PRINCETON — So much for reactivating a dormant regional football rivalry this week.
Less than 24 hours after the Princeton Senior High football team got the go-ahead to begin practice, a second confirmation of a COVID-19 case traced to the Princeton campus has resulted in all athletic activities at the school coming to a screeching halt.
“Due to a positive COVID19 case at PSHS ... All athletics are cancelled until further notice,” Princeton Athletic Director Josh Wilburn affirmed by text.
This includes not only the cessation of practice, but also the cancellation of Friday night’s eagerly-anticipated game between the Tigers and Beckley’s Woodrow Wilson at Hunnicutt Stadium.
“What I’m waiting for is how long we’re going to be shut down,” said Tigers football coach Chris Pedigo, whose team was riding the momentum of a record-setting 68-33 win at Class AAA John Marshall last week.
“The message I’ve got is that we’re going remote and no more athletics until further notice. That’s where we’re at, man. I’m waiting to get a little more guidance about what we can and what we can’t do. We had already met on Monday via Zoom. If we have to do some Zoom meetings, we will. Just trying to give [the players] as much information as I can, to keep everybody up. Once the news gets out, you start hearing things, so I try to keep our team as informed as I can,” he said.
Like Mercer County, Raleigh County remains in the Green and the Flying Eagles haven’t so far been affected by any localized outbreaks at the school. Fortunately for Woodrow Wilson, there was enough of a window for the Eagles to find a replacement. Woodrow will play Greenbrier East Friday night in a rematch of their mutual season opener at Fairlea.
Princeton’s football fortunes are on an upward trend while Woodrow Wilson has struggled a bit more this year, but the two teams and their respective communities and fans have looked forward to the renewal of a gridiron rivalry between the lone Class AAA schools in their respective adjacent counties.
The two teams had not met on the gridiron since the Tigers took a 34-7 loss at Beckley in 2014. The following February, Princeton voted to leave the Mountain States Athletic Conference without having obtained the required votes to exit without sanctions. While Woodrow Wilson also wanted to leave, the Eagles remained somewhat captive to MSAC rules and were subject to the league’s all-sports boy cott of Princeton athletics.
By the time the boycott expired, the two athletic programs had been virtually estranged by sheer time — in spite of having met one another on a football field 57 times prior to the MSAC boycott.
For Pedigo, renewing a rivalry with Princeton’s nearest potential Class AAA opponent could only be a good thing for both programs. The games were competitive, he said, recalling that Princeton defeated Woodrow Wilson 28-21 at home during that last home-away cycle.
Even though Princeton (3-2) was the apparent favorite for Friday’s game with Woodrow (1-4), Pedigo believes the Flying Eagles remain a dangerous opponent.
“They’re scary. Their record is not indicative of how good they can be,” he said. “I think they give us some matchup problems with what we like to do.”
Princeton’s remaining football slate are all Friday home games: Lincoln County on Oct. 23, Greenbrier East on Oct. 30 and Hedgesville on Nov. 6. Woodrow Wilson’s remaining slate includes George Washington in Beckley (Oct. 23) and away games at Oak Hill (Oct. 30) and Huntington (Nov. 6).
Pedigo is presently unclear about what upcoming games he’ll still be able to play, much less might will be involved in rescheduling Woodrow Wilson.
“It just depends on what our remote learning thing is and how long that goes. Right now I’m already going into next week mode and try to see what we might be able to do. Obviously we’d love to play [Woodrow Wilson] and if we can reschedule it, that would be great,” said Pedigo.
“It’s always hard if you’ve got consecutive Friday games playing, it’s hard to squeeze a game in. But Kanawha County teams are doing it right now and we may have to do it to, I don’t know.
“We’ll just play it by ear. I’m also waiting for guidance from the WVSSAC on what what’s the number of games you can play and make the playoffs. So, there’s still a lot of unknowns,” he said.
— Contact George Thwaites at firstname.lastname@example.org