Co-captain Jon Stem (left) led a solid defensive effort with a sack and a key tipped pass.
Courtesy: Beverly Schaefer
This one certainly resembled the team Princeton fans envisioned for the 2007 season. The defending Ivy League champions bounced back from an ugly opener to win a physical battle against the No. 22 Lafayette Leopards at Fisher Stadium. The Tigers, who committed zero turnovers and rallied twice, improved to 1-1 with a 20-14 victory over the previously unbeaten Leopards.
“I’m really proud of the team effort we put forth tonight,” head coach Roger Hughes said. “I thought we were really physical, and I give a lot of credit to the offensive line. I thought it took control of the game late.”
That offensive line assisted a Princeton rushing attack that gained 163 yards on the ground against one of the top-ranked defenses in the nation. Rob Toresco led the effort with 66 yards on nine rushes, while both R.C. Lagomarsino (15 for 59) and Kenny Gunter (13 for 21) had short touchdown runs. Senior quarterback Bill Foran was much more consistent in his second start, rushing 17 times for 45 yards while completing 18 of 24 passes for 190 yards. He was especially impressive on third downs and helped the Tigers convert on eight of 18 chances.
“The O-line made me look good tonight,” said Gunter, who scored his first collegiate touchdown late in the second quarter. “I’m still learning the position, but those guys made it easy for me. They were blowing up holes tonight.”
Meanwhile, the defense was closing holes. Outside of an 89-yard touchdown run in the second quarter, the Tigers held Lafayette to 209 total yards. Tim Boardman and Kevin Kelleher both had six tackles apiece, while Jon Stem had five to go along with a crucial sack. He also deflected a pass that was intercepted by Tom Methvin; the junior lineman added 1.5 tackles for loss to aid a defensive line that kept the Lafayette offense from gathering any rhythm.
Princeton nearly suffered a disastrous opening, as Maurice White appeared to take the opening play of the game for a 56-yard touchdown run, but a holding call negated the score and sent Lafayette back 10 yards. The defense held and forced a quick Leopard punt. Foran came out with first-down passes to Berry and Circle, showing much earlier offensive effectiveness than Princeton did a week earlier. A third-down gang sack ended the drive at midfield, and Ryan Coyle’s first punt bounced into the end zone for a touchback.
The Tigers got terrific field position on their next drive, thanks to a tipped pass by co-captain Jon Stem that was grabbed in the air by lineman Tom Methvin. A huddle of players surrounded the ball, but Methvin was able to hold on to give Princeton the ball at the Lafayette 34-yard-line. Princeton shot itself on the foot, though, botching a shotgun snap that forced a Coyle punt that again bounced into the end zone.
Princeton got another quick stop and then grabbed its first lead of the season with a 9-play, 60-yard drive that ended with a 25-yard field goal from Connor Louden. Runs of 18 and 17 yards by Rob Toresco got Princeton into Lafayette territory, and an 11-yard run down the right side by R.C. Lagomarsino moved the ball to the 11-yard-line. Princeton got four more yards before Louden booted his first field goal of the year.
The Tiger defense again stopped Lafayette in three plays, but the Leopards countered with a 3-and-out of their own. Princeton seemingly took control of field position when Coyle bombed a 69-yard punt to the Lafayette 5-yard-line. Two plays later, on the first play of the second quarter, Lafayette made the punt moot. Anthony D’Urso, subbing for an injured White, found a hole off the left side of the line and outran two Princeton defenders for a stunning 89-yard touchdown.
After a pair of defensive stops, Princeton took over on its own 20-yard-line midway through the quarter. Foran opened what would be Princeton’s best drive of the first six quarters with consecutive completions to Toresco and Thanheiser. A later 3rd-and-14 pass to Thanheiser went for 15 yards, and Foran followed with another third-down conversion on a bootleg. A pass interference call gave Princeton the ball inside the 10-yard-line, and Gunter finished the drive with a two-yard option run into the left corner of the end zone. The drive took all but 17 seconds off the clock, and an inspired Tiger squad went into intermission with significantly more momentum that it had at the same point last weekend.
The defense got even more rest, as the Princeton offense started with possession in the third quarter. Gunter gave the Tigers excellent field position by returning the opening kick to the 42-yard-line. An 18-yard keeper by Foran moved the ball into Lafayette territory, and an athletic Lagomarsino catch on a screen pass set up a 4th-and-1 on the 29-yard-line. Lagomarsino ran off right tackle for four yards, keeping the chains moving and the Leopards off the field. A 34-yard field goal by Louden completed the 10-play drive, and Princeton completed a stretch of controlling the ball for 12:02 of 12:19.
The well-rested Lafayette offense knew it needed to make its own statement, and DiPaola got the job done. Passes of 12 and 13 yards to Adair moved the ball into Princeton territory, and a 4th-and-1 bootleg by DiPaola went 27 yards to the Tiger 10-yard-line. Two plays later, he hit Adam Gill up the seam for an eight-yard score, giving Lafayette a 14-13 advantage.
Foran came back with two brilliant third-down passes to Thanheiser, who was equally impressive with his catches. On 3rd-and-12 at the Princeton 29, Foran lofted a pass down the left sideline that the sophomore wideout snatched down and dropped a toe just inside the sideline for a 22-yard gain. Five plays later, this time on a 3rd-and-14, Foran scrambled away from a sack and sidearmed a pass to the left corner again. Circle and a Lafayette defender were both in the area, but Thanheiser came down with it for the for the 37-yard catch. Two plays later, Lagomarsino went in from one yard out to open a 20-14 lead.
The score occurred with 30 seconds remaining in the third quarter, and it left the Tiger defense in position to win the game with a 15-minute shutout. After forcing consecutive 3-and-outs, Lafayette got the ball at its own 30-yard-line with 9:55 remaining. A third-down conversion run by DiPaola and a pass interference call helped move the ball into Princeton territory. Lafayette was called for an illegal block on a 4th-down conversion, setting up another 4th-and-5. DiPaola never got the pass off, as Collin McCarthy, earlier the victim of a vicious block, avenged the play with his first sack of the season.
With 4:20 remaining, the Tiger offense made sure Lafayette would not get another chance. After two short runs, Foran hit Circle on a 21-yard crossing pass to force Lafayette into spending its timeouts. A 3rd-and-1 conversion by Lagomarsino was enough to run the clock out and earn the win.
Princeton will return to Powers Field at Princeton Stadium next Saturday when it opens its 2007 Ivy League schedule at 3:30 p.m. against Columbia. The Tigers defeated Columbia 19-6 last year and has won three in a row against the Lions. Princeton, the defending Ivy League champion, went unbeaten at home last year but fell in its 2007 home opener last week.