Shrugging off the tackle

#44 Brody Rice evades the tackle during his 141-yard rush performance against Woodrow Wilson on Oct. 1. The Tiger's final home game and homecoming game will be a neutral, non-conference bout against the 7-0 Bridgport Indians. The 2021 homecoming royalty will be crowned at halftime. Game starts at 7 p.m.

PRINCETON — Princeton Senior High School football’s undefeated march through the regular season encounters an unbeaten obstacle tonight when the Tigers (5-0) take on Bridgeport (6-0) at Hunnicutt Stadium in Princeton.

Kickoff is set for 7 p.m.

There is a great deal of statewide interest in the outcome of tonight’s game. Princeton is currently ranked No. 4 in the WVSSAC Class AAA power ratings. Bridgeport is ranked No. 7. Elsewhere in the state No. 2 Jefferson (7-0) travels to No. 9 Martinsburg (8-0).

The Tigers are coming off last week’s 21-16 road victory at Hedgesville, which provided Princeton with some adversities to overcome.

“We executed in the first two series and scored touchdowns our first two series. We got stalled out in our third series and had a lot of inopportune penalties at the time and some mistake penalties at the time,” said Princeton head coach Chris Pedigo.

“There are some things we’ve got to clean up and I think we will. Our guys worked hard. It’s not always easy. Hedgesville played well and took the lead in the fourth quarter but our guys were resilient and were able to find a way to win. That’s the most important thing we took away from it,” he said.

Quarterback Grant Cochran successfully threw to eight Princeton receivers during the game, completing 10 of 18 pass attempts for 241 yards.

“We were able to win some one-on-one matchups last week. So many teams have been packing the box because we’ve been running the ball well. Against Woodrow, I don’t think we were as good as we could’ve been in the passing game and we really worked on that during that bye week,” said Pedigo, whose strong offensive line and hard-nosed running backs successfully balance the offense in spite of some hits to the depth chart.

Brodee Rice led the Tigers rushing attack with more than 150 yards rushing, his only significant blemish being a fumble in the fourth quarter that resulted in a Hedgesville field goal.

“But he bounced back and played really hard. All of our guys played really hard,” said Pedigo. “We had over 400 yards offense, we only had 21 points to speak of.”

Bridgeport, which won the Class AA state title in 2019 before getting bumped upstairs to Class AAA, is coming off a 72-0 thrashing of Preston.

Last year the Indians converted to the ball-hogging single wing offense — a supposedly archaic direct-snap set that has proven as difficult to defend in West Virginia as Giles’ version has traditionally been in Virginia.

“They’re one of the only teams in the whole state that run it. They run it extremely well and their offensive line is extremely impressive. They get up and they get down. They know where they’re going and get there with a purpose,” Pedigo said. “Obviously its unique trying to prepare to defend the single wing when you don’t see it all year long.”

The head honcho of the Indians’ misdirection-laden backfield is quarterback Cam Cole, a regular triple-digit rusher who handles the passing duties on Bridgeport’s deceptively limited but ruthlessly efficient air attack.

The Indians can grind it out and control the clock, but they can also be explosive.

“They can nickel and dime you and then they can break out a 70-yard run any time. So we’ve got to be gap-sound,” Pedigo said. “They’re just like Giles, man. They’ve got a little spinner series in there, but they’re just like Giles. Cam Cole … he is impressive. If they throw the ball, it’s usually for a touchdown.”

In many ways, Princeton’s football team has been more fortunate than Bluefield’s with regard to playing opportunities, but the Tigers have had their fair share of COVID protocol setbacks — even more than in 2020. Coupled with the normal pace of injuries at this stage of the campaign, Princeton finds itself a bit thin at a number of positions.

As Pedigo has cultivated his program into the shape it has currently attained, it all hasn’t merely been about techniques, reads, X’es and O’s. It’s also been about instilling the kids with grit. The Tigers haven’t been as flashy as last season but they’ve continued to find ways to win.

The intangibles that give rise to fortitude have not been insignificant with this year’s team. The Princeton head coach is confident the Tigers will be taking the same frame of mind into tonight’s meeting with Bridgeport.

“We’re excited. We’ve been working hard with our program so that we could play late in the season and have this kind of matchup,” Pedigo said. “It’s a great opportunity for our program and our community and we’re excited for them.”

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