September 20, 2023

QB Petrone Makes Strides for PHS Football As Tigers Battle Hard in 28-23 Loss to Florence

FLASH POINT: Princeton High quarterback Travis Petrone fires a pass last Saturday as PHS hosted Florence High. Junior Petrone passed for 143 yards and two touchdowns and had a 29-yard TD run in a losing cause as PHS fell 28-23 to the Flashes. The Tigers, now 2-2, play at Bishop Eustace on September 22. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

By Bill Alden

With the Princeton High football team trying to rally against undefeated Florence in the fourth quarter last Saturday, Travis Petrone threw an interception and it looked like the Tigers were going to go away quietly as they trailed 28-16.

Instead, forcing a punt, PHS got the ball with 2:39 left in regulation and went on a march.

“It was just play fast, play hard,” said junior quarterback Petrone. “Coach (Charlie Gallagher) kept saying, ‘get out of the huddle, run to the ball, play fast, play fast, play fast,’ and that is what we did.”

Petrone capped the 56-yard drive with a dazzling jaunt down the sideline for a TD as the Tigers narrowed the gap to 28-23 with 1:39 remaining in regulation.

“I didn’t know I had that in me,” said Petrone, reflecting on his 29-yard touchdown run. “I see a big opening — I was thinking about getting out of bounds, but then I saw one of our wide receivers, Ben Walden, make a huge block. I thought OK, I have got to try to get in. I made a move on one or two guys and got into the end zone.”

The Tigers continued to battle as Florence took possession after a failed onside kick, nearly forcing a turnover in the waning seconds of the game after the Flashes quarterback mishandled the ball on a fourth down play.

“We outscored them in the second half,” said Petrone of PHS, which trailed 21-10 at halftime. “We ran out of time — there was not enough time on the clock.”

The Tigers gave Florence a tough time in the first half, but squandered opportunity with a number of miscues.

“It was turnovers and penalties,” said Petrone. “It is just the little mistakes that can really ruin a game.”

After PHS fell behind 7-0 when a muffed punt gave the Flashes possession deep in Tiger territory, Petrone came through with a 62-yard TD pass to sophomore standout Ellington Hinds.

“They brought in a heavy blitz, I saw their guys coming from the side,” said Petrone, recalling the scoring play. “I made a little move to the outside and I just laid it out for him. He got under it, he is good with that. He just ran it to the end zone. He is great— tall with good hands. He gets open, it is all you can ask.”

In the third quarter, Petrone struck again, completing a 19-yard TD pass to senior tight end Dante Digiulio to culminate a 64-yard scoring march that took nearly seven minutes as the Tigers narrowed the gap to 21-16.

“Me and Dante are like family,” said Petrone. “He is my tight end now, I love him. That play has been working for us all year. He just got open like he normally does. I laid it out for him and he did his thing and got into the end zone.”

At that point, Petrone and the Tigers were feeling good about their prospects.

“I felt like it could definitely be our day, we had all of the momentum going our way,” said Petrone. “I have to give it to our defense, making a lot of tackles.”

The Flashes, though, regained momentum as they increased their lead to 28-16 early in the fourth quarter on a 34-yard touchdown run by Darien Woody on the way to improving to 3-0.

While PHS came up short, Petrone felt he made strides in a losing cause.

“I think it is being a real leader on the team, making big plays and being poised,” said Petrone, who completed 11-of-18 passes for 132 yards and two TDs in addition to his touchdown run.

With the Tigers now at 2-2 after going 1-9 last fall, Petrone believes the squad has made big progress.

“There are definitely some positives battling this team, a very good team,” said Petrone, noting that PHS lost 28-0 to Florence last fall. “It was conference game. That is going to hurt us, but hopefully we get to see them again in the playoffs.”

PHS head coach Charlie Gallagher acknowledges that some sloppy play hurt the Tigers.

“We shot ourselves in the foot,” said Gallagher. “We had bad penalties at bad times. There was a fumble, two interceptions, and some personal fouls. We shouldn’t be doing silly things like that. We lost our way in the first half.”

The TD pass from Petrone to Hinds was a highlight of the first half for the Tigers.

“It was both of those guys, it was a broken play,” said Gallagher. “Travis was able to escape the pocket very nicely and he saw Ellington had just a simple hitch. If it is not there, then you take off. The DB lost track of where he was at and he was running down the field. I need to see more of that.”

Seeing his squad start the second half with the scoring drive was a major plus in Gallagher’s view.

“The idea was we need to score — it is always tough coming out after halftime,” said Gallagher, who got some tough running from senior tailback Tyler Goldberg as he rushed for 84 yards on 16 carries. “As much as everyone says, you have the ball to start the second half and that will be seven points. That hardly ever happens. It is like 10 percent of the time that you are actually able to capitalize on the opening kickoff.”

Gallagher liked the way Petrone capitalized on opportunity down the stretch of the contest.

“Travis ended up picking it up really nicely in the second half, he got that nice TD pass, he had command of the offense,” said Gallagher. “He had that great run that only he can do. He is a football-savvy kid. I think that was a bootleg so he had the option to run; he made some sensational, scintillating cuts.”

While Gallagher was disappointed by the final result, he had no qualms about the effort he got from his players.

“The second half was great, we asked them to do some things in the second half and they did them,” said Gallagher. “That is the thing. If you are asking something from your players and they give it to you, that is all you can ask for. They did it as best they could.”

With PHS playing at Bishop Eustace (3-0) this Friday, the Tigers will need to be at their best to come away with a victory.

“We have a completely different team this year as you can tell,” said Gallagher. “They have some really good players and they are playing good football. They have three wins. We are playing good football, we played a very good Florence team down to the wire.”

Petrone is confident that the Tigers will be ready for that challenge.

“We are getting off to a really good start,” said Petrone. “We have got a good team next week in Bishop Eustace away at their turf. We will have a good game there and hopefully we will get a W.”