Courtesy: Beverly Schaefer Rob Toresco rushed for a 32-yard touchdown against Columbia.
In case anybody forgot, Ivy League wins don’t come easily. Princeton recorded 570 yards of total offense, scored six touchdowns and converted on 11-of-15 third downs, but it still needed a fourth-quarter rally to defeat a game Columbia squad 42-32 in Saturday’s Ivy League opener on Powers Field at Princeton Stadium.
Senior Bill Foran led Princeton in both rushing (84 yards) and passing (236 yards), but reserve quarterback Greg Mroz threw the Tigers’ only touchdown pass of the game and led Princeton on a critical pair of scoring drives. Foran and R.C. Lagomarsino both rushed for two touchdowns, while Rob Toresco scored once and picked up 61 yards on the ground. Senior Brendan Circle had his strongest game of the season, catching eight passes for 140 yards, while classmate Jake Staser caught his first touchdown of the game.
The defense gave up nearly 400 yards and four touchdowns, but it also came up with key turnovers when needed. Senior Kevin Kelleher recorded two interceptions, including one to end a potential go-ahead drive late in the game. Tim Boardman led Princeton with 11 tackles, while both Cart Kelly and Dan Kopolovich had eight apiece. Kelly added two pass breakup, while Blake Williams recorded a fumble recovery after a strip from Tom Methvin.
“I’m proud of the effort we put forth today,” head coach Roger Hughes said. “I told [Columbia coach] Norries Wilson that his team showed as much fight as any Columbia team in some time. Maybe we showed a little too much relaxation there in the second quarter, so we need to find ways to play better in all phases at all times. But we made plays when we needed to, and I’m pleased about that.”
The Tigers are now 1-0 in the Ivy League and have won two straight games. Princeton joins Yale, Harvard and Dartmouth, which defeated Penn at home Saturday, as unbeatens in league play.
Princeton took the opening kickoff into Lions territory, thanks in large part to a timely pitch from Foran to Will Thanheiser, but a holding penalty and fourth-down pass defense by Andrew Shalbrack kept the game scoreless. Columbia scored on its first drive, marching 68 yards in 12 plays to set up a 20-yard field goal by Jon Rocholl. Tailback Jordan Davis led the way on the drive, but the Princeton defense tightened inside the red zone and forced the short kick.
Foran took Princeton right back down the field, moving 75 yards in 11 plays for a touchdown and the Tigers’ first home lead of the season. A 26-yard pass to Circle started the drive, and a pair of third-down conversions helped move the ball into the Columbia red zone. On 2nd-and-goal from the 4-yard-line, Foran appeared to be bottled up in the backfield, but he faked a reverse back to the middle and continued on a sweep into the left corner of the end zone.
The Tiger defense set up Princeton’s next score. All-Ivy defensive lineman Pete Buchignani broke through the line and started to pull down Hormann, but the Lion quarterback was able to throw a deep pass that was tipped and intercepted by Kevin Kelleher. It was the senior’s fifth career interception, all of which have come in Ivy League home games. Three plays later, Toresco took a handoff up the middle, broke towards the left sideline and dove in for a 32-yard touchdown run, the longest of his career.
Princeton forced another punt, which was downed at its own 4-yard-line. A first-down reception by Toresco and a 27-yard pass to Circle moved the ball into Columbia territory. A fourth-down surge by Foran and a 32-yard deep corner reception for Berry gave Princeton 1st-and-goal at the 5-yard-line, and Lagomarsino went up the middle on the next play for a score and a 21-3 lead.
2006 Ivy League Rookie of the Year Austin Knowlin helped get Columbia back in the game with a spectacular catch and run on the Lions’ ensuing drive. He pulled down a deep corner pass from Hormann, eluded a tackle attempt by Dan Kopolovich and sprinted down the sidelines for a touchdown.
The game got even closer 30 seconds later, when Shalbrack stepped in front of an out and returned an interception 56 yards for his first career score. The Columbia defense kept Princeton from scoring before half and left the field with only a four-point deficit.
Hormann led Columbia out of halftime with energy and momentum, and the Lion offense went on the move. A 14-play, 80-yard drive ended with another impressive play by Knowlin, who took a third-down screen pass, broke one tackle and dragged a defender into the end zone to give the Lions a 24-21 less with less than nine minutes remaining in the quarter.
Columbia got the ball back in Princeton territory when Matt Bashaw sacked Foran, who fu. mbled on the play. Shalbrack was on the play again, diving on the loose ball at the Princeton 43-yard-line. A pass breakup by Cart Kelly helped the Tiger defense get a much-needed stop, and a touchback gave Princeton another chance at its own 20-yard-line, but the opportunistic Columbia defense got another turnover. This time, Eugene Edwards picked off an overthrown Foran pass at the Tigers’ 48-yard-line. Again, the Princeton defense came up with a 3-and-out, and Columbia punted another one into the end zone.
Senior quarterback Greg Mroz, who played in the season opener against Lehigh and threw a touchdown pass to Thanheiser, came in for the next drive. Princeton converted on consecutive third downs, including one on a short slant to Circle. A 30-yard pass to Jake Staser moved the ball to the 25-yard-line, and a keeper by Mroz put the ball inside the red zone. Lagomarsino put Princeton ahead with one of the most impressive runs of his career. Seemingly stopped on the 4-yard-line, the junior regained his balance, cut outside and then back up the middle for a crowd-thrilling score. Connor Louden converted on the extra point to open a 28-24 advantage.
The Princeton defense made its own excitement on Columbia’s first play of the ensuing drive. Fullback Pete Stoll was stripped by Tom Methvin at the line of scrimmage, and senior safety Blake Williams dove on the ball. A quick 11-yard pass to Berry and an 18-yard keeper by Mroz moved the ball to the Columbia 4-yard-line. Kenny Gunter took it three yards, and Mroz found Staser alone in the end zone for the score and an 11-point lead.
Davis led Columbia back down the field for a much-needed score. While his legs carried most of the drive, it was his arm that gave Columbia its points. Faking a sweep, Davis threw to a wide-open Jamal Russell. An acrobatic catch by Tim Paulin gave the Lions a two-point conversion to cut the deficit to three points.
An injury to Mroz sent Foran back into the game, and another Princeton turnover gave Columbia a chance to take the lead. That was when Kelleher came up with his second pick of the game, this time playing centerfield on a deep cross by Hormann. The Tiger senior returned it 25 yards to the Princeton 43-yard-line. Needing one more touchdown to ice the game, Foran engineered a seven-play scoring drive to clinch the Ivy opener. He threw only one pass on the drive, a 27-yard third-down conversion to Circle that put the ball at the Lions 27-yard-line. Foran finished the drive by diving over a defender to complete an 8-yard touchdown run.
Princeton will conclude its nonleague schedule next weekend when it hosts Hampton at 3:30 p.m. (Comcast channel CN8, GoPrincetonTigers.com). Hampton is currently ranked 13th nationally and has reached the NCAA tournament three straight years as the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference champion. This will be only the second time an Ivy League school has competed against a Historically Black College or University (Yale defeated Morgan State 41-0 in 1984). Led by Joe Taylor, the third-winningest active head coach in the FCS, the Pirates won their first three games of the season before falling Saturday to DelawareState 24-17.