Miracle Turnaround For Princeton Football Leads To State Semifinal
The Princeton Tigers lost every single game they played for just over two seasons, enduring a losing streak that reached 20 games.
But everything changed this year, and they're set to play at the Metrodome in the State AAAA Semifinals.
The biggest moment - so far - in the Tigers improbable turnaround came Saturday in the Class AAAA State Quarterfinal against 10-0 Detroit Lakes.
The Tigers survived four overtimes, emerging with a 34-31 win.
"It was the craziest game I've ever played," Tiger quarterback Zack Ludwig says. "We thought we'd lost there three or four times."
Third-year coach Roy Hanenberg emotionally recalled the ups-and-downs of his team's marathon win.
"Whoa... there's an overtime... and then hey, there's another overtime," he laughed. "One of the kids said, 'Coach, I love this'. I said, 'I don't, I just want to win and be done'."
That win, which sent Princeton to the State Final Four at the Metrodome, is just the latest stage of a massive turnaround.
The Tigers went winless for two full seasons in 2010 and 2011, losing twenty straight games. The struggles prompted several players to have second thoughts about coming back this season.
Some, simply couldn't do it.
"One kid told me, 'Coach, I'm just tired of losing'," Hanenberg says. "From fourth grade to junior year of high school they only won seven games, that's in a span of nine years."
But those who had faith and accepted the challenge of committing to change, the reward is a trip to the Metrodome amid the Tigers first State Tournament appearance since a 4-year run ended in 2005.
"I personally never thought we'd be in this position," says senior receiver Travis Chmielewski, "It's unbelievable and it's and amazing feeling to be where we are."
Nobody from the coaches to the players can pinpoint exactly what prompted the turnaround, but they all agree it was a collective choice to buy into committing to change by ignoring struggles in their recent past.
It's a choice that has electrified the town of 4,600 people.
"Everybody's talking about it," Ludwig says, "I work at the local store and every single person comes up to me - I don't know the people. We all enjoy this a lot more."
Princeton plays Holy Family in a Class AAAA Semifinal Friday afternoon at the Metrodome.
The winner advances to the Prep Bowl.