Vandals rally from 21 points down to defeat Princeton, 35-28

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For whatever reason, playing the Princeton Panthers seems to bring out the best and the worst in the Van Vandals.

After rallying from a 27-point deficit in their Sept. 2 regular season meeting at Princeton to capture a come-from-behind 48-34 victory, the Vandals found themselves in a 21-0 second quarter hole against Princeton Friday night before somehow, someway managing to escape Rockwall with an unbelievable 35-28 triumph to take home the Class 4A, Division I bi-district round trophy.

Overall, it was the fourth straight win for Van over Princeton in the last two seasons as the Vandals have eliminated the Panthers from the state playoffs in the bi-district round in both seasons.

Van, the District 8-4A Division I runner-up, will move on the area round of the Class 4A, Division I playoffs as they will take on the team that sent them home packing in last year’s state quarterfinals.

The Vandals, 10-1 overall, will face state-ranked and unbeaten Kennedale, 11-0, in a noon kickoff Friday at The Star in Frisco, the same location that the two teams met in last season where Kennedale rallied in the second half dealing Van a heartbreaking 34-28 defeat.

Princeton, the third-place team in District 7-4A, Division I, ends its 2017 campaign with an overall record of 6-5.

Against the Panthers, senior quarterback Garrett Moseley led the Vandal offensive attack with 241 yards rushing on 36 carries and three touchdowns in addition to completing 15 out of 22 passes for 187 yards and one TD. Moseley accounted for 428 out of the 466 total yards registered by the Vandals.

After gaining 243 total yards in the first half, Princeton was held to 118 yards of total offense in the second half by the Vandal defense which forced three Panther turnovers overall including two in the second half as Princeton was held to one TD in the final two quarters.

Princeton opened the bi-district contest with TD drives in each of their first three offensive possessions as they took the opening kickoff and drove 75 yards in six plays.

Panther running back Jay Hill (27 carries, 160 yards rushing, two TD’s) ended the opening march with a 4-yard TD run. Nico Ledesma added the extra point giving Princeton a 7-0 advantage with 9:41 to play in the first quarter.

Key plays in the opening scoring drive for the Panthers included a 31-yard run by Hill on the first play from scrimmage and a 21-yard pass completion from QB Brendon Strickland to receiver Tristan Gee in addition to a face mask penalty against the Vandals.

Following a Van punt, the Panthers increased their early lead with an impressive 99-yard scoring march in nine plays.

Strickland connected with Gee (six receptions, 74 yards) on a 12-yard TD pass play to end the drive. Ledesma added the extra point giving Princeton a 14-0 lead with 4:17 remaining in the first quarter.

Van attempted to respond as they moved from its own 37 to the Panther 22 in four plays including a 34-yard pass completion on the first play of the drive from Moseley to receiver Gus Brewer (six receptions, 105 yards).

The scoring threat for the Vandals ended on fourth down and three at the Princeton 22 when Moseley was tackled after a two-yard gain giving the ball back to the Panthers.

Princeton then moved 80 yards in eight plays for another TD as Hill ended the drive with a 1-yard TD plunge on the first play of the second quarter. Ledesma added the extra point to give the Panthers a stunning 21-0 lead with 11:52 to play in the second quarter.

A 30-yard run by Hill, a 15-yard pass completion from Strickland to RB Philip Mayfield and a personal foul penalty against the Vandals were key plays in the Panther scoring march.

Following a Vandal punt, the Panthers threatened to add to their lead as they moved from their own 42 to the Vandal 31 in four plays including a 19-yard pass completion from Strickland to wide receiver Trent Carter.

Facing third down and nine, Strickland’s deep sideline pass was intercepted by Vandal defensive back Ridge Preston at the Van 13 which set up the first of four consecutive scoring drives by Van that extended into the third quarter of play.

Two plays later, Van received a scare when Moseley went down with an injury but returned to action after missing just one play.

Van got on the scoreboard as the Vandals concluded an 87-yard drive in 13 plays with RB Elijah Rankine ending the march on a 4-yard TD run. Calen McKinney added the extra point to cut Van’s deficit to 21-7 with 3:17 to play in the second quarter.

Key plays in the first Vandal scoring march included running gains of 14 and 25 yards by Moseley and pass completions from Moseley covering 14 yards to Brewer and 12 yards to receiver Bray Doring.

Following a Princeton punt, the comeback effort by the Vandals continued as they drew closer on the scoreboard by driving 70 yards in nine plays executing their two-minute offense to near perfection.

Moseley ended the march with a 1-yard TD run. McKinney added the extra point to cut further into the Princeton lead at 21-14 with 17 seconds to play before halftime.

Key plays in the second Vandal scoring drive included pass completions from Moseley covering 29 and 20 yards to Brewer and a 16-yard run by Moseley.

The momentum for the Vandals continued in the third quarter as Van received the third quarter kickoff and moved 70 yards in six plays to tie the game.

Moseley connected with receiver Ethan Robinson on a 37-yard TD pass play to end the march. McKinney added the extra point to tie the contest at 21-21 with 9:22 to play in the third quarter.

A 16-yard pass completion from Moseley to H-back Jake Kellam set up the tying TD toss to Robinson for the Vandals.

Van’s defense forced a turnover on Princeton’s initial second half offensive possession as Strickland was sacked and fumbled with Van defensive tackle Kellam recovering the loose football at the Panther 21.

On the next play, Moseley raced 21 yards for a TD. McKinney added the extra point and suddenly, the Vandals had their first lead of the game at 28-21 with 8:30 remaining in the third quarter.

An exchange of punts followed for the remainder of the third quarter and at the start of the fourth quarter before the Panthers began an offensive series at their own 31 with 7:23 to play in the game.

Five plays later, on second down and 10 at the Panther 48, a deep sideline throw by Strickland was intercepted by Van DB J. J. Kellum as he wrestled the ball away from the Princeton receiver at the Vandal 22 giving the Vandals possession with a seven-point lead.

Mosley then carried the ball on eight consecutive running plays, including gains of 19 and 32 yards, to complete a 78-yard scoring drive forcing Princeton to use their three second half timeouts on defense.

The Vandal senior QB ended the critical drive with a 2-yard TD run. McKinney added the extra point giving Van a seemingly comfortable 35-21 advantage with exactly 3:00 remaining in the game.

Princeton showed no signs of giving up as the Panthers responded by moving 70 yards on five consecutive pass plays.

Strickland (13 completions, 24 attempts, 207 yards, two TD’s, two interceptions) connected with WR Kile Massy (five receptions, 99 yards) on a 34-yard TD pass play to complete the drive. Ledesma added the extra point cutting Van’s lead to 35-28 with 2:24 remaining.

A 25-yard pass completion from Strickland to Massy set up what turned out to be the final scoring drive for the Panthers.

Princeton then attempted the onside kick but it went out of bounds giving the Vandals possession at the Van 49 allowing Moseley to execute four more running plays to end the game with the ball at the Princeton 41.