Panthers can’t slow down Bulldogs in 38-32 loss

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KENLY — Princeton High seniors Lamarr Wilkins and John Lockamy have spent the balance of their high school football careers going back and forth with North Johnston. Entering Friday’s game in Ben E. Strifert Stadium, the Johnston County rivals had split their last six meetings.

But for their part in the rivalry, Wilkins and Lockamy delivered a sweet parting gift for North Johnston. In the case of the Panthers, it wasn’t so sweet.

Lockamy rambled 63 yards off a counter play for what proved to be the game-winning touchdown, and Wilkins ran for three TDs and threw for another as Princeton remained undefeated at 4-0 with a thrilling 38-32 victory.

Of Princeton’s 324 rushing yards, Wilkins touched the football 33 times for 193 yards. Lockamy added 14 touches for 135 yards.

“I don’t have to see them again this season,” Wilkins said of the Panthers after his performance. “I don’t even know how I feel right now, I can’t tell you. I just don’t have to see them again for the rest of the season. It’s just an awesome feeling knowing that our O-Line outworked them all night, and we end up winning.”

In a chippy affair that saw the teams combine for 28 accepted penalties, Princeton was flagged for 19 infractions for 162 yards. In a preview of upcoming attractions as far as 2-A Eastern Plains Conference offenses, the North Johnston (2-3) defense was treated rudely. Princeton’s offense, directed by senior quarterback Nathan Ramby until he was removed in the second quarter for picking up two unsportsmanlike conduct flags, would feature any one of two potential receivers of the snap. Wilkins was a candidate to take the snap and gain the edge, or hand it off to Lockamy on the counter play. The counter play, particularly with Lockamy, went for chunks of yardage of times. Granted, North Johnston’s perimeter run defense was hurt by the absence of senior outside linebacker Imandre McFarland, who was tossed out of the game after throwing a punch following North Johnston’s opening TD just 1 minute, 52 seconds into play.

North Johnston head coach Jon Riba compared Princeton’s offensive presentation to that of Farmville Central, another EPC opponent handed a 36-13 thumping by the Bulldogs in Week 3.

“This game is perfect for conference with a couple of teams that we’re going to play,” Riba said. “This team is pretty darn good, and they beat one of our conference teams. Right now, I think we’re poised and ready. We’ve got Beddingfield in two weeks.”

With the run action forcing North Johnston towards the line of scrimmage, Wilkins ran laterally in the third quarter before dropping back and finding a wide-open Trae Roa for a 47-yard touchdown. Wilkins tacked on the two-point conversion, leaving the Bulldogs up 32-22 with 3:55 left in the third quarter.

“It’s our county rival,” Princeton head coach Travis Gaster said. “And we’re a small school, so there’s a chip on their shoulder about playing bigger schools, to be able to come into their stadium and come out with a win. We’re lucky, and the kids are excited about being able to do that.”

North Johnston battled back down 10 in the third quarter, using a 17-yard touchdown pass from junior Camden Aycock to senior wide receiver Travis Riba. A high snap on a punt set North Johnston up with prime field position with 7 minutes 9 seconds to play, which in turn led to junior kicker Graham Walston’s 29-yard field goal to tie it at 32 with 5:03 to go.

However, on Princeton’s next play from scrimmage, Lockamy took a counter and darted 63 yards for the winning TD.

“We’ve been playing them all of our life basically, and it just feels good to beat them the last time we ever play them,” Lockamy said of North Johnston. “It feels good to come around and just rub it in their face, now that we won.”

With the kicking games being a battle of onside and squibs, North Johnston still had a chance to drive for the winning score twice in the fourth quarter. Senior Brandon Peeden’s diving 23-yard catch on third down set North Johnston up inside the Princeton 30, but a bad snap — the first of two in NJ’s final two drives — killed the march. Lockamy recovered for Princeton.

With 78 seconds to go, North Johnston took over at the Princeton 45, but Aycock mishandled a quick snap, and the Panthers lost 10 yards on first down. On fourth and 20, Lockamy hit Aycock from behind as he attempted to throw, essentially ending the game.

“We’ll fix that stuff,” Coach Riba said of the poor snaps. “It is what it is. I tell my kids good things and bad things are going to happen to you every night, and you prepare for both. Sometimes you lose some, sometimes you win some.”

Sophomore running back Camron Privette scored twice for North Johnston, finishing with 99 yards on 16 carries. North Johnston led for the final time at 22-16 on Aycock’s 7-yard quarterback keeper, which was followed by a two-point conversion toss to senior Kenneth Lee on a bad PAT snap.

However, Wilkins replied before halftime, slamming in from 9 yards out and adding the two-point conversion to put Princeton up 24-22 at the break.