November 21, 2018

PHS Football Breaks Through with 2 Wins, Laying Foundation for Future Success

CARRYING THE LOAD: Princeton High football player Jaylen Johnson fights to gain yardage in a game this fall. Senior running back, defensive lineman Johnson starred on both sides of the ball for PHS as it went 2-7 this fall. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

By Bill Alden

Bringing an 18-game losing steak into the 2018 season, the Princeton High football team was hungry to taste victory this fall.

In game four, PHS broke through, edging Cherry Hill East 21-14 on September 29 to break the 21-game skid. Two weeks later, the Little Tigers enjoyed a second victory as they rallied to edge West Windsor-Plainsboro 22-19 on October 12.

“Coming off of last season, not winning any games, there were so many question marks,” said PHS head coach Charlie Gallagher.

“With the two wins, we can look back on those and say they were really competitive games. When we were in competitive games, we won those games. The idea is that when the going gets tough, the tough get going. I think that is really important.”

The Little Tigers endured a tough final stretch to the season, falling 49-6 to Hopewell Valley and 55-0 to Delran to wrap up regular season play before losing 50-0 to Colts Neck in an NJSIAA crossover consolation contest.

“I don’t think that anybody hung their heads, which was really nice,” said Gallagher, reflecting on the last three weeks of the season.

“When we played Colts Neck, they were 2-6 and we were 2-6. The thought for us was that we were going into a competitive game. That is how the coaches looked at it. We were motivated to play. It was a hard-fought game. We got some young players in so we can see what they can do and we have that on film.”

Gallagher was proud of how his seniors fought to the end. “We had a really solid senior class,” said Gallagher, whose senior group included Evan Angelucci, Doug Avis, Ryan Benattar, Connor Coffee, Stephen Hennessy, Jaylen Johnson, Caleb Kirby, Tyler Komis, Kevin Linko, Drew Staples, and Tommy Tenzlinger. “There were a lot of positive things that come out of it. I think those guys left a nice little legacy.”

Hennessy starred as a running back and defensive back, making a positive impact this fall. “He did a great job on both sides of the ball,” said Gallagher.

“He had a lot of plays in the backfield in coverage. He had a couple of big interceptions in the West Windsor game. He was in the right spot at the right time and that is a real credit to him and how hard he worked and how passionate he was about finishing off a season to get some wins.”

Another senior, Tenzlinger, showed a lot of passion in the trenches, returning to action after being derailed by injury in 2017.

“I don’t know if Tommy came off the football field for even one play over the last four or five games,” said Gallagher.

“He is our snapper on special teams, he played linebacker and left tackle for us. He just did a stalwart’s job; he was Mr. Dependable, which was awesome. Last year he suffered a season ending injury in the Ewing game. When a guy gets hurt, you wonder what is going to happen the following year. He was all in. He worked really hard in the offseason; he was in the weight room all the time.”

Wide receiver Komis didn’t get a lot of passes thrown his way, but he came up with the biggest reception of the season, diving to snag the ball and come up with a 26-yard gain when PHS faced a third down and 11 at its 28 in the game-winning drive against Cherry Hill East.

“It was a defining play for our season; who knows what happens if that play doesn’t happen,” said Gallagher. “Maybe we don’t win the game and the kids are dejected and we come out flat against West Windsor and we don’t get a win.”

In Gallagher’s view, the team’s future is bright with the kids who are returning.

“We had five juniors on the team this year and all five of those guys were major contributors to our program,” said Gallagher, whose rising seniors are Judd Petrone, Jay Jackson, Stephen Avis, Alexis Thomas and Frederik Otte.

“Those are five really good football players for us. It is a tight-knit group, they have a lot of experience. We will have a nice junior class. We are probably going to be close to 20 juniors so uppperclassmen-wise, I think we are in great shape. We had a good freshmen group, we had some ballplayers in there. Jaxon Petrone played a whole game at QB. They want to be successful and bring more wins to the program.”

Coming through with the pair of victories this fall should help draw more ballplayers.

“You get two wins at home and we had big crowds at those games,” said Gallagher.

“So young people thinking about playing football who were at those games will hopefully think ‘I want to be part of that. I don’t want to be up in the stands; I want to be down on the field, making things happen.’”