Turnovers are key to the game of football.
Usually if a team can win the turnover battle, that team will win the game.
In the Section 6AAAA Championship game, the Princeton Tigers unfortunately found themselves on the wrong side of that battle as the Orono Spartans were able to take advantage of those miscues on the way to a 36-27 win on John Harvey Field on Nov. 5.
“Orono took advantage when the opportunity was there. We made enough mistakes on our end that allowed them to power through at the end,” said Princeton Head Coach Ryan Fay.
Setting Princeton to be the host of the contest, the third-seeded Tigers, fresh off a victory over Zimmerman would battle the Spartans after they knocked off top-seeded Mound Westonka for the trip to state.
On the windy night with a state berth at stake, the Tigers would throw the first punch.
After a one-yard quarterback keeper by Princeton’s Cooper Drews, the Tigers had the 6-0 lead.
Giving the ball back to the Spartans, it appeared that the Tigers would be able to take advantage of an Orono giveaway as a fumble set Princeton up to possibly go up by two scores in the first quarter.
Making it deep into Spartan territory, penalties then sent Princeton in the wrong direction.
With the Tigers presented a fourth and 11, Princeton decided to go for it, as an incomplete pass gave the ball back to Orono.
Failing to capitalize on the Spartans’ turnover altered the feel of the game said Fay. “The feel of the game changes drastically if we get up 14-0 there,” he said.
From there, Orono would throw the next couple punches.
Stepping up huge on defense, the Spartans’ offense would feel the energy shift, scoring the next two touchdowns of the game to take the 14-6 lead just before halftime, as 50 seconds remained before the break.
Given just 50 seconds, the Tigers’ high-powered offense saw the time as more than enough to put some points on the board.
Starting at its own 37-yard line, Princeton marched down the field on Drews’ arm, as the drive was ended with a eight-yard pass from Drews to Evan Schimming to cut the lead to 14-12, and after the successful pass from Drews to Donovon Brown on the two-point conversion, the game was tied at half.
As the two teams returned from the break, the Spartans quickly went three and out to give the ball to Princeton, pinned deep in its own territory.
The tough field position did not discourage the Tigers with the team driving all the way down the field to a first and goal chance.
Again, Princeton called on Drews to push his way into the endzone as another QB-keeper resulted in a second rushing touchdown for the junior, capping the 95-yard drive to take the 21-14 lead.
However, on the ensuing drive, the Spartans would answer with a scoring drive of their own to tie the game right back up at 21 apiece.
Given the chance to retake the lead, a costly turnover gave the ball back to Orono deep in Tiger territory as the teams headed to the fourth tied.
The Spartans, who outscored Princeton 15-0 off of giveaways, were able to complete the drive with Aidan Mueller rushing touchdown while a successful two-point conversion gave Orono an eight-point lead with 10:41 left in the game.
Attempting to answer, the Tigers were able to put together a string of plays to march down the field.
Stalling a bit, the drive reached fourth and nine yards to go with Princeton needing a touchdown.
On the play, Orono’s defense was able to stand tall, knocking the ball away on a pass, taking over on downs.
Making the big stop on defense, the Spartans’ offense answered with a drive of their own, running the ball and draining the clock.
As the drive was capped with another Mueller score, his fourth of the night, there remained only 1:42 left in the game as Princeton trailed by 15 points.
Princeton, with time against the team quickly scored just 33 seconds later but failed to make it a one possession game as the PAT was missed with the Tigers still trailing by two possessions.
Attempting the onside kick, the Tigers failed to recover and after a first down by the Spartans, Orono entered victory formation.
Despite picking up the loss, Kaden Olson, senior captain wasn’t disappointed by the effort the team showed. “A few mistakes, it will happen, but I’m proud of my team,” said the fullback and linebacker for Princeton.
In the loss, Drews completed 17 of 26 passes for 280 yards and a score, accounting for three total touchdowns while Olson added the other score for the Tigers.
With the loss Princeton dropped to 6-5 on the season while the Spartans moved to 5-6 and advanced to the MSHSL Class AAAA State Tournament to take on Grand Rapids.
Now as the Tigers enter into the offseason, the team will have to replace a handful of impact seniors.
Olson believes the team will be able to step up and fill the spots left. “They all know they have more responsibilities now. There are kids that will have to step up to replace us seniors but I have faith in them. I think they are going to do really well next year,” said Olson.