By DAVID CLAYBOURN
Greenville’s Lions came to life in the second half but couldn’t catch Princeton, which hung on for a 34-22 victory in the 2013 season football opener on Friday.
The Lions outscored Princeton 22-7 during the final 24 minutes and outgained the Panthers 250-94 in total yardage but a 27-0 halftime deficit was too much to make up.
D.D. Fite set the tone for the Lions in the second half, recovering a Panther fumble on the kickoff at the Princeton 23. The Lions scored in four plays, topped off by a 7-yard keeper by sophomore quarterback Spencer Gilbert II. T.J. Hughes converted.
Princeton responded with a 76-yard, 13-play drive to stretch its lead to 34-7. Trey Jackson, the game’s leading rusher with 139 yards on 26 carries, bolted in from two yards.
Greenville battled back with two long drives, first marching 62 yards to score in six plays on an 11-yard touchdown pass from Gilbert to D’erren Wilson on a fade route. Chance Hamilton got the drive rolling with a 33-yard run and Tyler Matthews also dashed 16 yards. Hughes’ kick made it 34-14.
Greenville then marched from its 27 to the Panther 7-yard line in 15 plays but Gilbert was stopped three yards short of the goal line on a fourth-and-six keeper.
The Lions still converted some points with the opportunity as defensive lineman John Franklin tackled Princeton running back Marcellus Hill in the end zone for a safety to make it 34-16 with 8:54 remaining. Franklin had several other key stops in the game.
Matthews returned the free kick 31 yards to set up a 39-yard scoring drive. Gilbert ran five yards for the touchdown with 7:13 left. A try for two failed but the Lions drew within 12 points.
Princeton worked on the clock most of the rest of the game and the Lions’ only other possession ended with a fumble.
Greenville squandered three scoring opportunities in the first half as Princeton built its big halftime lead.
Princeton opened the game with a gamble, trying for the onside kick but Austin Cooper fell on the football for the Lions at the Greenville 49. Greenville moved up to the Panther 36 following a facemask penalty but gave the penalty yardage right back on three false start penalties. The Lions got as close as the 29 on a 9-yard completion from Gilbert to Jacob Mitchell. However, Hughes’ 46-yard field goal attempt landed short.
Another promising opportunity got away from the Lions early in the second quarter. Wilson returned a punt 45 yards for a touchdown but it was called back because of a holding penalty. The Lions got as close as the Princeton 24 following runs of 12 yards by Hamilton and three yards by Matthews, but the Lions fumbled the football and Princeton defender Justin Cullum returned the fumble 75 yards for a touchdown.
Matthews then put the Lions in position to score with a 53-yard kickoff return to the Panther 25. But the Princeton defense forced four straight incompletions.
Princeton, which managed 236 yards of total offense in the first half, drove 55, 75 and 76 yards for touchdowns. Jackson topped off the 55-yard, eight-play drive with a 1-yard plunge. Jackson also ran for gains of 16 and 17 yards on the drive and quarterback Jourdan Blake fired a 22-yard completion to Hill.
Blake’s 21-yard pass to Brandon Talley on a slant finished off the 75-yard, eight play drive.
Blake concluded the 76-yard, eight-play drive with a 3-yard touchdown run on a keeper. He set up the score with a 46-yard completion to wide receiver Jakari Dillard.
Gilbert finished with 45 yards on 17 carries and was 7-of-22 passing for 128 yards. Matthews added 78 yards on 12 carries and Hamilton finished with 58 yards on six rushes as Greenvilled finished with 301 total yards, only 29 less than Princeton.