IHSA playoffs: Another quarterfinal, another heartbreak for Princeton

Princeton's Payne Miller hugs teammate Ian Morris after loosing to Montini Catholic on Saturday, Nov. 11, 2023 at Bryant Field in Princeton.

Three years.

Three quarterfinals.

Three heartbreaking losses.

The Princeton Tigers football team has reached the IHSA Class 3A quarterfinals for the third straight year only to fall each time. The latest was a 27-9 loss to Montini Catholic on Saturday.

In the end, the Broncos, with a much deeper roster, just wore down the Tigers, outscoring their hosts 27-6 in the second half after falling behind 3-0 at halftime.

“It was a very tough loss but unforgettable season,” PHS junior Noah LaPorte said. “Things were going our way in the first half, and the second half it was the complete opposite. For us underclassmen, we can’t complain. We’ve got to get back to work for next year and learn from our mistakes this year.”

The mounting quarterfinal losses don’t get any easier, especially to those Tigers who have played in all three, such as seniors Payne Miller and Preston Arkels and juniors Cade Odell, Ace Christiansen, Ian Morris and Arthur Burden.

“Definitely not the best feeling, but you’re always going to have setbacks in life, and the best thing for an athlete to have is a short memory and move on,” LaPorte said. “Also can’t let your emotions get the best of you, because those younger kids look up to us.”

Princeton's Cade Odell reacts after loosing to Montini Catholic on Saturday, Nov. 11, 2023 at Bryant Field in Princeton.

Odell, a two-way lineman, sees the quarterfinals as learning experiences even if the Tigers didn’t get the outcome they desired.

“It really stinks, but I mean I’ve played against good competition, and that’s why I play the game. To be the best, you have to beat the best,” he said. “Even though it’s a bummer to lose every time, it still has gotten us stronger, and hopefully next year we’ll be able to break this quarterfinals curse.”

Miller looks at all the positives the Tigers achieved over the past three seasons rather than the three quarterfinal losses.

“It was a big disappointment to lose yet another quarterfinal game, but out of my three years starting for Princeton, we went 31-5, and three of those games have been quarterfinal games. I think that puts us in rare company,” he said.

“So, even though we lost, I’m proud of our boys and how they have played. It wasn’t just about getting to state, but it was about cultivating and making sure the Princeton culture was passed down as it was by the guys before us. I couldn’t have asked for a better team to play for.”

After winning its first two quarterfinal games in 1989 (27-14 over Alleman) and 2002 (48-21 over Rochester), the Tigers have lost four of their past five, standing 3-4 in program history.

If you’re keeping score at home, and I know many Tiger fans are, the last four losses have come at the hands of private schools.

Three of those losses came to IC Catholic Prep – 37-14 in 2015, 31-7 in 2021 and 27-20 in OT in 2022.

Princeton’s third and last quarterfinal win came in 2019 over Paxton-Buckley-Loda (38-12), which the Tigers also beat in the opening round this year.

With most of their skills players returning, including quarterback Will Lott and their two leading rushers, sophomore Casey Etheridge and Christiansen, and several linemen, the Tigers undoubtedly will bounce back strong next year to try to get over that quarterfinal hump.

• Kevin Hieronymus has been the Bureau County Republican sports editor since 1986. Contact him at khieronymus@shawmedia.com.