PRINCETON -- Paxton-Buckley-Loda's longest season since 1998 came to an end with a 38-12 loss in the IHSA Class 3A state quarterfinals to Princeton.
The Panthers were in their first state quarterfinal game in more than two decades, but could not achieve its first semifinal appearance since 1995 as the Tigers, who entered the quarterfinals with the top seed in the 3A North Bracket.
"Sometimes, in the world of life, there are people that are just better than you. Unfortunately, I think this football team's just been a better football team than us, definitely today. They're really good, and we knew that. They were super physical," PBL head coach Josh Pritchard said. "I'm super proud of our kids. We gave everything that we had. It just wasn't enough, fortunately.
"We went a lot farther than a lot of people thought. I think we proved we're a pretty good football team, and I just hope we can continue to carry the tradition on here at PBL with a good football team. Hopefully, the quarterfinals isn't an every 20-year thing."
Princeton tallied two first-quarter touchdowns via an 80-yard run by Ronde Worrels and a 70-yard punt return by Max Taylor.
The Panthers went three-and-out on the game's opening possession as Gunner Belt was sacked by Alex May on PBL's own 9-yard line, forcing the Panthers to punt to their own 45-yard line.
Worrels ran for 14 yards on the first play of the Tigers' first possession, but after Wyatt Davis caught a pass for two yards while getting tackled by Drew Diesburg, Worrels was tackled by Clayton Robidoux on second down.
After getting called for a false-start penalty, Princeton faced a third-and-12, on which Tyler Gibson threw an incomplete pass as Noah Atkinson made a diving catch attempt. Gibson was tackled by Hunter Anderson on a scramble on fourth down, giving PBL the ball the ball back on its own 30-yard line.
Anderson ran for two yards before Diesburg caught a pass off a Princeton deflection, moving the ball to the Panthers' own 41-yard line. After getting called for an illegal motion, PBL faced a first-and-15, on which Belt ran for four yards.
On second-and-11, Belt threw an incomplete pass deep along the left sideline intended for Gavin Coplea, with Cael Davis providing 1-on-1 coverage.
After the Tigers were called for encroachment, Jarred Gronsky made a reception on third-and-6 to move the ball to the Princeton 48-yard line. After Belt ran for two yards on first down, Gronsky was tackled by Davis for a gain of one yard and Anderson gained two yards on a screen pass.
Belt pooch punted to Princeton's 20-yard line on the play prior to Worrels' long touchdown run, which was scored with 2:51 left in the first quarter.
On PBL's ensuing drive, which started on its own 44-yard line, Anderson was tackled by Jacob Starr for no gain. After PBL was called for a false-start penalty, Schrodt ran for five yards on second-and-15 before Max Taylor broke up a pass intended for Gronsky on third down.
Taylor's punt-return touchdown took place on the next play with 24.2 seconds left in the first quarter.
After getting the ball back on its own 27-yard line, PBL gained four yards via an Anderson run on first down. Following an incomplete pass on second-and-6, a reception by Drake Schrodt moved the ball to the Panthers' own 47-yard line.
Taylor tackled Anderson for a loss of four yards on the next play before a holding penalty on a Gronsky reverse run forced PBL to face a second-and-27.
Logan Glancy broke up a pass intended for Coplea before Drew Harp and May sacked Belt for a loss of three yards on third down, forcing the Panthers to punt to Princeton's 21-yard line.
With 5:54 left in the second quarter, Gunner Belt found Gavin Coplea on a fourth-and-8 pass for a 40-yard touchdown with 5:54 left in the second quarter to cut PBL's deficit to 14-6.
On the first play of Princeton's prior possession, Schrodt sacked Gibson for a loss of 11 yards. After PBL was called for an encroachment penalty, Dalton Busboom tackled Worrels for no gain on second-and-16.
An incomplete pass on third-and-16 forced the Tigers to punt to their own 42-yard line.
Coplea's touchdown reception followed a 2-yard run by Anderson, a Gronsky screen pass for no gain on second down and an incomplete pass on third down.
Worrels scampered for a 15-yard touchdown on the Tigers' ensuing possession, which produced 65 yards on seven plays.
After Worrels ran for three yards, Taylor caught a pass for 15 yards on second down to move the ball to PBL's 45-yard line. Following an incomplete pass, Taylor ran for another 21 yards.
After Taylor ran for two yards and Worrels ran for seven yards, Worrels tallied his touchdown with 2:53 left in the second quarter.
After the Panthers' ensuing three-and-out possession included a bobbled snap on second-and-10 and a Daniel Crowe sack on third-and-20, Princeton took over on its own 48-yard line.
