On paper, the matchup of two undefeated football teams looked like it would be a very competitive and exciting contest.
As it turned out, the game turned out to be even better than expected.
Behind by as much as nine points in the first half, John A. Holmes came from behind to defeat Princeton High School 39-28 in the first round of the NCHSAA Class 1AA state football playoffs.
The game was played Friday night in Edenton, before a large, enthusiastic, home field crowd.
The Princeton Bulldogs, the No. 5 seed in the East Region, came into the game with a 7-0 record, and were champions of the Carolina 1A Conference.
They had outscored their seven opponents by an average of 40 points per game.
Their strength was their running game.
Employing the old-school single wing formation, the Bulldogs had amassed over 365 rushing yards per game, while scoring a total of 368 points.
At the start of this game, it appeared that Princeton might continue their dominant play.
On their second play from scrimmage, Bulldog wingback Christian Perris broke off tackle and went 50 yards for a score. The conversion kick good, and Princeton led 7-0 with less than a minute off the clock.
The fourth-seeded Aces (6-0) lost yardage on their first possession and punted. Set up in good field position at their own 41 yard line, three running plays yielded a first down for Princeton at the Edenton 45 yard line. On first down, the Bulldog running back mishandled the pitch trying to sweep the left end. Edenton linebacker Teddy Wilson picked up the fumble, and raced 50 yards for the touchdown. The conversion kick by Loghan Wagner was good, and the Aces had tied the score 7-7.
Princeton (7-1) wasted no time in re-taking the lead. Again, in just their second play after receiving the kickoff, tailback Jaydon Brooks would take a direct snap, burst through a big hole in the middle, and go 61 yards to regain the momentum for the visitors.
The kick good, and Princeton led 14-7 with still 6:36 left in the first quarter.
Not having much success running up the middle, Edenton exploited the perimeter of the Bulldog defense. Running down the line on an option play, quarterback Landen Hoggard made a forward pitch to TyShiem Harris, who ran the ball all the way to the Princeton 30 for a 33 yard gain.
Two plays later, Hoggard faked a handoff, raised up, and threw a perfect spiral to wide receiver Jailen Smith.
The sophomore gathered in the pass at the 15 yard line and ran in untouched for the score. The kick failed, but the score was 14-13 at the 4:30 mark.
Princeton then went on a long 12 play drive, keeping the ball entirely on the ground. Running behind his huge offensive line, Brooks carried most of the load, and finished off the possession with a three yard run, sweeping the left end.
The Bulldogs had increased their advantage to 21-13 early in the second quarter.
The Aces got a strong return of the ensuing kickoff, but a fumble gave the ball back to Princeton on their 43 yard line. Threatened with going down two scores, the Edenton defense stiffened, and forced a punt.
The offense responded with a seven play drive to bring the game back to near even. Hoggard was very good on this possession. Twice he kept the ball on option plays and ran for first downs.
The scoring play came on a perfectly executed option pitch to NyQuan Twine who ran ten yards to the right corner of the end zone. A personal foul moved back the conversion which failed, leaving the score 21-19 with 5:55 left in the first half.
Princeton wasn’t done and neither was Edenton.
The Bulldogs scored again on a short run, but the touchdown was set up by a rare pass from fullback Paul Edens. The leading passer on the team, Edens had only attempted 10 passes all season. This time he connected for 35 yards down the middle to receiver Peyton Mitchell, which was followed by the touchdown from Perris.
Edenton again responded.
On a third down and 20 yards to go, Fred Drew took a pitch and ran up the left sideline for 21 yards and the first down.
The huge play was followed by a Teddy Wilson 18 yard gallop which moved the ball to the Bulldog 38. Hoggard then drilled a pass to Alex Bergevin, who went up between two defenders, caught the ball, and then twisted away to run in for the score.
The first half ended with Princeton leading 28-25.
The Edenton defense adapted in the second half.
Distaining the pass, the Aces bunched their defense up close to stop the run. Princeton tailback Brooks, who had 133 yards in the first half, was held to just 28 yards after the break.
The Aces took the lead with a 12 play, 66 yard drive. The big plays were a 19 yard run by Malachi White, a 16 yard pass to Harris, and four tough carries by Wilson, who ran through tackles up the middle for the final three yards to pay dirt.
The kick was good and Edenton led 32-28.
After forcing a three and out, a short punt set up Edenton just past midfield. Six plays later, the Aces were faced with a fourth down at the Bulldog 33.
Hoggard threw a dart to Harris slanting over the middle, who split the defenders and with the kick good, made the score 39-28.
Princeton moved the ball deep into Edenton territory, but a succession of plays stopped their drive.
Dj Capehart made a strong tackle in the backfield for no gain, and then a swarm of Aces sealed off the end on a third down run.
A fourth down pass was intercepted in the end zone by White.
That ended the last serious Princeton threat.
Wilson led the Aces balanced offense with 91 rushing yards, followed by Drew with 54, and White with 40.
Hoggard completed 4 of 6 passes for 134 yards and three touchdowns.
Up next for the Aces is a second round game against No. 1 seed Tarboro.
Tarboro defeated No. 8 seed Manteo 62-7 in its first round game.