Utilizing a Total Team Effort, Clutch Plays, PHS Football Edges Palmyra for First Win
By Bill Alden
Time was running out on the Princeton High football team in its quest to get its first win this season.
Having lost its first eight games and trailing Palmyra 21-17 late in the fourth quarter last Saturday with the Panthers in possession of the ball, things looked bleak for PHS.
But then lightning struck as Tiger linebacker Jack Callahan forced a fumble and Joe George scooped up the ball and raced 40 yards to the Palmyra three-yard line.
Two plays later, PHS sophomore quarterback Travis Petrone scored on a one-yard plunge to give the Tigers a 23-21 lead. The Tiger defense then held the fort, stopping Palmyra in downs to seal the deal and finally earn a triumph.
“We had great individual efforts from a lot of guys,” said PHS head coach Charlie Gallagher. “It looks like just a really great team win when you add them all up.”
Gallagher knew his squad needed to make a big effort to contain Palmyra star running back Kwinten Ives.
“We knew that they had this really super talented player in Kwinten Ives,” said Gallagher. “My message to them this week was that we know that this guy is going to get his yards and TDs. We are going to try to contain him and barrel him up. We just need more of our guys to make their plays. Let him do it, but we can’t let anybody else. We have to make up for this one player with five or six of our guys, and you guys have to step up.”
PHS stepped up early, cashing in on two Palmyra mistakes to jump out to a 10-0 lead. After the Panthers didn’t execute a punt, PHS took over at the Palmyra 10-yard line. The Tigers got a 22-yard field goal by Sean Wilton. Later in the quarter, PHS recovered a fumble at the Panthers 26 and Tyler Goldberg ended up scoring on a six-yard touchdown run.
“We had fourth and goal, we were at their six or seven yard line,” said Gallagher, reflecting in the decision to go for the field goal. “It was ‘hey let’s just got for it’ and I call a timeout and I said, ‘let me rethink this one. Let’s just get three points and get on the board.’ We knew that this guy Ives was explosive and he could break one off at any time, but it would also just feel good to get three on the board. They had another miscue and we were able to cash it in and the field goal looks real good. It was 10-0 so we were feeling really good.”
Palmyra responded with a 20-yard touchdown run by Ives to narrow the gap to 10-7. PHS regained its 10-point lead when junior Evan Pease scored on a 12-yard jaunt.
Gallagher pointed to the PHS running game as a key to its solid start against the Panthers.
“Tyler hasn’t broken the 100-yard barrier and he didn’t on Saturday, but he got 89,” said Gallagher. “It was without a doubt his best overall effort and it really translates well to the offensive line. The offensive line did a great job. Between West Windsor (a 25-7 loss on October 14) and the culmination of the week here, the kids really put it on themselves. Guys like Callahan, Jake Richter, Isaiah Nazario, Jake Angelucci, and Wilton, they all just did a great job. We got good tight end play from Risshabh Bhardwaj. I am very excited.”
In the topsy-turvy contest, Palmyra made exciting plays to forge ahead as they got a 50-yard interception return for a TD to narrow the PHS lead to 17-13 and then Ives got loose for a 74-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter to put the Panthers up 21-17.
With the Tigers trading late in the contest, Gallagher was getting an uncomfortable sense of déjà vu.
“We played Haddon, they are a good football team and we played them very close (a 34-27 loss on September 10),” said Gallagher. “Holy Cross was a really close game (a 22-14 loss on October 1). Bishop Eustace was within reach (a 23-6 loss on September 23). They were all like two or one score games. So here we are with five minutes left. I was concerned.”
That concern turned to joy as PHS came through in crunch time.
“They had a bad snap and then QB took it upon himself to run the ball and Callahan had a great strip on the ball,” recalled Gallagher.
“We always talk about trying to get that scoop and score. Joe scooped that up and took it all the way down to the three yard line.”
It was fitting that senior Callahan made the big play in his final home regular season game.
“It was Senior Day, I wished we could have had more wins for them,” said Gallagher. “It is a good group of six guys. Only four of those guys have played all four years — Jack [Callahan], Ryan [Friedman], Isaiah [Nazario], and Risshabh [Bhardwaj]. Drew [Pianka] was here his sophomore year for us and Jake was a pleasant surprise when he came in last year.”
The team’s core of freshman and sophomores savored the win.
“We have got a lot of young guys, they were all feeling good,” said Gallagher. “You could tell in the postgame speeches, there were a lot of kids wearing their emotions on their sleeves which is good. Football is an emotional game, no doubt about that. I have been known to get a little emotional in those team huddles as well. It was great for those young guys, it was great for the seniors.”
Seeing his squad break through with the triumph was a great feeling for Gallagher.
“I can’t be more happy,” said Gallagher. “It was a great team effort. There were plays from the freshmen, sophomores, juniors, and seniors.”