PRINCETON -- Regardless of result, Princeton Community football men will make history Friday night.
When the Tigers host Vincennes Lincoln at 6:30 p.m. CDT, it'll mark the first time Princeton has hosted a sectional championship gridiron game.
Should they avenge an October 18 regular-season-ending 34-10 home-field loss, the Tigers will reign as sectional champions for the second time. They won 24-15 Nov. 7, 1986, at Heritage Hills, but lost sectional finals by 47-7 to Evansville Memorial on the Evansville Central field in 1992 and 49-21 at Gibson Southern on Nov. 6, 2015.
If the Tigers follow wins of 14-0 at Owen Valley and 35-6 over eight-game winner Edgewood by raising their record to 4-8 by beating a team with a six-game win streak and 7-4 record, they'll advance to a regional game vs. Indianapolis Ritter (7-4) or Danville (6-5). Those teams will meet Friday in Danville, whose 2017 Warriors finished 13-1 including a 38-7 regional win over Indianapolis Bishop Chatard and a 28-7 semi-state loss to state champion Evansville Memorial.
"Our kids are excited, and you can see that they've gained a lot of confidence the last two weeks. They really believe in our system. And while the sectional final is a big game, they're a group that stays loose," Princeton Coach Jared Maners said.
"They were very impressive against Edgewood, the way they moved down the field and scored early-on," said Vincennes Lincoln Coach Levi Salters, whose late uncle Marty Salters won the state heavyweight wrestling championship as a Princeton senior in 1986.
"They recently added a veer attack to their offense, but against Edgewood they ran their season-long offense for all but about two plays. So we expect to see both attacks Friday night, plus some trick plays like the passes Dominic Hardiman threw last Friday.
"Their Darrion Madison only goes about 155 pounds, but he runs hard."
Hardiman, 6-foot-5 junior wide receiver, defensive back and cousin of Vincennes Lincoln defensive end and running back Julius Hardiman, surprised Edgewood by throwing two passes. He completed both, including a 13-yarder on which classmate Jarrett Market made a tumbling touchdown catch. Dominic also caught 5 passes for 56 yards and a touchdown as senior quarterback Gerit Bock completed 7 of 8 for 77 yards and a TD. Bock also ran two TDs, including a 31-yarder on what was supposed to be a sneak.
Madison, recovered from an early-season foot injury, rushed 179 yards in 17 carries vs. Edgewood. That raised his senior season average to 7 yards per carry.
Junior Ben Heidenreich, after 95 yards in 9 totes last Friday, has averaged 4.55 per tote en route to 414 on the season.
Bock has completed 92 of 191 passes (48.2%) for 1,292 yards and 6 TDs around 5 interceptions.
Hardiman has made 44 catches for 539 yards and 3 TDs, while senior Braden Matthews 59 for 414 yards.
"We must prevent Princeton from making big plays, make them need long drives to score," Salters said.
"Turnovers are so crucial. We got a big one at Brown County (42-19 win last Friday) when our sophomore Stefan Hernandez intercepted and ran it back 60 yards for a touchdown."
Hernandez made a game-changing play October 18 on Princeton's Senior Night. After junior Cole Hurt's 24-yard field goal made the Tigers 3-0 leaders, Hernandez scored on an 88-yard kickoff return. That began a 34-point run that included junior Eric Vickers' 25-yard pass to classmate Brody Ruggles, 225-pound Julius Hardiman's 2-yard run after junior Blake Mincey's interception, junior E. Schmitt's 2-yard run early the third quarter, and Vickers' 44-yard pass to Ruggles on the fourth quarer's third play. The Tigers' only TD came later on Bock's 53-yard pass to Hardiman.
Though Vickers completed 15 of 21 passes three Fridays ago, Maners said, "We want them to throw the ball. They threw it 40-some times for over 300 yards at Brown County. We want to stop the run and then put on a lot of pressure when they pass.
"Their offensive line has really improved and their defense is really good. Hardiman (who transferred from Washington in summer) is a really good defensive end. Raekwon Haislip (205-pound senior) can also hurt you as a defensive lineman and running back," said Maners.
"We've been without Jed Barnett, probably our second-best lineman, since he suffered an ACL tear our sixth game. We start just five seniors on offense and two on defense, so we're very young. But our kids have worked hard and come on," said Salters, whose Alices on October 1 won 14-6 from otherwise unbeaten Mount Carmel.
"We made a quarterback change after three games, and Vickers has thrown for almost 1,000 yards," said the coach, who calls 180-pound sophomore tight end Coleton Pfoff a key to the pass offense.
Cooper Thorne, 220-pound tackle has picked up the offensive line.
Said Maners: "We must stay with them early-on."