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(Photo by Bill Allen/NJ SportAction)

IRON MEN: Princeton Day School sophomore running back Mike Shimkin, right, follows the lead block of Alex Kowalski in a game earlier this season. Last week, Shimkin showed his fitness as he ran for 154 yards in PDS' 34-12 win at Harvey on October 18 and then gained 156 yards four days later as the Panthers beat George School 26-18.
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PDS Football Shows Iron Man Mentality, Winning Twice in 5 Days to Move to 6-1

By Bill Alden

Bruce Devlin puts a premium on conditioning in preparing his Princeton Day School football team for action.

With a squad of less than 30 players, the daily suicide sprints and bear crawls have molded a team that by necessity has to play a lot of people on both sides of the ball.

Last week, the fitness and resourcefulness of the PDS squad was put to the ultimate test as the Panthers played two games in a five-day period.

On October 18, PDS travelled up to Harvey School in Westchester County to make up a game that had been postponed due to the torrential rain the weekend before. Then last Saturday, the Panthers played their regularly scheduled home game against the George School.

PDS passed those tests with flying colors as it routed Harvey 34-12 to clinch the program's first winning season since 1993 and then bested George 26-18 to improve to 6-1.

Panther head coach Devlin wasn't surprised that his crew of iron men handled the busy week with aplomb. "I think it worked to our advantage," asserted Devlin, who noted that the win over George gave PDS its first six-win season since 1981 when the Panthers went 7-1 campaign.

"I think it kept the kids focused. With two games in five days, there was no time to relax. The kids have been great this year; they've done everything we've asked of them. With 27-28 kids, we run like them like crazy. I can guarantee they are in the best shape of their lives."

The Panthers had to deviate from their normal schedule as they held a practice in full pads on October 15, the day the game was originally slated to be played, and then held a walk-through on the day before the contest.

PDS hit the field at Harvey looking to stick to basics with starting quarterback Clint O'Brien still sidelined with an ankle injury. "We move the football on the ground and we play great defense," said Devlin. "We ran the ball well against Harvey and ran some trick plays to open things up. Everybody played well."

Hard-running sophomore Mike Shimkin led the way for PDS, rushing for 154 yards and hitting Andrew Ojeda with a 46-yard touchdown pass. Senior Alex Kowalski bolstered the ground attack with 86 yards on 12 carries.

Four days later against George, PDS started the game looking like its busy schedule may have caught up with it as the Cougars started the game by returning the opening kick-off for an 84-yard touchdown.

But the Panthers weren't going to let that early setback deter them before a Senior Day crowd braving rainy conditions, responding with 20 unanswered points.

Ojeda starred again as he ran for a 12-yard touchdown and scored on a nine-yard scoring strike. Shimkin had another big day, rushing for 156 yards.

"The old PDS football team would've never come back; they would've gotten pounded," said Devlin. "The kids have a changed attitude."

The return of O'Brien at quarterback helped spark PDS as the talented sophomore hit on 10-of-14 passes for 108 yards and two touchdowns.

"Having Clint back was great," asserted Devlin. "At the end of the first half, we sent Shimkin on an inside slant and Clint hit him so that Mike went all the way untouched."

Now PDS has its eye on matching the 1981 team's record as it concludes its season with a game at St. Joseph's of the Palisades this Saturday night.

But no matter what happens in the finale, it has already been a memorable fall for PDS. "We have a great bunch of older kids who have really helped the team," said Devlin, who is in his third year as the head coach of the program.

"We have some younger kids who are really talented. The big question mark coming into the season was our offensive line since we had lost four of our five starters from last year. But they have been excellent and we have already rushed the ball for almost 2,000 yards."

With their focus on conditioning, it's no wonder that the Panthers have used the running game to drive them to their best season in over 20 years.


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