Princeton High School and St. Bede Academy are located just 18.4 miles apart, long time rivals in sports of all sorts, both schools with rich athletic traditions.
But, according to BCR research, they have never met in football. Not once.
The two Bureau County rivals will clash for the very first time on the gridiron Friday night at Bryant Field where the Tigers welcome the Bruins in front of the 2013 PHS Homecoming crowd.
Princeton senior captain Cale Dickens said playing the Bruins for the first time will only add to the Homecoming excitement.
“It’s always feels good to start something new. I think we’re all excited,” Dickens said. “They’re kind of like our neighbors next door, so it’s kind of fun when you know some of the players over there.”
“It’s an opportunity with the conference we’re in now that we’re going to have for a long time,” PHS coach Jesse Snyder said. “It will be really fun. Rivalries are all about tradition. It’s going to be exciting for the kids and the coaches, that’s for sure.”
St. Bede athletic director Tom McGunnigal, an Academy alumnus, said the new rivalry will create some new excitement around the Illinois Valley. He said logistics prevented the matchup before.
“They were in the NCIC and we were floating always in closed conferences. I think their size was an issue, too,” McGunnigal said. “It’s exciting. I think just given the conference we’ve got going on is exciting.”
St. Bede senior Michael Slingsby is happy to take part in the first meeting.
“I think it’s pretty fun to get a new rivalry going. (The two schools are) pretty close, we should have played,” he said.
The game finds the Tigers looking for their identity. Princeton played Sherrard to a 14-0 game in the final minute of the third quarter last week. Sherrard broke the game open with two late scores and added another to post a 36-6 win. The loss was the 14th straight for PHS dating back to Week 7 of the 2011 season.
For St. Bede coach John Bellino, a veteran of 35 years of football wars at the Academy, the game is just another game, one he faces bringing his team back from the recovery of a stunning defeat at the hands of the Kewanee Boilermakers last week.
“I’m real concerned about our kids right now, getting healthy and recovering from last week. We’ve just got to stew on the positive things we did and work on some of the negative things,” he said.
While they were able to move the ball successfully, he said his team appeared to have tired late.
“Looks like we ran out of gas somewhere down the stretch which has not been our forte throughout the year and seams like we had all the energy of games. This time we just didn’t have it,” he said.
Most of all, Slingsby said the Bruins just have to “go out and practice harder and work hard.”
Junior quarterback Jack Brady is quickly becoming one of the top passers to come through the Academy ranks. He has already thrown for 824 yards and eight touchdowns in the first three weeks, completing 50 of 95 attempts. Justin Shaw, who leads the Bruins in rushing (25-136), has caught 16 passes for 270 yards and two TDs.
“Well, we’re throwing it enough,” Bellino said with a laugh. “He’s got some great receivers who can catch the ball and obviously our offensive line is giving him enough time. We’d like to be able to do the other things, too.”
Snyder said the Bruins look like they’re pretty balanced.
“They’ve got some really good receivers, a quarterback who can throw the ball. We’ve got to be prepared for that in the secondary and got be physical upfront” he said. “If we can stay disciplined and stay aggressive, then good things can happen.”
“We’ll have to stop the pass and they’ve got a couple hard running backs. We’ll have step up on our defense. We’ve been working hard all week and hopefully it pays off Friday,” Dickens said.
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