August 30, 2023

With Quarterback Petrone Triggering the Offense, PHS Football Tops Lawrence 20-0 in Season Opener

OPENING STATEMENT: Princeton High quarterback Travis Petrone fires a pass last Friday night as PHS played at Lawrence High in the season opener for both teams. Junior Petrone connected on 4 of 8 passes for 59 yards and a touchdown in the contest to help the Tigers prevail 20-0. PHS will look to keep on the winning track when it hosts Riverside on September 2. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

By Bill Alden

With the Princeton High football team knotted in a scoreless tie at Lawrence High midway through the second quarter last Friday night in the season opener, PHS quarterback Travis Petrone lofted a pass that wobbled towards the end zone.

As the duck fluttered down, Tiger receiver Wyatt Arshan swooped in, snatched the ball out of the air and raced in for a 41-yard touchdown to give PHS a 6-0 lead.

The Petrone to Arshan TD connection turned out to be a harbinger of things to come as the Tigers continued to seize opportunity on the way to a comprehensive 20-0 victory over the Cardinals. PHS went ahead 13-0 in the third quarter when sophomore Ellington Hinds gathered in a punt and sprinted 15 yards down the sideline for a TD. Senior running back Evan Pease put the finishing touch on the triumph, sprinting 41 yards for a score late in the fourth quarter.

It marked the first opening day win for PHS since 2014 (10-7 over Hamilton West) and the program’s first shutout since a 33-0 win over Hightstown in 2016.

Afterward, Petrone saw his TD pass as a thing of beauty, given the result.

“It wasn’t the prettiest ball but it got down there,” said a smiling Petrone, who ended up connecting on 4 of 8 passes for 59 yards and rushed for 19 yards. “He broke a few tackles and got in the end zone. It was nice to celebrate with my guys — there is nothing better than that.”

After losing 35-12 at Lawrence to start its 2022 campaign, Petrone and his teammates had last Friday circled on the calendar.

“Since June, since July, oh my gosh, we have just been tallying up the days till this date, waiting every single moment for this,” said Petrone. “We got here and we did what was supposed to be done. We took care of business.”

Getting a big turnout of players for this season, Petrone believed the Tigers had the depth to take care of business.

“We have been expecting this ever since coach [Charlie] Gallagher said there are 60 guys coming out this year for Princeton football,” said Petrone. “I couldn’t tell you the last time that happened. When we heard that, it is ‘all right, it is time to bring it to them and get that win.’”

The Tiger rushing attack brought it Friday night as senior Tyler Goldberg ran for 48 yards in 13 carries with classmate Pease galloping for 77 yards on seven carries.

“Our O-line is a lot better this year, that has helped them out,” said Petrone. “Those two are just complete muscle. They are always in the weight room working out, getting built. They are good friends and they just showed off tonight. They had a bunch of runs for first downs and Evan broke one for that big touchdown.”

Goldberg, for his part, credited Petrone with showing his mettle in the victory.

“This kid is the hardest worker I know,” said Goldberg of Petrone. “He comes to the practice, he is leader. He comes from a good family. He really kept us in the game. He is a smart player. He throws a great ball and has good fakes. I love TP.”

Having been thrown into the fire last year as a sophomore as he took over the QB role after starting the season as a receiver, Petrone has worked hard to improve.

“I would say this year I am much better with my smarter plays tucking and running when there is nobody open,” said Petrone, a three-sport athlete who also plays basketball and baseball for PHS. “I feel like I have bonded a lot with my guys and that I am becoming a real leader.”

Against Lawrence, Petrone showed a bond with senior receiver Remmick Granozio, who was playing his first varsity game and came through with three receptions for 18 yards.

“Remmick is new to football but he has been working really hard all offseason,” said Petrone. “I had him on a lot of off routes, short patterns. He likes to break tackles and get upfield. He has good hands.”

In addition to his QB duties, Petrone helped the Tiger defense, putting in some good work at safety.

“We usually say hats to the ball, get as many guys to the ball,” said Petrone. “But tonight guys were making one-on-one tackles. The secondary was doing really well. We had two picks today, both from young sophomores Carmine Carusone and Ellington Hinds.”

PHS head coach Charlie Gallagher sensed that his squad was ready to make an opening statement against Lawrence.

