by Bruce Strand, Sports editor
Just when it appeared the Zimmerman Thunder would coast to their third straight football win, the Princeton Tigers started to punch back on Friday night.
The Thunder still prevailed, 25-21, with its exhausted defense managing to hold off the Tigers in a scoreless fourth quarter at Princeton.
Collin Ashley sparked the victory with two big plays, a 52-yard run in the second quarter and an interception and 49-yard return early in the third quarter.
Ashley’s pick six, and his two-point conversion run, gave the Thunder a 25-7 lead, and Trey Gabrielson intercepted another pass shortly.
But the Thunder fumbled two plays later, and Princeton took charge for the rest of the quarter. Zach Ludwig hit Billy McClay for a six-yard touchdown, and Josh Osborn added a two-yard scoring run. They were within 25-21 with a quarter left.
The Tigers, who have struggled in recent years, beat Mora and Mound-Westonka before hosting the Thunder.
“Princeton has improved a lot,” said Thunder coach Tom Kish. “They brought in a new offensive coordinator, and they have 26 seniors. The kid who was supposed to be their quarterback last year but hurt his ankle, he’s back and he’s very good.”
Princeton’s depth (Zimmerman has 12 seniors) was evident in the second half as they started to wear down the Thunder.
Still, the Thunder held on through a scoreless fourth quarter. The Tigers had a 4th-and-14 at midfield with two minutes left and completed a short pass but were stopped seven yards short of the marker. They were out of timeouts by then and Zimmerman ran out the final 2:29.
The Thunder had scored 92 point in their first two games and led Princeton 17-7 at halftime but the offense was blanked in the second half against Princeton and had to hang on to a four-point lead throughout the fourth quarter.
“It wasn’t our best game, but we were playing a pretty good team,” said Kish. “We were not making as good decisions on our options as the last two games.”
The Thunder had a modest 254 yards from scrimmage, 209 on the ground and 45 passing. Ashley had 77 in seven carries, Jeff Mueller 51 in 10, and Noah Lunning 45 in eight. Cam Korlath hit six of nine passes with one intercepted.
Ludwig, the Tiger QB, hit McClay twice for touchdowns, the earlier one a 13-yarder that opened the scoring.
The Thunder did sack him five times, though, along with the two interceptions. Linebackers Jeremy Sloneker and Korlath brought him down twice and tackle Mitch Robinson once.
After Ashley’s TD run, the Thunder got a 27-yard field goal from Alex McGregor, then mounted an 86-yard drive capped by a Korlath sneak into the end zone, for a 17-7 lead. On the ensuing kickoff, MacGregor strained his leg so the Thunder were without their standout kicker the rest of the game.
The Thunder have a big challenge next week when they play at Becker, another 3-0 team. Becker, former Mississippi 8 rival of Zimmerman’s, moved into the GRC this year, and has a good chance to hand the Thunder their first-ever GRC loss.
Zimmerman 25, Princeton 21
Zimmerman …….. 10 7 8 0 — 25
Princeton ……….. 7 0 14 0 — 21
Prin—Billy McClay 13 pass from Zack Ludwig (kick, name not available)
Zim—Collin Ashley 52 run (Alex McGregor)
Zim—McGregor 27 field goal
Zim—Cam Korlath 1 run (MacGregor kick)
Zim—Ashley 49 interception return (Ashley run)
Prin — McClay 6 pass from Ludwig (kick failed)
Prin — Josh Osborn 2 run (run, name not available)
Rushing — Ashley 7-77, Jeff Mueller 10-51, Noah Lunning 8-45, Korlath 10-32, Andrew Nixon 1-4
Passing — Korlath 6-9-45-1
Receiving — Ashley 2-20, Lunnng 2-15, Cody Thompson 1-7, Trey Gabrelson 1-3
Tackles (solo-assist-total) — Cory Jopp 4-5-9, Mitch Robinson 7-1-8, Ashley 6-1-7, Lunning 3-2-5, Austin Tretbar 4-1-5, Thompson 5-0-5, Jeremy Sloneker 5-0-5
Sacks — Sloneker 2, Korlath 2, Robinson 1
Interceptions — Gabrielson 1, Ashley 1