October 14, 2020

Valme’s Running Powers Late Rally for PHS Football As Tigers Top Bishop Eustace 18-17 in OT, Snap Skid

COMEBACK KIDS: Princeton High quarterback Jaxon Petrone (No. 8) relays the play in the huddle last Saturday as PHS hosted Bishop Eustace. The Tigers rallied from a 10-0 fourth quarter deficit to pull out a dramatic 18-17 win in overtime, snapping a 12-game losing streak. PHS, now 1-1, plays at Pitman on October 16. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

By Bill Alden

After playing for the Princeton High football program as a freshman in 2017, Richie Valme took a two-year hiatus from the sport.

Coming into this fall, Valme decide it was time to get back on the gridiron. “I came back because I wanted to help us win,” said Valme.

Last Saturday, running back/linebacker Valme did just that, playing a key role as PHS rallied from a 10-0 fourth quarter deficit against visiting Bishop Eustace to pull out a dramatic 18-17 win in overtime, snapping a 12-game losing streak. Valme rushed for 122 yards on 17 carries, including a 43-yard touchdown jaunt in the fourth quarter and a three-yard run for the game-winning two-point conversion in OT as the Tigers improved to 1-1.

Although PHS had absorbed a 42-6 loss to Robbinsville in the season opener on October 2, Valme and his teammates were confident they could get on the winning track.

“We know that we are getting better,” said Valme. “We know that the Friday game was not going to determine the game today.”

Even though Tigers trailed 10-0 with less than nine minutes left in the fourth quarter, they were not fazed.

“We remembered that we did so much hard work so we are not going to give up now,” said Valme.

Valme got things going for PHS, breaking loose for a dazzling 43-yard TD run, zig-zagging through and past the Bishop Eustace defense as PHS narrowed the gap to 10-7 with 8:17 left in regulation.

“I was just trying to score, I was just trying to finish this,” recalled Valme. “I didn’t want to lose, that is all that was on my mind.”

With 33 seconds left, Demsi Ramirez hit a 24-yard field goal to make it 10-10, capping a 35-yard scoring march and forcing overtime. Bishop Eustace got the first possession of overtime and cashed in, taking a 17-10 lead after a touchdown pass and a converted extra point.

Showing their character and resolve, the Tigers responded with a looping 23-yard touchdown pass from Jaxon Petrone to a leaping Everaldo Servil. With the game in the balance, PHS decided to go for a two-point conversion and gave the ball to Valme, who burst into the end zone to give the Tigers the 18-17 triumph.

“They said can you run it and I said yeah I can do it and I did,” said Valme, recalling the final play that clinched the program’s first win since beating West Windsor/Plainsboro 22-19 on October 12, 2018.

In reflecting on his emergence as a star performer, Valme said it came down to diligence and encouragement from the PHS coaches.

“It is hard work, I was able to get the opportunity because I was working hard,” said Valme as some of his teammates were  chanting M-V-P, M-V-P in the raucous postgame celebration.

“I want to thank coach [Charlie] Gallagher and all of the coaching staff that helped me do this.”

Gallagher, for his part, is thrilled to have Valme back. “Any time you get a 43-yard run for a touchdown, it is going to be awesome,” said Gallagher

“He is fast, he is quick. He got 122 yards today and we are real proud of that. He is doing an awesome job. He took off his sophomore and junior year and we missed him because he was a really good football player. We are just glad that he is on the team now.”

Even though the Tigers found themselves trailing 10-0 at halftime, Gallagher sensed his squad wasn’t going to fold.

“We felt like the game was 0-0; we thought we were still in it, we liked what we were doing at the time,” said Gallagher.

“We felt like we were in the game. We started running the ball very well. Our passing was way off, that was a focus when we came into the second half because we know that Jaxon is really a good quarterback. We just needed to get him into some rhythm.”

In opting for a field goal attempt in the waning moments of regulation instead of a go-ahead touchdown, Gallagher put his faith into junior Ramirez.

“I was thinking about
going for a touchdown but I said to myself, we have an opportunity if we can kick this field goal,” said Gallagher.

“Demsi has never kicked field goals before in his life, nor a PAT. He was one-for-one on the PATs and then he was one for one on the field goals so what a great opening for him.”

In OT, Gallagher feared that his team’s opportunity for a win may be slipping away when Bishop Eustace took the lead.

“Preferably I would have went on offense but because they were at the 40 with the personal foul, we figured we would push them farther back,” said Gallagher.

“Credit to those guys, they just marched right down the field, four plays and they were in the end zone. That was a little bewildering
because I know at the end of the game when we kicked that field goal, they were stunned.”

But when PHS stunned the Crusaders with the quick strike from Petrone to Servil, Gallagher decided that his team could march in for the win.

“I was hey you know what, why go any farther, it was OK let’s end the game right now,” said Gallagher.

“It was can we pick up three yards. We were very successful in the second half being able to get some yardage so what would stop us from getting three yards. We wanted to ride that momentum. It was a great throw by Jaxon and a great catch by Everaldo. We think really highly of a lot of our guys.”

Gallagher is hoping that the victory can be the impetus for more success in the coming weeks.

“With all of this craziness with the COVID, you take it week by week,” said Gallagher, whose team plays at Pitman on October 16.

“I know we have really struggled. We struggled with some numbers and stuff like that. We have some kids out here that are just doing a really great job. We had a couple of kids fall off because of the COVID thing but our numbers are actually better than I thought they would have been. We have a lot of seniors and a lot of juniors and we are going to ride them the rest of the year.”

Valme, for his part, is primed for a good ride. “This win means a lot but it is still nothing,” said Valme. “We have still got to win more. We are still hungry.”