After Wyatt Davis caught a pass for eight yards and Taylor was stopped for no gain on second down, Atkinson caught a pass to move the ball to the 10-yard line.
Ethan Wright caught a pass in the end zone, but the touchdown was called back due to a holding penalty by the Tigers, moving the ball back to the 23-yard line. On the next play, Schrodt intercepted a pass intended for Wyatt Davis near the end zone with 18.3 seconds remaining in the first half to keep the score at 21-6.
Taylor was injured on the play, and was taken off the field on a stretcher.
After forcing Princeton (11-1) to a three-and-out on its first possession of the second half -- a possession that consisted of a Draven Scroggins tackle for loss on a Jacob Starr run and a tackle for no gain by Dalton Busboom on another Starr run and an incomplete pass on third-and-11.
PBL (9-3) took advantage of a short field, going 44 yards on five plays as Schrodt scored on a 2-yard touchdown to cut the Panthers' deficit to 21-12.
The drive started with a 1-yard run by Belt and an incomplete pass on second down before Coplea caught a pass down the middle for a gain of 29 yards.
Belt ran for another 12 yards on the next play before Schrodt's touchdown was tallied with 8:47 left in the third quarter.
Cael Davis knocked down a pass intended for Coplea on the ensuing two-point conversion attempt.
The Panthers went 0-for-2 on two-point attempts as Starr intercepted a pass intended for Schrodt after Coplea's second-quarter touchdown. Princeton's Jaimie Reinhardt, meanwhile, went 5-for-5 on extra-point kick attempts.
On its ensuing possession Princeton went 69 yards on nine plays as Tyler Gibson found Branden Haring for an 18-yard touchdown reception 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. We just couldn't get the stop when we really needed to, and we couldn't get the first downs we needed," Pritchard said. "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 today."
After Wright was tackled for no gain on the first play of the drive, Glancy ran for seven yards on second down before Starr scampered for 12 yards on third-and-3. Haring caught a pass for eight yards before Starr ran on second down to move the ball to PBL's 37-yard line.
Following a 3-yard run by Starr on first down, Gibson gained seven yards on a quarterback keeper to give Princeton a fresh set of downs. Haring's touchdown reception followed a 9-yard run by Starr on first down.
Jaimie Reinhardt made a 21-yard field goal and Haring had a 35-yard touchdown reception in the fourth quarter to extend the lead for the Tigers.
Following Haring's third-quarter touchdown reception, Diesburg returned the ensuing kickoff to PBL's own 48-yard line.
Anderson ran for no gain before Starr tackled Coplea for a loss of one yard on a screen pass on second down. Belt overthrew Diesburg on third-and-11 before PBL was called for a false start on fourth down.
After the Panthers' fourth-down punt moved the ball to Princeton's 43-yard line, Starr ran for 23 yards on the first play of the Tigers' ensuing possession.
On the next two plays, Bennett Sierens and Glancy each had a pass reception for 13 and 11 yards, respectively, to move the ball to PBL's 10-yard line.
An unforced fumble on first-and-goal moved the ball back to the 26-yard line as PBL's Kendall Swanson and Gronsky chased the ball before it was recovered by Gibson. Haring caught a rollout pass from Gibson for 19 yards on second down before Colton Coy tackled Starr, who gained two yards on a toss to the left side on third-and-goal prior to Reinhardt's field goal, which extended Princeton's lead to 31-12 with 10:21 left in the game.
The Panthers regained the ball on Princeton's 47-yard line, but Gronsky was stopped for a loss of one yard on first down. On second-and-11, a pass intended for Coplea fell incomplete before Grant Foes sacked Belt for a loss of 10 yards on third down and PBL punted to the Tigers' own 29-yard line.
Starr ran for four yards before Gibson gained nine yards on a second-down quarterback keeper. Starr then scampered for 18 yards on the next play.
Starr was stopped for a loss of one yard on first down before plunging for four yards on second down. After Glancy ran for two yards on third-and-7 before being tackled by Wyatt Hollen, Haring tallied his fourth-quarter touchdown reception with five minutes remaining in the game.
After the Panthers regained the ball on their own 17-yard line, an incomplete pass was followed by a reception by Coy that moved the ball to PBL's own 28-yard line.
On the next play, Coplea caught a pass for a gain of 17 yards. Schrodt had a reception called back on a holding penalty on the next play.
A Coy reception resulted in a gain of 12 yards on first-and-15 before he caught another pass to move the ball to Princeton's 43-yard line. Anderson then ran for a gain of another 14 yards.
