Even though the Princeton High football team trailed WW/P-S 27-7 last Friday night with a few minutes remaining in the game, Liam Helstrom wasn’t about to throw in the towel.
With PHS senior star Helstrom making some key receptions, including a 5-yard touchdown catch with 54.5 seconds left, the Little Tigers made it a 27-14 final.
“That just shows, as coach [Charlie Gallagher] says, the kind of team that we are,” said Helstrom, who made a total of seven catches for 71 yards on the evening in the defeat which left PHS at 0-3.
“We weren’t going to win the game but I am not out there to slack off and put my head down. I am out there to play football; it is my senior year.”
Entering the evening, PHS believed it could play a good game against WW/P-S.
“We came out thinking we were going to win the game,” said Helstrom. “South was 0-2, we were 0-2. We had a good thing going, we thought we could beat them from watching film. A couple of plays didn’t go our way at the beginning.”
In the early stages of the contest, the Little Tigers made some big plays as the game was knotted at 7-7 after one quarter with PHS scoring on a Sam Smallzman quarterback sneak after falling behind 7-0.
In the second quarter, PHS got outscored 13-0 to trail 20-7 at halftime. In the third quarter, the Little Tigers had a 15-play drive but got nothing to show for it. WW/P-S scored a touchdown with 4:24 left in the fourth to go up 27-7 before PHS went its late drive to close out the scoring for the evening.
While PHS was fighting an uphill battle for most of the contest, Helstrom enjoyed the struggle.
“I had fun the whole game,” said Helstrom. “Even when I am down, I am still busting hard. I didn’t want these kids to think that they could just stroll in on us and just roll through their homecoming. I was just going to pop them every once in a while.”
Having played tight end last season, Helstrom is having fun as he has switched to wide receiver.
“Playing tight end taught me a lot about using my hands, plus going into the weight room and thinking about going up against these big 250-pound guys, I had to lift a lot more,” said the 6’2, 185-pound Helstrom, who bench presses 285 pounds.
“Now I am out here against 150-pound kids running track. I have what they call deceptive speed.”
Helstrom also utilizes his power and speed on defense as he starts at linebacker after previously playing at defensive end.
“They moved me to linebacker,” said Helstrom, who had 11 tackles and 2 forced fumbles in the WW/P-S game.
“I always thought of myself as more of a defensive end. It’s good for the power that they got going. So there are holes and cutback lanes that I find. Sam [Smallzman] is telling me what to do; he is a real good linebacker.”
PHS first-year head coach Gallagher saw good effort from his players against WW/P-S.
“We have got a lot of fight; I think that is our motto right now,” said Gallagher.
We play good football from the beginning to the end. We are a little thin on numbers and everybody is going both ways. We got players playing with banged up knees and one got knocked in the head tonight and is possibly concussed.”
Gallagher acknowledged that PHS took a hit when Will Harrison broke his collarbone against Hightstown on September 20.
“We only have three seniors right now,” said Gallagher. “We have one senior, Will Harrison, who is out for the season. He is our star running back, free safety, punt returner, kick returner, PAT holder. We had to step up; we did a nice job with that. He’ll be missed all year. He has been with this program for four years and it is just heartbreaking.”
The Little Tigers are depending on Helstrom together with junior Smallzman, junior Colin Buckley, and sophomore Rory Helstrom, Liam’s younger brother, to show a lot of heart.
“Liam is a great football player, he loves playing football,” asserted Gallagher.
“Sam Smallzman loves playing football, Rory Helstrom loves playing football and so does Colin Buckley. Some of those guys are standout guys and other coaches come up to me and say we have got to be worried about this guy and we got be worried about that guy. It is flattering for those guys.”
Gallagher loved seeing his team drive for the late touchdown against the Pirates.
“We want to score points and the bottom line is that the kids didn’t want to come out of the game, they wanted to punch it in,” said Gallagher.
“Liam and Sam haven’t connected in the end zone yet so that was big for them. They wanted to get that touchdown. That was Sam’s first touchdown throw of the year. He has thrown his share of picks and we talked about reducing that. I think he had just one pick and he had the touchdown so that is not a bad day from Sam.”
PHS will be looking to have a big day as it plays at Hamilton on October 5. “We’ll be taking a trip to Hamilton so we will be on the road for the seventh week in a row,” said Gallagher.
“It is two 0-3 teams and somebody is going to get a win. It is a second opportunity for us; we played a 0-2 team today. Unfortunately we came out on the losing end. I know that coach Tom Hoglen has a good program, a good staff and good
players and hopefully we’ll give them another battle.”
Helstrom, for his part, is ready to keep fighting. “We are not going to put our heads down,” said Helstrom.
“We are going to bust up Hamilton West as much as we can and even if comes down to two minutes to go and we are down by two touchdowns, we are still going to bust our butts.”