Princeton head coach Chris Pedigo feels good about where his team stands heading into the postseason.
The Tigers made the playoffs each of the last two years and competed well this season, finishing 6-3 with a difficult schedule that featured Bridgeport, Hurricane and Parkersburg South – three of the top six seeds in the Class AAA field.
Now it’s time to take the next step and win a playoff game, a task Pedigo believes his squad is well equipped to do.
“I think the newness is not there so that’s good,” Pedigo said. “We have a lot of guys – nine seniors and a lot of juniors that have done this the last few years. We’re going up expecting to win. We have high expectations and we’ve played some good football teams and some good football. The preparation will be like it normally is except the fact our guys know that we’re blessed to practice when a lot of guys around us aren’t.”
Princeton earned the No. 12 seed in Class AAA and begins its hopeful journey to Wheeling in the Kanawha Valley at No. 5 George Washington.
The Patriots finished the regular season with an 8-2 record, sporting marquee wins against Spring Valley and Cabell Midland but have also suffered blowout losses to Hurricane and Huntington.
Leading the charge for GW is dynamic quarterback Abe Fenwick. The junior has thrown for 2,177 yards this season to go along with a touchdown to interception ratio of 24-9. Hayden Hatfield and Keegan Sack both have over 600 yards receiving on the season with Sack also a threat to run the ball with 372 rushing yards. Rounding out the trio of talented skill players is junior Anthony Valentine who leads the team with 466 rushing yards and seven touchdowns to go along with 527 receiving yards.
It’s given Pedigo much to contemplate as he puts together a defensive gameplan.
“Fenwick s very dynamic and he gets the ball out,” Pedigo said. “Keegan Sack, the Valentine kid and Hatfield – all three of them have caught about 30-40 balls each. They spread it around and they’re extremely multiple. They’ll go from what they did against Spring Valley where they went empty probably 75 percent to going power-I with two receivers against Beckley in the second half last week. They’re versatile and can run the ball and throw it. That offense loves to get the quarterback deep, probably has deeper drops than any offense in the state. If you get him back there it’s hard to get him off his launch point but we’ve got to get there. They’re the best passing attack we’ve seen all year by far.”
The heap of praise is considerable considering Pedigo’s team just finished playing the No.1 seed in the playoffs last week in Parkersburg South, another team with a dynamic offense and stable of skill players. While different, there is a belief that it may have been good prep for this week.
“It helps in some aspects,” Pedigo said. “(GW) will roll the QB but not like South did. (Parkersburg South QB) Robert Shockey is dynamic and could extend plays with his legs. Fenwick can run without a doubt but he’s a pass-first kid and their tempo is not what Parkersburg South’s was but it’s something that we needed because we’ve players a lot of teams like Woodrow, Lord Botetourt and Bridgeport that weren’t spread it out. We’re missing a few pieces on the back end in terms of seeing how we want to plug some things in and work it out so last week was good work for our secondary. We saw a passing attack but this one’s more diverse and their playbook’s deep. They have a lot of things they can do.”
Princeton will counter with its own electric offense led by all-stater Grant Cochran. The senior QB has thrown 26 touchdowns to just four interceptions to go along with 1,713 passing yards. His top target, junior receiver Dominick Collins, has shattered every single-season receiving metric, rolling into Friday’s matchup with 942 yards and 18 touchdowns.
“I think we’re going to see a two-high shell and they’re going to play a lot of man,” Pedigo said. “They’re a cover 2 read team and can go to a one-high safety but I don’t anticipate that unless we can really establish a run. They’re really big up front and their down three are probably bigger than South’s. I don’t think they’re going to move as much but they gave us a lot of four down when we played them a couple of years ago. I anticipate them coming up and pressing the receivers to take away our underneath which gives us an opportunity down the field which we’ve had some success with this year. I anticipate them pressing and saying ‘Hey, if you’re going to beat us you’ve got to beat us deep’ and we’ll see what we can do.”
Princeton will travel to George Washington Friday at 7:30 p.m.
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