Following two incomplete passes, however, Teegan Davis intercepted a pass intended for Diesburg on third down, giving Princeton the ball back on its own 28-yard line.
Glancy ran for 22 yards on the first play of the Tigers' ensuing possession before Princeton ran the clock out to end the game.
Schrodt and Belt are part of a 15-player senior class that will be gone next year.
The class also included Hunter Anderson -- who entered the game with 1,350 yards and 14 touchdowns rushing along with 89 tackled, including 11 for a loss of yards -- along with Dalton Busboom -- who had 99 tackles, including 13 for loss of yards, and three sacks prior to Saturday's game -- and Colton Coy, Levi Frichtl, Jalen Hutchcraft, Clayton Robidoux, Keegan Marty, Ben Busby, Tate Graham, Jayden Ware, Draven Scroggins, Luke Waterson and Alex Rueck.
Braden Mutchmore, the team's manager, is also a senior.
"Our seniors are super great. We had great leadership, great players, great kids, great students, great sons. This senior group is awesome, and I'm very happy that my first year at PBL is with this group of seniors," Pritchard said. "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.
"Those are their brothers out there on the football field. That's going to be their friendship for the rest of their lives, I hope, and I hope I was just at least a little bit a part of that. I hope they appreciate everything that I did because I know I definitely appreciate everything they've done for me."
Coplea will return for his senior season, as will Drew Diesburg, who tied the school's single-season interception record with six. The Panthers are tentatively scheduled to start the 2020 season with three nonconference games against teams that reached the second round of the 2A playoffs this year, starting with a home game against Gibson City-Melvin-Sibley on Aug. 28, followed by Bismarck-Henning-Rossville-Alvin on the road and a home game against Oakwood.
"We have some skill kids coming back. We know we have a lot of good kids that we're going to have to replace. I know these kids want to hit the ground running right now," Pritchard said. "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. I just hope I can be a part of this. I want to be a part of this for a long time and I want it to be a consistent thing where we're going to the quarterfinals and farther each and every year."
The loss for PBL concluded Pritchard's first year as the team's head coach.
"I thank everybody for everything they did around this community -- my coaches, fans and parents for everything they've done for this program and making my first year really special," Pritchard said. "I want to tip my cap to them because they've done everything, whether it's money or time and being there for everybody. Thank you to the community."
With its win on Saturday, Princeton will host second-seeded Byron (11-1) in the state semifinals.
"The ultimate goal is to always win state, but only one team's going to be happy at the end of the year. Unfortunately, it's not us this year, but we hope in the near future, it can be us," Pritchard said.
Princeton 38, PBL 12
PBL 0 6 6 0 -- 12
PRIN 14 7 7 10 -- 38
Princeton -- Worrels 80 run (Reinhardt kick)
Princeton -- Taylor 70 punt return (Reinhardt kick)
PBL -- Coplea 40 pass from Belt (pass failed)
Princeton -- Worrels 15 run (Reinhardt kick)
PBL -- Schrodt 2 run (pass failed)
Princeton -- Haring 18 pass from Gibson (Reinhardt kick)
Princeton -- Reinhardt 21 FG
Princeton -- Haring 35 pass from Gibson (Reinhardt kick)
How PBL fared in 2019:
Week 1 — GCMS (9-1) 32, PBL 8
Week 2 — PBL 52, Georgetown-Ridge Farm (3-6) 12
Week 3 — PBL 50, Iroquois West (1-8) 0
Week 4 — PBL 22, Seneca (5-5) 18
Week 5 — PBL 44, Momence (1-8) 7
Week 6 — PBL 42, Salt Fork (5-5) 0
Week 7 — Clifton Central (10-0) 29, PBL 14
Week 8 — PBL 43, Watseka (7-3) 15
Week 9 — PBL 41, Dwight (3-6) 21
First round — PBL 46, Chicago Carver (6-3) 6
Second round -- PBL 27, Farmington Central (8-3) 7
Quarterfinals -- Princeton (11-1) 38, PBL 12
What PBL will see in 2020*:
Week 1 -- GCMS at PBL
Week 2 -- PBL at Bismarck-Henning-Rossville-Alvin (9-2)
Week 3 -- Oakwood (8-3) at PBL
Week 4 -- Clifton Central at PBL
Week 5 -- PBL at Seneca
Week 6 -- PBL at Momence
Week 7 -- Iroquois West at PBL
Week 8 -- Dwight at PBL
Week 9 -- PBL at Watseka
* -- schedule is subject to change