Hamilton suffers ’heartbreaking loss’ in season opener

Hamilton wide receiver Daryan Bowling looks to outrun Princeton safety Leroy Bowers during their season-opening game at Virgil Schwarm Stadium on Aug. 28, 2020. Nick Graham/STAFF
Hamilton wide receiver Daryan Bowling looks to outrun Princeton safety Leroy Bowers during their season-opening game at Virgil Schwarm Stadium on Aug. 28, 2020. Nick Graham/STAFF

Princeton scores game-clinching TD with 16 seconds left in 33-28 win

The Hamilton High School football team took a one-point lead with less than five minutes to play, but couldn’t hold on against a Princeton offense that kept picking up steam in the second half.

Princeton scored two touchdowns in the final seven minutes, including the game-winner with 16 seconds left, to spoil the season opener for Hamilton, 33-28, on Friday at Schwarm Stadium. The Big Blue were celebrating Senior Night, just in case sports get shut down again because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

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After a back-and-forth battle throughout the game, Big Blue running back Kaleb Johnson scored the game-tying touchdown with 4:23 left and Erik Rios’ extra point put Hamilton ahead. However, Princeton extended the ensuing drive with two big third-down plays – and a couple calls that didn’t go Hamilton’s way – and Thomas Boyd’s one-yard run sealed it for the Vikings.

“Heartbreaking loss,” Hamilton coach Nate Mahon said. “We didn’t make plays when we needed to.”

Hamilton (0-1, 0-1 Greater Miami Conference) had carried some momentum into the offseason after earning the program’s first playoff appearance since 2010, but the Big Blue couldn’t shake Princeton (1-0, 1-0 GMC) on Friday even when it seemed as though things were starting to go their way.

Princeton quarterback Mekhi Lynn was picked off twice on the first three drives – with Justin McCullah and Malik Verdon earning interceptions – but almost immediately after Hamilton took a 7-0 lead on a Verdon touchdown run, the Vikings had an answer on a 56-yard pass from Lynn to Lamont Jackson.

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The Big Blue responded again with a 70-yard pass from Quincy Simms-Marshall to Daryan Bowling but managed to take only a 14-13 lead into halftime and neither team ever had more than an eight-point advantage.

“We came into a hostile environment with a team that had momentum throughout the offseason, really good football players,” Princeton coach Mike Daniels said. “Malik and those guys, they are very talented, but we had good preparation. Our kids were prepared, still a lot of mistakes, but you saw us keep fighting. They had the momentum the third quarter, bad snap, boom, they got the ball at the 35. We held them and kept digging, the offense came out and late got two big touchdowns to end the game. I’m very excited.”

Johnson scored the first of his two touchdowns for the night on the first drive of the second half, extending the Big Blue lead to 21-13. On the next drive, Princeton nearly allowed a safety with a bad snap on a punt that Lynn picked up in the end zone and somehow managed to avoid a tackle before exiting the paint.

That gave Hamilton a short field but the offense couldn’t take advantage, and Rios ended up hitting the left upright on a 32-yard field goal attempt. Princeton then scored on a hook and ladder play for 27 yards, as Rodney Harris caught a 7-yard pass and pitched it to Ari Turner to complete the touchdown. An incomplete pass on the two-point conversion kept the Big Blue ahead, 21-19.

The Vikings then got a 34-yard touchdown run from Boyd with 6:35 left, and Johnson’s following touchdown just wasn’t enough to put Princeton away as several Big Blue players experienced cramping down the stretch.

“He (Johnson) was great, but we had a lot of missed opportunities,” Mahon said. “I thought we had a punt blocked and we didn’t score on that possession. We missed a field goal off the upright, a lot of calls that didn’t go our way. It didn’t seem like the ball bounced our way at all, and we lost.”

Johnson finished with 72 yards and two touchdowns on 17 carries, while Simms-Marshall threw for 131 yards and one touchdown on just five completions. Bowling caught three passes for 115 yards. Jordan Jones led the defense with 13 tackles.

Boyd paced Princeton with 122 yards and two touchdowns on 17 carries, and Lynn finished with 191 yards passing and three touchdowns with two interceptions.

“They had big plays when they needed them, a fade, a hitch-and-go and a hook and lateral,” Mahon said. “Hats off to them for those great play calls.”