PRINCETON — Paxton-Buckley-Loda football’s longest season since 1998 came to an end with a 38-12 loss to Princeton on Saturday in a Class 3A state quarterfinal game.
The Panthers (9-3) were at this stage for the first time in more than two decades, but couldn’t achieve their first semifinal appearance since 1995.
The Tigers (11-1), who entered the playoffs with the top seed in 3A’s north bracket, tallied two first-quarter touchdowns via an 80-yard run by Ronde Worrels and a 70-yard punt return by Max Taylor to set the tone.
“Sometimes, in the world of life, there are people that are just better than you,” first-year PBL coach Josh Pritchard said. “Unfortunately, I think this football team’s just been a better football team than us, definitely (Saturday). They’re really good, and we knew that. They were super physical.
“I’m super proud of our kids. We gave everything that we had. It just wasn’t enough, unfortunately.”
With 5 minutes, 54 seconds left in the second quarter, Gunner Belt found Gavin Coplea on a fourth-and-5 pass for a 40-yard touchdown, cutting PBL’s deficit to 14-6.
After Worrels scampered for a 15-yard touchdown on the Tigers’ ensuing possession, Drake Schrodt intercepted a pass in the red zone with 18.3 seconds remaining in the first half to keep the score at 21-6.
The Panthers forced a Princeton three-and-out on its first possession of the second half, and PBL took advantage of a short field.
The Panthers traveled 44 yards on five plays as Schrodt scored on a 2-yard touchdown dash to cut the Panthers’ deficit to 21-12.
But that was the closest PBL would get. On their ensuing possession, the Tigers went 69 yards in nine plays as Tyler Gibson and Branden Haring connected on an 18-yard touchdown pass-and-catch with 3:24 left in the third quarter.
“It seemed like every time we felt like we were back in the game, they just, all of a sudden, turned around and hit us with a touchdown,” Pritchard said. “We just couldn’t get the stop when we really needed to, and we couldn’t get the first downs we needed.
“They shut down our run game to zero, but hat’s off to Princeton. They’re just really good. We just didn’t have enough (Saturday).”
Jaimie Reinhardt made a 21-yard field goal and Haring had a 35-yard touchdown reception, both in the fourth quarter, to ice the contest for Princeton.
Schrodt, Belt and running back Hunter Anderson are part of a 15-player PBL senior class that will be gone next year.
“Our seniors are super great. We had great leadership, great players, great kids, great students, great sons,” Pritchard said. “This senior group is awesome, and I’m very happy that my first year at PBL is with this group of seniors. I hope, when they look back six months, six years, 10 years or 15 years down the road, they’re going to be extremely proud of themselves, and everybody’s going to talk about this for a while.”
Coplea will return for his senior season, as will Drew Diesburg, who tied the school’s single-season interceptions record with six.
“We have some skill kids coming back,” Pritchard said. “We know we have a lot of good kids that we’re getting back.
“I know these kids want to hit the ground running right now. They’re already ready to flip to next season. I’m not going to have to beg these kids to work hard to be good. They want to be good, and they’re going to make themselves be good.”