(Photo by Bill Allen/NJ SportAction)
FRANK RESPONSE: Princeton High senior tight end Frank Giacalone, right, stiff-arms a Ewing player last Saturday in PHS' 24-18 loss in the season opener for both teams. Giacalone and the Little Tigers will look to get into the win column when they play at Lawrence this Saturday.end
PHS Football Hits the Rollercoaster In Dropping 24-18 Thriller to Ewing
By Bill Alden
Steve Everette jokes that he isn’t a fan of amusement parks, saying that the crowds are terrible and the rides just give him headaches.
The Princeton High football head coach made those claims as his head was still spinning after the rollercoaster ride his youthful team produced in dropping a 24-18 thriller to Ewing last Saturday.
PHS gained an early edge in the season opener for both clubs as junior running back Alexz Henriques broke free for a 58-yard touchdown gallop midway through the first quarter.
The Little Tigers built their lead to 10-0 early in the third quarter on a 34-yard field goal by Douglas Borchert.
Then Tiger miscues helped Ewing seize the momentum. Two fumbles by Henriques resulted in touchdowns for the Blue Devils who took a 12-10 lead in the first minute of the fourth quarter.
Ewing built its lead to 18-10 when PHS quarterback Johnny Mitko lost the ball near the end zone and Javia Tucker rumbled in for a touchdown.
Making his first-ever start at quarterback, Mitko bounced back and led the Little Tigers on an eight-play, 83-yard scoring march.
Mitko took off on a 31-yard scamper to put PHS in Ewing territory and then capped the drive with a nine-yard scoring strike to junior Tyler Moni with 3:15 remaining in regulation. Going for a two-point conversion and the tie, Mitko found Moni in the corner of the end zone to knot the game at 18-18.
PHS’ stout defense then held the Blue Devils to three downs and out. Moni made another big play as he produced a dazzling 43-yard punt return to put PHS at the Ewing 17.
With 7 seconds left, Katy Paxton lined up for a 29-yard field goal attempt. The Blue Devils, though, created the last twist in Saturday’s wild ride as they blocked Paxton’s kick. With both teams assuming that the game was headed into overtime, linebacker Tiray Silvas scooped up the loose ball and sprinted 85 yards for the winning score.
Everette argued that a whistle had blown but the officials disagreed and the players hastily lined up and shook hands as everybody tried to catch their breath.
After consoling his charges, Everette acknowledged that inexperience resulted in Saturday’s topsy-turvy performance.
"That’s what happens when you’re young," said Everette. "I told you guys that our defense is pretty good. I don’t think they really did anything to us defensively. Offensively we turned over the ball and they got points. You can’t do that."
While Everette may have been disappointed by his team’s execution, he had no qualms about its character.
"We got a little bit tired in the third quarter," said Everette. "We made some mistakes but we showed our resilience. We were able to get back into that thing. We made a heckuva comeback in the fourth quarter."
One of the more resilient Little Tigers was the diminutive 5’7 Mitko, who faces the challenge of filling the shoes of graduated star Vinny Giacalone.
"He’s a tough kid,” said Everette of Mitko, who passed for 101 yards and rushed for 33 in his debut.
"I said it all summer, what we lost in height with Vinny we make up in athleticism. John has guts. That was a great drive by a first-year quarterback."
PHS has another superb athlete in Moni, the top scorer for the PHS lacrosse team this past spring. "It’s Moni’s time, it’s money-time," said Everette with a chuckle. "It was a great throw on the TD and he made a great catch."
Although last Saturday’s rollercoaster ride may have left him with a touch of a headache, Everette believes his team is headed in the right direction.
"What can I be upset about," proclaimed Everette, whose team plays at Lawrence on September 17. "We were down by a score in the fourth quarter and we tied it up. Three years ago, we lost 35-7 to this team. We can’t turn the ball over and when we have an opportunity to make a play we have to capitalize. I’ve got nothing but optimism."