COLERAIN TOWNSHIP, Ohio — Princeton football coach Mike Daniels was in the seventh grade the last time the Vikings defeated Colerain prior to Friday night.
So it was definitely understandable to see the sheer euphoria in the postgame for the victorious Vikings.
"This is a big deal," said Daniels, a 2003 Princeton graduate.
"And I'm not going to act like it's not. It's a big deal for our program, for the psyche, for everything we're trying to do on the field. Very excited."
The celebration started in earnest around Viking Nation as the clock neared 10 p.m. Friday at Cardinal Stadium.
For the third consecutive week, the undefeated Vikings rallied in the fourth quarter.
This time, Princeton rallied from a 17-point deficit midway through the fourth quarter to defeat Colerain 41-37 in a Greater Miami Conference showdown.
"That was a wild one - it really was," Daniels said.
Friday night was the first time the Vikings (3-0, 3-0 GMC) defeated Colerain since 1997. Colerain (1-2, 1-2 GMC) had won 17 consecutive games over the Vikings entering Friday night.
"What we've been preaching this whole offseason is for us to be able to truly make the next jump in our program is we're going to have to gut it out and grind it out," Daniels said. "And so the kids gritted their teeth and they kept fighting."
Princeton kept the faith when it needed it most down the stretch. It paid dividends.
"I'm extremely proud," Daniels said. "This is a big moment because we know what Colerain stands for. They've been the standard in the GMC. A lot of respect for their coaching staff and their players - they do a phenomenal job."
Princeton trailed 37-20 after Colerain recovered an errant punt attempt in the end zone with 9:20 left.
But, the undefeated Vikings (3-0, 3-0 GMC) never folded. Daniels told his team not to worry about the scoreboard and to just keep playing.
"At the end of the day you've got to play four quarters," Daniels said. "And the boys played four quarters."
Junior quarterback Mekhi Lynn was 16 of 28 passing for 308 yards, according to the Princeton statistics. He threw for three touchdowns and rushed for another.
"It's just a blessing," Lynn said. "This year is not a lot of selfishness. We play as a team. When you are young and hungry nobody knows who you are - nobody really believes in you. When you believe in yourself you accomplish something like this."
Lynn found junior Rodney Harris Jr. for a 21-yard touchdown in the corner of the end zone to help cut the deficit to 10 points with 6:34 left.
Princeton struck again a little more than three minutes later when senior wide receiver Lamont Jackson scored on a 62-yard pass connection from senior DeAngelo Foster from the backfield. Princeton trailed 37-34 with 2:55 left.
The Vikings' defense came up strong down the stretch and Daniels elected to use all three of his timeouts after Colerain ran the ball during its possession.
After the Cardinals punted, Princeton had one last drive with 2:18 left. Lynn connected with Jackson on a 43-yard strike to the Colerain 1-yard line.
The Vikings scored three plays later when Lynn ran for a 3-yard touchdown.
Sophomore Logan Gmerek's extra point gave the Vikings a 41-37 advantage.
The Princeton defense did not allow Colerain another opportunity at the end zone.
"When it's down to that last play, that shows your heart, that shows who you truly are," Lynn said. "That's when the true football player comes out of you."
Jackson had six receptions for 154 yards unofficially and two touchdown receptions. Harris had six receptions for 78 yards and two touchdowns.
Senior running back Thomas Boyd had 19 carries for 61 yards and a touchdown.
Defensively, the Vikings were led by several players including junior linebacker Antonio Nunley Jr., who had a team-high 12 tackles. He also had a key fumble recovery in the third quarter.
Colerain senior quarterback Tyler Prather was 7 of 9 passing for 87 yards and a touchown. He also rushed for 107 yards including a 66-yard score in the third quarter.
Senior Freddie Johnson had 13 carries for 117 yards and a 60-yard touchdown run early in the fourth quarter.
Junior linebacker Lavert Jarmon had a team-high 12 tackles including a sack. Senior defensive lineman Dontay Corleone, who is verbally committed to the University of Cincinnati, had two sacks in the fourth quarter.
Colerain coach Shawn Cutright told his team after the game that it needs to continue to persevere through adversity.
"Life and football can be tough and hard to face – maybe sometimes it may seem insurmountable," Cutright said. "The men that stand up in the face of adversity and take challenges head on and make no excuses are the men that succeed at life. We got outplayed and outcoached – let's all take a hard look in the mirror and decide what kind of men we want to be."
Colerain plays host to Middletown Sept. 18. Princeton plays host to Lakota East Sept. 18.
This weekend marks the halfway point of the scheduled six-game regular season.
The Ohio High School Athletic Association said all eligible football teams are able to make the postseason this season. That is the first occurrence since the playoffs started in 1972.
The deadline for Ohio high school football teams to opt in for the postseason is Sept. 17. New regions will be drawn Sept. 18.
Football coaches will vote for seeding Sept. 29-30. The brackets are scheduled to be posted Oct. 1.
Schools eliminated from the OHSAA playoffs or that choose not to enter the OHSAA playoffs will have the option to schedule additional regular-season contests through Nov. 14, with a maximum of 10 regular-season contests permitted.