PRINCETON, N.J. - Prior to Saturday night's season opener, Princeton head coach Roger Hughes said that his team would need to be fundamentally sound to have a chance against a talented Lehigh squad. He said that turnovers and special teams could both play major roles in the outcome. Unfortunately, he was right. Five Princeton first-half turnovers, a blocked punt for a safety and miserable field position plagued the Tigers in a 32-21 loss to Lehigh on Powers Field at Princeton Stadium.
"Lehigh did a good job, and I'm not taking anything away from them," Hughes said, "but you can't come out and turn the ball over five times in the first half. I told the guys to look around the locker room, because we aren't picking anybody up on the waiver wire. We need to improve, and we're going to work this week to get it done."
The Tigers were outgained by only three total yards, but the turnovers did them in. Senior quarterback Bill Foran, making his first start at the position, completed 7-of-23 psses for 156 yards and two touchdowns, but he had two interceptions as well. Junior R.C. Lagomarsino fumbled on the first play from scrimmage, and two more special teams fumbles kept the Princeton offense off the field.
The Princeton defense, led by a strong 17-tackle effort from Tim Boardman, held Lehigh out as long as possible, but the field position was too much to overcome. Lehigh's average field position was the Princeton 48-yard-line, and it had more than 39 minutes time of possession. Doori Song and Joe Cerreta both had eight tackles apiece, and Cerreta added his first career interception. Scott Britton made four tackles and recovered a fumble, while fellow sophomore Dan Kopolovich added three pass breakups.
Early nerves plagued Princeton in the first quarter. So did turnovers, as the Mountain Hawks turned two Princeton miscues into touchdowns. Junior R.C. Lagomarsino took the opening rush 15 yards before being stripped by Brannan Thomas. The ball was recovered by Paul Bode, and Lehigh capitalized seven plays later when Kwesi Kankam went up the middle one yard for a touchdown.
Three Princeton plays later, Foran's pass bounced off the hands of Adam Berry and into the grasp of Lehigh's Thomas, who again gave the Mountain Hawks possession in Tiger territory. A 16-yard pass to Mike Fitzgerald and a 4th-and-1 surge by Threatt set up a 3-yard touchdown pass from Threatt to Troy Healion. Jason Leo's extra point hit the left upright, leaving Lehigh's lead at 13-0.
Princeton managed only 44 offensive yards in the first quarter, but did a good job defensively to keep the score at 13-0. The defense was asked to keep up the good work, as turnover continued to come in the second quarter. Foran was intercepted in Princeton territory, but Joe Cerreta came right back with a Tiger pick on the next play. After both teams were stopped, a low Lehigh punt bounced short of returner Jeb Heavenrich, who was unable to handle the kick. Princeton again held and forced a 36-yard field goal attempt, which was pulled left of the uprights.
Thomas again put Lehigh in scoring position, this time with a 35-yard punt return off a 41-yard punt from Ryan Coyle. Thomas found a seam up the middle and made it to the Princeton 30-yard-line before Cart Kelly and Ryan Pritchard made the tackle. Lehigh got the ball down to the 3-yard-line before the Princeton defense held, and Leo booted a 25-yarder to open a 16-0 lead.
Through all the mishaps, it was still only a two-possession game. Unfortunately for the Tigers, a fifth turnover was coming on the next kickoff. A short kick to the 20-yard-line along the home sideline bounced short of Gunter. The first bounce went backwards, allowing a stream of Mountain Hawks to converge on the loose ball and recover it at the Princeton 23-yard-line. Threatt went in from six yards out to give Lehigh a 23-0 halftime lead.
The lead grew to 25-0 early in the third quarter when Jarvis Brown blocked a punt inside the Princeton end zone. Coyle had the presence of mind to knock the ball out of the end zone before it was recovered for a touchdown. The Tigers were pinned on their own 1-yard-line following a perfect punt from Leo, who helped the Mountain Hawks control field position throughout the game.
Desperate for points, Foran finally got the offense in motion midway through the third quarter, and it started with an elusive scramble and deep pass to Thanheiser, who found room along the left sideline for a 37-yard reception. A 27-yard slant to Circle, reminiscent of several of his key catches from season, got the ball inside the red zone, and a 7-yard pass to Rob Toresco gave Princeton its first score of the season. It was the first career touchdown pass for Foran, who had already recorded a touchdown run and reception in his career.
Princeton stopped Lehigh in three plays and began its next drive on the 16-yard-line. The drive seemed to stall, but a roughing the punter penalty gave Princeton a second chance, and Foran took immediate advantage. He lofted a 53-yard pass down the right sideline to Circle, who carried a Mountain Hawk defender to the Lehigh 6-yard-line. A stumble by Foran forced a 3rd-and-goal from the 15, but he connected on a perfect post to Berry for the second touchdown of the quarter.
Lehigh was now the team in need of a drive, and it came early in the fourth quarter. After returning a punt to the Princeton 48-yard-line, Threatt and his backfield mates engineered a 13-play touchdown drive that took 7:28 off the clock. While 11 of the plays were rushes, the killer play was a 3rd-and-16 screen pass to Kankam that went 17 yards. Jaren Walker pushed forward on 3rd-and-goal at the 2 for the touchdown that put Lehigh up 32-14.
Reserve quarterback Greg Mroz came in during the fourth quarter and led the Tigers to one final scoring drive. His scoring pass went 21 yards to junior Will Thanheiser along the right side of the end zone. An onsides kick failed, and one last offensive drive in the final minute stalled for the Tigers.
Princeton will now head to Lafayette, which pulled out a tight win over Penn at Franklin Field. The Tigers have won three straight against the Leopards, including a 23-21 win in Easton two seasons ago. Princeton will return to Powers Field Sept. 29 to take on Columbia in the Ivy League opener.