Defensive Stand, Timely Kick Sends Football Into Ivy Season With Winning Feeling
Two years ago, Connor Louden suffered a leg injury that some feared would end his career. He worked tirelessly with the hopes of kicking again; Saturday night, he kicked the Princeton football team into the 2008 Ivy League season with plenty of momentum. Following a terrific defensive performance, including a 4th-and-inches stand, Louden converted a 32-yard field goal on the final play of a 10-7 Princeton victory on Powers Field at Princeton Stadium.
With the game tied at 7 and approximately one minute remaining, the Lehigh offense stood on the Princeton 33-yard-line and needed less than a yard for a first down and the opportunity at a game-winning field goal attempt. Mountain Hawk tailback Matt McGowan, who gained 83 yards during the game, took the ball and went into the heart of the line. The heart of that line happens to be Princeton tri-captain Matt Koch, who stuffed McGowan short of the marker and handed the Princeton offense the ball with 55 seconds remaining and plenty of energy.
One play later, it also found itself in field goal range. Senior quarterback Brian Anderson, who completed 20-of-29 passes for 244 yards, rolled right and found classmate Will Thanheiser 46 yards down the field. The Tiger wideout, who caught nine balls for 120 yards, caught it inside the sideline to set up a first down at the Lehigh 21 yard line. After three runs by Jordan Culbreath, who continues to be a night warrior at Princeton Stadium, Louden came out for his second field goal attempt of the game.
His first was blocked and nearly returned for a touchdown, but that was the furthest thing from Louden's mind.
"You have to forget it," Louden said after splitting the uprights for the first game-winning kick of his career. "The snap was great, the hold was great. Once that injury happened a couple years ago, it made me more determined to have an opportunity like this."
"This was a great character win," head coach Roger Hughes said. "All phases got it done. The defense made a big stand, the offense drove it down and Connor comes back after the block and makes it. I could tell how focused he was, and after they called timeout, I told him to get this done. He told me he would."
The kick was a fitting climax to a wild game. Offensively, Princeton moved the ball consistently, especially in the first half but only had seven points to show for it. Culbreath, who broke out against Cornell last season with 145 yards and two scores, ran the ball 20 times for 126 yards and a touchdown. His 1-yard touchdown run was Princeton's first scoring conversion after three straight drives inside the Lehigh 2 yard line. On its first drive of the game, Princeton moved 79 yards on 17 plays but got stopped on 4th-and-goal at the 1. After a defensive stop, Princeton moved to the Lehigh 2, but Anderson fumbled a pass attempt and recovered it at the 12. That would set up Louden's first attempt, which was blocked by Heath Brickner and returned by Al Pierce 71 yards. Pierce scooped it on the run and seemed destined for a touchdown, but Anderson, the holder, caught him from behind. While Lehigh would eventually score on a 7-yard pass from J.B. Clark to Mike Fitzgerald, the play showed both the athleticism and determination of the Princeton starting quarterback.
The Tigers would tie the score on their next drive by going 68 yards on five plays. A 46-yard pass to tight end Joe Magro got the ball to the Lehigh 16, and Culbreath took the next run 15 yards. Only one yard out, Anderson pitched on an option to Culbreath, who scored untouched in the right side of the end zone.
The rest of the game would be a battle of defenses, and Princeton's would win out. Despite missing two starters in Tom Methvin and John Callahan, Princeton held Lehigh to 69 yards rushing and kept the Mountain Hawks off the scoreboard the rest of the game, marking the first time Princeton has held Lehigh to single digits since 1935. Sophomore Steve Cody recorded 10 tackles, marking consective games with double-digit tackles to start his career, while Jeff Jackson, starting in place of Callahan, recorded nine tackles, a sack and an interception. Scott Britton recorded nine tackles, while Wilson Cates had five stops and two tackles for loss.
"When push came to shove, we stood up at the end and came away with the ball," Koch said. "This is a big win. After today, the league standings are a little shaken up. We go into Columbia next weekend, which is always a hostile environment, so it's good to go in with a win."
The shakeup came earlier in the day, when co-preseason favorites Harvard and Yale both lost Ivy League road games. Yale lost 17-14 at Cornell and Harvard fell at Brown 24-22. The Bears' next Ivy League game will be the next home contest for Princeton, Oct. 18 at 1 p.m. Tickets can be purchased on GoPrincetonTigers.com.