday at the 10th Annual Sunshine Football Classic all-star game
The East team boasted five stars from PHS with Marc Andre, Ben Guervil, Adam Brunner, Frank Giacalone, and Huguens Jean making the squad. Two Panther stars, Alex Kowalski and David Blitzer, were chosen for the West team
Showing their skills one last time in high school competition, the Princeton-area players played a major role as the game unfolded at The College of New Jersey stadium.
Midway through the first quarter, Andre showed his aggressiveness and athleticism as he scooped up a fumble from his defensive end spot and raced 37 yards down the sideline to help put the East ahead 7-0.
Late in the second quarter, the West answered back as the stocky Kowalski bulled through the line to score on a seven-yard touchdown gallop to narrow the margin to 7-6. The West went ahead in the waning moments of the second quarter on an 11-yard scoring strike from Notre Dame's Dan Moyer to Tyrone Prewitt of Trenton Central.
In the second half, Blitzer dominated the action from his linebacker spot, going sideline to sideline to help the West hold the East at bay. In the end, the West held on on to its 13-7 edge as the game was halted due to lightning with 3:05 remaining in the fourth quarter.
With the cloudburst in full swing, the Princeton area players were recognized for their outstanding performances as Andre was named the Outstanding Lineman for the East and Blitzer earned the Outstanding Lineman award for the West.
Afterward, a beaming Blitzer wasn't surprised that the West had prevailed. "It was great to be out there, we said before the game that the West was going to be the best team on the field," said Blitzer, who is headed to Williams College this fall where he plans to play football and lacrosse. "We had really come together; we knew going into it that we were going to dominate and we did. They got that one score on a lucky fumble."
Kowalski, for his part, said his scoring play was emblematic of the team's solid offense. "I think offensively we just had fun; there was a love of the game," said the Carnegie-Mellon bound Kowalski, who noted that having PDS head coach Bruce Devlin coordinating the West offense helped his comfort level. "That touchdown made the game for me. I had such a good line in front of me; the blocking was so good especially on that play."
Blitzer was proud to be cited as his team's outstanding lineman. "It means the world to me; especially on a team like this," asserted Blitzer. "The team around me is so good. These guys are great players; it showed on the field because everybody gave all they had."
And by giving it all they had, the graduating seniors from PDS as well as PHS helped their programs claw their way back to respectability.
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