“There was a big emphasis on the first game of the season, it just happens that it is Lawrence,” said Gallagher, who is in his 11th season guiding the Tigers. “We just talk about how sweet it is to be 1-0 — they did a really great job with that. That was the focus in the weight room. They had a poster made up crossing off dates to the first game. This is about game one. Many, many years ago, that is what we did and we were pretty successful. We just focused on game one and the rest of them will just follow.”

The Tigers displayed great focus on the defensive side of the ball.

“It was the first shutout in seven years, I am just real happy for the defense,” said Gallagher. “Our defense should be a strong suit for us this year. I think we are pretty well balanced. They have some weapons, we are a little bit faster to the ball this year. There is no doubt about that. We wanted a lot of hats to the ball and they did just that. Our defensive line was swatting balls down. We are just trying to create some havoc in the backfield and I think we did that for the most part.”

The defense bent but didn’t beak as the Cardinals started several drives deep in PHS territory in the first half.

“We put ourselves in some bad spots early in the game, we had some really bad field position,” said Gallagher, whose team stopped the Cardinals at the 9-yard line in the waning moments of the second quarter. “They had some great field position and we did not give up any points in that first quarter so hats off to the defense and coach [Brandon] Williams. Right before the half, that was a big stand because it was 7-0 and the next thing you are going in and it is tied up if they score. They are riding the momentum and you are not. We are riding the momentum because we stop them.”

Petrone’s solid play at quarterback helped give the Tigers momentum.

“They don’t always have to look pretty; you watch a lot of college and the NFL and they all look pretty,” said Gallagher of Petrone’s TD pass. “He is a savvy football player, he is really just a savvy athlete. He is a point guard. Those guys handle the rock and they distribute it. That is what a quarterback does, you distribute the ball. He is also a pitcher so he is the center of attention there. He is in the spotlight all of the time so hopefully this isn’t too big for him.”

The one-two running punch of Goldberg and Pease was another big factor in the triumph.

“It is nice because you can keep them a little healthy, they come in and out,” said Gallagher.

“Evan had that TD last year here, straight up the middle, so that looked really nice. He has got that breakaway speed. Tyler is a grinder, he has got that speed too. He gets a lot of carries. We are happy for both of those guys. We are going to lean on those guys and we are going to lean on the line. We are going to lean on a lot of fellas. but especially a couple of guys like that.”

Two sophomores, Hinds and Carusone, showed that they can be guys to lean on. Hinds came up with an interception and the punt return for the TD while Carusone contributed an interception and handled the kicking duties.

“Ellington played a lot as a freshman and he has definitely turned a corner,” said Gallagher. “I saw the ball bounce real high on the punt return. I saw Ellington take a little giddy-up and I said, “You know what, if that ball takes another bounce, he is picking it right up and running with it.’ He is a super athlete. Carmine played lacrosse last year and is a great soccer player but he said I am switching gears. We are so happy to have him, he is a hard runner, he is great cornerback. He is real athletic.”

Gallagher pointed to the pipeline provided by the Princeton Junior Football League, a popular flag football organization, as helping to stock the program with talent.

“The PJFL, our feeder program, has done a great job, their numbers are outstanding,” said Gallagher. “We just have a lot of kids playing football. We are trying to promote football but we are also trying to promote the safety of the game and the quality of the coaching that we have. It is, ‘Hey listen, give us a shot’ and we had 26 freshmen come out this year. We have seven kids as seniors came out who had never played before.”

In Gallagher’s view, the win over Lawrence shows that the Tigers could enjoy an outstanding season this fall.

“It feels good, it is something that you want to build off of,” said Gallagher. “We can win games. We just have to put a good 48 minutes together, and that is what we did.”

With PHS hosting Riverside on September 2, Gallagher is looking for his squad to put together another superb performance.

“We lost to them by over 30 points (35-0) last year,” said Gallagher. “It is a small Group 1 school. I am sure they are here scouting and they present some challenges for us. They have a very unique offense. We are going to have to play a lot better defense than we did tonight to keep those guys in check.”

Petrone, for his part, believes that the Tigers will be up to that challenge.

“That shutout meant a lot,” said Petrone. “It definitely building on it, bring this energy next week.”