Two overtime touchdown runs by Nate Eachus and one final defensive stop helped the 23rd-ranked Colgate Raiders earn a tense 21-14 double-overtime victory over the Princeton football team Thursday night in a nationally televised showdown. Despite the loss, Princeton showed signs of progress on the offensive side of the ball while getting another top-notch effort from the defense.
A 31-yard touchdown pass from Tommy Wornham, who played the best game of his young career, to Trey Peacock with 9:45 remaining in regulation evened the score at 7 and ultimately set up Princeton’s first overtime of the season.
Colgate won the overtime toss and elected to start on defense. On 3rd-and-8 from the 23, Wornham hit Andrew Kerr on a post pattern for a touchdown. It was Kerr’s fifth catch of the game and first career touchdown, and it gave Princeton its first lead of the night.
The next 14 plays would be running plays from the nation’s top-ranked rush offense, and they would span both two overtime sessions and 14 points. Eachus ended both with two-yard scores, the latter of which gave the Raiders a 21-14 lead.
Needing a touchdown in the second overtime session, Wornham started the drive with a short run and then incompletions to Peacock and Kerr. Colgate sent a heavy rush on fourth down, forcing Wornham out of the pocket and towards the Colgate sideline. He made a terrific effort just to have a chance at the conversion, but his pass to a well-defended Peacock fell incomplete.
The loss, while disappointing, was a stark contrast to Princeton’s previous effort, a 38-0 loss to Columbia in the Ivy League opener. Head coach Roger Hughes hopes that the positives can be a springboard into the heart of the Ivy League season, which begins with a difficult two-game road trip to Brown and Harvard.
“Tonight, we learned the intensity we have to play with for a full 60 minutes,” Hughes said. “I felt we let down as a team late in the Columbia game, but we saw the full effort next week. I’m upset that we lost, but I think we can build on this.”
One of the biggest building blocks may be the play of Wornham, who completed 19 of 34 passes for 215 yards and two touchdowns. Wornham directed both of his scoring drives after the fourth quarter, and he spread his passes out to seven different receivers.
The running back duo of Meko McCray and Akil Sharp both had their best efforts of the season. McCray averaged 9.2 yards per rush, ending with 74 yards on eight carries; Sharp led the team with 17 runs for 58 yards. Peacock caught six passes for 83 yards and a touchdown, while Kerr caught five balls for 73 yards and a touchdown.
The defense was once again led by the linebacker combo of Scott Britton and Steven Cody, both of whom had 16 tackles in the loss; it was the second straight week for both players to record at least 16 stops. Britton added 2.5 tackles for loss and a sack in the game. Senior lineman Joel Karacozoff recorded a career-best 12 stops, while senior Wilson Cates recorded 10 stops and an interception. It was Cates’ second straight 10-tackle effort against Colgate and his second straight game with an interception against a Patriot League opponent.
Senior Brad Stetler recorded nine tackles, while defensive back Matt Wakulchik, making his first career start, made eight tackles. Wakulchik has recorded at least seven tackles in each of his first four games.
After forcing a 3-and-out on Colgate’s first drive, the Princeton offense got in gear with one of its most effective drives of the season. The Tigers gained first downs on their first three plays: a 15-yard rush by McCray and consecutive 18-yard completions to Kerr and Peacock. A 15-yard completion to Kerr got Princeton inside the red zone, but Ben Bologna’s 36-yard field goal attempt was blocked by Paul Mancuso through the end zone for a touchback.
Colgate went on the move on its second drive, but an out pattern intended for Pat Simonds was picked off by Cates, who established position in front of Colgate’s top receiver and, like a power forward going for a rebound, never let Simonds have a chance at the ball.
A 26-yard run by Sharp moved Princeton immediately into Colgate territory, but a one-yard plunge on fourth down by Matt Zimmerman came up inches short of a conversion, and Colgate again escaped without allowing points.
The game would remain scoreless into the second quarter, when Colgate finally got its offense in gear. A 33-year throw down the middle to Doug Rosnick got the Raiders into Princeton territory, and a three-yard run by Eachus moved the ball into the red zone. A holding call negated a run to the 5 and brought the ball back to the 21. A tackle for loss by Karacozoff and Britton set up a 4th-and-13 for the Raiders, who were outside of field goal range at the 23. A well-protected Sullivan hit Simonds on a crossing pattern, but Cates made a perfect open field leg tackle to end the drive at the 19.
After one first down, Princeton made its first offensive mistake of the game. Kerr was running a crossing route and stopped into an open area, but Wornham threw the ball to where Kerr would have been had he continued the route. The result was an easy interception for Mike Barry, who returned the ball to the Princeton 36. A 19-yard pass to Simonds on fourth down put the ball on the Princeton 2, and Sullivan finished the drive with a keeper into the end zone.
Princeton was back on the move again on its ensuing drive, thanks in large part to a 30-yard run by McCray, who used his speed to find the right sideline. McCray made an even bigger play on 4th and 2, when he caught a flare pass behind the line of scrimmage and was hit immediately by Uzi Idah; the junior tailback spun out of the hit and past the marker to keep the drive moving.
Two straight runs by Sharp got the ball to the Colgate 10 for a first-and-goal. After two short rushes, Princeton faced 3rd-and-goal at the 7 with 45 seconds remaining in the half. A deep fade to Peacock was caught, but the junior wideout couldn’t keep his foot inbounds. The result was a second blocked field goal, this time by Idah, to keep the score 7-0 at the half.
Princeton’s first two drives ended in Colgate territory, but both fell short on fourth down attempts. The Raiders moved the ball late in the third quarter and used a short run on fourth down early in the final quarter to get yet another shot deep in Princeton territory. After a short run by Sullivan on third down, Colgate faced a 4th-and-4 at the 19. Simonds caught a pass for first down yardage, but an offensive pass interference call negated the catch and set up 4th and 19. Wakulchik made a spectacular leap to knock a deep pass away and keep the deficit at seven points.
A 26-yard completion to Peacock, who survived a big hit from the safety and held on to the ball, and an 11-yard rush by McCray moved the ball to the Colgate 23. A holding penalty threatened to stall yet another positive drive, but Wornham had a big play in the bag. He scrambled out of a big rush and found Peacock all alone in the middle of the field. He threw a strike to Peacock, who went in untouched for a 31-yard score. It was Princeton’s first score in the fourth quarter all season, and it evened the score with 9:45 remaining.
Both teams would have at two more possessions in regulation, but neither would score. That set up the dramatic double-overtime session, when Colgate ran its way to a sixth victory of the season.
Princeton will look to build on the numerous positives from Thursday’s game when it heads to Brown on the 18th to begin a six-game race for the Ivy League championship. Despite having one loss in league play, the Tigers are far from eliminated; after all, Harvard dropped its Ivy opener last year and came back to share the title.