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Tigers, Boilers renew acquaintances

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It’s time to dust off the old traveling trophy that was passed around between Princeton and Kewanee High Schools for decades.

Their old-time rivalry dating back to 1897, the fourth oldest active rivalry in the state, will be renewed Friday night at Kewanee. It had been put on hiatus since 2009, when the Boilermakers departed the NCIC for the Three Rivers/Big Rivers.

Friday night will match the Route 34 rivals together for the 115th time.

Kewanee’s departure was the first of the dominoes to fall in the NCIC. Princeton played in the West Central football conference for two years. The expansion of the Three Rivers this year has led to the reunion of the old rivals.

First-year head coach Tyler Nichols said he’s not quite sure what kind of knowledge his kids have of the Kewanee-Princeton rivalry.

“I am sure they have heard a story or two from family members or people around town,  but we will address the history of the game this week,” he said.

High school football originated in 1885 in the state of Illinois. Twelve years later, Kewanee traveled to Princeton to meet the Tigers for the first time. William McKinley had succeeded Grover Cleveland as president; Grant’s Tomb was dedicated in New York City; and Mark Twain retorts to rumors of his death “as an exaggeration.”

An account of that first meeting, which was was won by the Tigers 34-4, appeared as follows in a Kewanee newspaper:

“Our team of pigskin kickers journeyed to Princeton on Saturday to do battle on the gridiron for football honors. A perfect day with little or no choice of goals, an enthusiastic crowd, together with a prospect for a close game, lent an air of suppressed but keen interest to the proceedings. The teams were evenly matched, and each adopted a different style of play — Princeton skirted the ends, while Kewanee kept smashing away at the line, neither side daring to risk punting the oval.”

Generations of grandfathers and grandsons, fathers and sons, and uncles and nephews, and brothers and cousins have played the game on both sides. Many of the surnames remain the same throughout the years.

Princeton leads the rivalry 56-54 with four ties. For a look at all-time scores, visit

Back to the future

The Boilermakers have made a great turnaround this year under Nichols, who took over as head coach following the resignation of Princeton native Chris Waca, now on staff at Plano High School. They bring in a 3-1 record, including a stunning 27-26 win at St. Bede and a resounding 33-19 win over Bureau Valley last week.

Nichols said the key to his team’s success this season “has been our senior leadership and our ability to stay focused on what we can control.”

Jesse Snyder is trying to do the same at Princeton, which has lost 15 straight games dating back to Week 7 of the 2011 season. It’s an ongoing project for the second-year Tiger head coach, but the Tigers have taken steps to get there the past two weeks.

They played Sherrard to a 14-0 game late in the third quarter. Last week, they stayed within 13-0 with St. Bede late in the second quarter.

Snyder said his team has to continue to keep working harder and trying to get better each week.

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