Despite trailing the visiting McCloud Loggers by as much as 26 in the first half, the Princeton Eagles’ football team never stopped competing in their final game of the regular season.
The game was far more competitive than the 55-38 final score would suggest, but untimely turnovers and Princeton’s inability to keep the Loggers’ high-octane offense out of the end-zone ultimately doomed the Eagles.
After the Eagles turned the ball over on an interception to open the game, McCloud struck first on a Korbin Woolery touchdown run, just two minutes into the first quarter. Princeton answered back quickly when standout junior quarterback Joey Wills broke free for a 52-yard touchdown scamper, and Princeton briefly took an 8-6 lead after a successful two-point conversion. On McCloud’s following possession, Princeton put itself in a position to get a big defensive stop, with the Loggers’ offense facing a fourth-and-12 from Princeton’s 39-yard line. Instead, McCloud quarterback Zach Dutton connected with Woolery down the field for a 39-yard touchdown through the air, in what ended up being a critical turning point in the game.
For most of the rest of the first half, McCloud was firmly in control. The Loggers recovered a fumble on the Eagles ensuing possession before Dutton hurled his second touchdown of the night –this one to Mowalin Summers – to put his team up 20-8. Princeton’s next drive, though promising, stalled at McCloud’s 17-yard line, where the Eagles turned the ball over on downs. Dutton hit Summers for a 45-yard gain on first down, before connecting with Woolery again for a another 39-yard passing score. After McCloud recovered a pooch kick on the kickoff that followed, the pair linked up again – this time from 44-yards out – to put the Loggers up 33-8.
Princeton finally lit up the scoreboard again with just over a minute left in the half. Relying on the legs of Wills, the Eagles engineered a seven-play, 71-yard scoring drive that was capped by a three-yard touchdown pass from Wills to Ulices Gutierrez. After an unsuccessful two-point attempt, the Eagles recovered an onside kick at their own 48-yard line, and Wills ripped off a 45-yard carry on first down to move Princeton deep into McCloud territory. With under a minute left in the half and just seven yards away from the goal-line, the Eagles had a chance to cut McCloud’s lead to two scores, but were unable to capitalize – moving backwards before Wills was sacked on the last play of the second quarter. Princeton entered halftime down 33-14.
After McCloud scored on the first play from scrimmage in the third quarter on another Dutton-to-Summers touchdown pass, Summers was flagged for unsportsmanlike conduct – a penalty that was a harbinger of things to come.
Princeton responded by marching 49 yards in 11 plays – helped along by a facemask and offsides penalty by McCloud on the drive – before Wills hit Shane Irish for a three-yard scoring strike on fourth down. Wills successfully converted the two-point attempt, putting the Eagles within two scores, 40-22.
The Eagles defense came up big on McCloud’s next possession. After McCloud saw an apparent 36-yard touchdown run called back for clipping, Princeton fell on a botched snap at the Eagles’ 32-yard line. But the Eagles offense turned the ball over on the next play – also on a botched snap. McCloud’s David Wolfe scooped the ball up and returned it 20 yards for a touchdown, and the Loggers went up 48-22 after a successful two-point conversion.
On Princeton’s next possession, a McCloud player was flagged for a late hit out of bounds. The act sparked a fracas on Princeton’s sideline that resulted in two more unsportsmanlike conduct flags, and two players being ejected from the game – one each for McCloud and Princeton. Later in the drive, an assistant coach was also ejected.
Princeton and McCloud proceeded to trade touchdowns – the Eagles on an two-yard run by Wills, and the Loggers on a 37-yard touchdown pass from Dutton to Summers – before Wills scored the game’s final points, running in for a 16-yard touchdown and converting the two-point attempt.
Wills finished with a game-high 332 yards rushing and three touchdowns on 36 carries, and added 83 yards and two touchdowns through the air. Nick Ramirez led the Eagles with seven tackles and a sack. Ivan Espinoza and Joey Wills each had six tackles.
For McCloud, Dutton completed 14-of-16 passes for 370 yards and six touchdowns, adding 15 yards on three carries. Mowalin Summers hauled in nine of those completions for 216 yards and three touchdowns to lead the Loggers. Korbin Woolrey was second on the team with four receptions for 134 yards and three touchdowns. Summers and Jacob Savage led McCloud’s defense with 13 tackles apiece.
Princeton (8-2) opens the Northern Section 8-Man Football Playoffs on Friday as the South’s No. 2 seed. The Eagles face the North’s No. 3 seed, Redding Christian (6-4) at 7 PM in Princeton. ■