PRINCETON — In spite of the shock and awe of Bridgeport’s 42-7 win over Princeton Senior High School’s football team last Friday, the Tigers’ post-season ambitions have not been derailed. Nor has it particularly created a crisis of faith in what Princeton’s football program has been trying to achieve since Chris Pedigo first took the reins in 2017.

It has, however, lent definition to what lies before Princeton if it hopes to attain a consistent role at the very top of the Class AAA ranks in West Virginia football.

The Princeton head coach said he knew what he was getting the Tigers into when he scheduled Bridgeport, the smallest Class AAA school in west Virginia, but — not unlike Class I Riverheads in neighboring Virginia — a football powerhouse way out of proportion to its enrollment figures.

“I think they’re legitimately a top four or top five team in the state and if we want to get to that ... we’ve got some things we’ve got to clean up,” said Pedigo, who noted that while depth at Princeton is much-improved, teams like Bridgeport illustrate just how much quality depth is required to sustain a consistent presence in the highest levels of Class AAA.

“We got beat by a really good football team. I know this football team will continue to work and we’ll use this as a valuable experience to get better,” said Pedigo.

The previously-unbeaten Tigers (5-1) look to get back on track this week with a familiar area Class AAA foe, traveling to face Greenbrier East (6-2) at Fairlea on Friday.

Kickoff is set for 7 p.m.

The loss to Bridgeport knocked Princeton out of the Top 5 in the WVSSAC Class AAA Power Rankings, but Princeton didn’t take too steep a tumble. This week the Tigers are ranked at No. 7. The Spartans are two rungs below them at No. 9.

“We’re 5-1 and all of our goals are still there. So ... we’ve just got to keep our heads down and keep working,” said Pedigo, who doesn’t believe his team respects Greenbrier East’s capabilities any less than they did before the Tigers started winning.

“Last year we took a big step in what we’re trying to do but I don’t want our guys to be complacent. and I don’t think our guys are. I think they have high expectations. Our goals are to host playoff games, win playoff games, and go deep into the postseason,” he said.

Since absorbing a 23-0 loss to Oakvale at Fairlea, the Spartans have beaten Ripley (42-7) and Hampshire (56-6). Pedigo expects them to be “hitting on all cylinders” when the Tigers come calling on Friday.

“The first thing about them that jumps out at me is that they’ve got really good lineplay. They’ve got four seniors on the offensive line that have been there a while. They’ve got good size. Their left tackle is really, really good.

He’s particularly impressed by quarterback Monquelle Davis and running back Ian Cline, the latter of whom who carried the rock 30 times for a school-record 357 yards against Hampshire, also scoring five touchdowns. Cline rushed for 250-plus yards against Ripley the week prior.

“We have to try to slow that down. If we do, we feel like we’ll give ourselves some opportunities. But we’ve got to play well up front, try to slow the running game down and keep that quarterback contained. He’s an elusive kid,,” Pedigo said.

While Mercer County’s tow-week school shutdown in August didn’t disrupt the Tigers’ season as severely as it did Bluefield — whose woes were compounded by secondary COVID impacts — Pedigo admitted the two-week layoff hasn’t been a challenge to overcome in the weeks leading up to now.

“We don’t feel like we’ve been able to get into a rhythm. I feel like we’re staring to get there. But then we’ve played good football teams and that doesn’t help every time. You’ve got to continue to work through some of the growing pains we’re going through offensively and defensively,” he said.

“But everybody is in the same boat so we try to to use it as an excuse. Not everybody was shut down like Mercer County was. But we were shut down and we’re bouncing back and trying to do everything we can to get our football team better.

The Tigers will gravel to Parkersburg South next week, but with what’s at stake for both teams, the Princeton and Greenbrier East should be fixated on the moment at hand.

“We’ve come a long way and we know we’ve still got a long way to go. But this season is still on the table. This is a big game...whoever wins this game puts themselves in the driver’s seat to have a first-round home playoff game. Obviously we’ve got to take care of business the following week... but I’ve told our guys this is another playoff game atmosphere. These are the games that get you ready for the playoffs,” Pedigo said.

Contact George Thwaites at sports@bdtonline.com

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