Joe Gargione didn’t like the mood in the air as his Princeton High football team travelled to their NJSIAA consolation game at New Brunswick last Friday.
“On the bus ride to the game, the kids seemed giddy,” said PHS head coach Gargione.
“As soon as they got on the bus, they were talkative. It has been a long and tough season so I let it go. They settled down once we got there for the game.”
The Little Tigers settled into a back-and-forth contest with the Zebras as they looked to snap an eight-game losing streak.
“It was a pretty tight game; early on, both teams had turnovers,” recalled Gargione.
“We sacked their quarterback and got a fumble. Then Zack [DiGregorio] and Bobby [Wright] had a bad exchange and they got a fumble. They went ahead 6-0 and then we tied it at 6-6. They went ahead 8-6, getting a safety when they blocked a punt out of the end zone.”
The Little Tigers proceeded to end the season on a high note as they outscored New Brunswick 16-6 in the second half to pull out a 22-14 win.
“We buckled down in the second half and got two touchdowns,” said Gargione.
“Javon Pannell had a great game, he rushed for 174 yards on 30 carries with three touchdowns. We were rushing the ball early and they were doing a good job stopping it. We started opening things up in the second half. The offensive line was making some nice holes. The intensity picked up when we saw we could win.”
Getting the win in the finale was special for the PHS senior class which includes such stalwarts as Will Xu, Jamyl Williams, Alden Reyes, Grant Schaefer, Ben Smallzman, Carl Helstrom, Sam Nelson, Matt Vieten, William Harrison, Jack Persico, Christian Giles, and David Klinges in addition to Pannell, DiGregiorio, and Wright.
“It was great; we won the first game and lost the next eight so it is great to end with a win,” said Gargione.
“It is nice for our 15 seniors, it is something they will always remember. They have done a lot for the program. We are losing eight senior starters on defense and most of the offense. We are losing a lot. They all stepped up Friday night and that was great to see.”
Gargione is looking for his returning players to step up in the future. “I want the younger kids to take the fact that we can hang with these teams,” asserted Gargione. “They just need to believe in themselves and execute what we coach. We need to stay competitive in more games.”
In order to be more competitive, PHS will need to work hard on several levels.
“We need to do a better job of finding more kids to play,” said Gargione. “I also want our players to play another sport, whether it be basketball or wrestling in the winter or track or baseball in the spring. It makes you more competitive. We will start formal weightlifting in January. It was great to win that last game and go into the offseason with a taste of victory.”