The Princeton football team suffered two crushing losses during a cold afternoon in Providence, and both will leave the team in a deep hole the rest of the season. The Tigers fell to 0-2 in the Ivy League with a 34-17 loss to Brown, and head coach Roger Hughes announced after the game that leading tackler Scott Britton had been lost for the season.
Britton, who suffered a first-half knee injury and headed to the locker room on a golf cart, could have been a major asset on the game-clinching drive for Brown. In the fourth quarter, ahead by 10 already at that point, Brown rolled off a 19-play, 74-yard drive that ate more than 11 minutes off the clock and effectively clinched the game. The drive was a frustrating mix of third-down conversions and fumbles that were recovered by the home team. In the end, it left Princeton with two league losses; not since 1982 has a 5-2 team shared the league title.
"When you lose your leading tackler, and he's out for the season, it's a big impact on your defense," head coach Roger Hughes said. "He's also a big emotional leader for us. He carries a lot of juice, so to say we didn't miss him would be crazy."
Britton still ended the game second on the team in tackles. His seven finished just behind Steven Cody's 10, giving the Princeton junior four straight games of double-digit tackles. Princeton also got six tackles and a fumble recovery from Glenn Wakam, as well as five tackles and a forced fumble from Wilson Cates.
The Princeton offense was crisp in the first half, but never got the engine running fully in the second half. Sophomore quarterback Tommy Wornham completed 28 of 35 passes for 193 yards and a touchdown, while Meko McCray rushed the ball eight times for 24 yards. Both McCray and Matt Zimmerman caught seven passes, and McCray added a touchdown catch late in the first half. Wornham scored Princeton's other touchdown on a 12-yard run early in the game.
If there was a standout side for Princeton, it was the punting game. Joe Cloud averaged 43.0 yards on four punts and pinned Brown inside the 3 twice, while Otavio Fleury averaged 41.5 yards on two punts and pinned Brown on the 1 once. The entire special teams can't claim a successful day, though, as Buddy Farnham's 92-yard kickoff return for a touchdown at the start of the second half ignited Brown to a dominant second half.
Wornham started the game on target, hitting five of six passes on the opening drive, including two for third-down conversions, and ran the ball three times for 24 yards and the game’s opening touchdown. He faked an end around and ran off J.P. Makrai untouched into the end zone. Key passes to Peacock and Kerr, both on third downs, kept the drive alive and gave Princeton a first-quarter lead for the first time since a season opener.
Brown took all of one play to put the pressure back on the Princeton defense. After Princeton’s first kickoff went out of bounds, Kyle Newhall found a wide-open Buddy Farnham alone down the right sideline for a 35-yard gain. A 13-yard catch by Bobby Sewall got Brown into the red zone, but a big tackle for loss by Wilson Cates forced Brown to settle for a 30-yard field goal by Patrick Rooney.
Following a Wornham interception, the quick-strike Brown offense got back to work. After a short run to the 20, the Bears sent Sewall short, Farnham deep and watched the coverage roll to Sewall. Newhall lofted a pass to Farnham that safety Matt Wakulchik gambled on; the sophomore safety’s dive was a second late, and Farnham ran untouched for an 80-yard touchdown.
Princeton was stopped on its next drive, but freshman punter Joe Cloud made a big play by fielding a bouncing snap and launching a 60-yard punt that died on its own between the 1 and the goal line. The play could have allowed the defense to either record a safety or give the offense good field position, but once again Newhall came up big. He guided the Bears on a 14-play, 87-yard drive that took the Bears to the 13, where Rooney once again connected on a 30-yard kick.
The Tiger defense came up big midway through the second quarter, and once again it was Cates making the play. After interceptions against both Lehigh and Colgate, he stripped Trevan Samp of the ball near the Tiger sideline and teammate Glenn Wakam beat the Brown offense for the recovery. The play was not without repercussion, as it was in the middle of the pile when Britton suffered his knee injury.
Wornham was 5-for-5 on the ensuing drive, including a fourth-down flare pass to McCray, who found the right sideline and scored from 24 yards out. It was McCray’s second career touchdown, both of which have come against the Bears.
Brown came back with a penalty-aided touchdown drive against Princeton late in the half. On 3rd-and-8 in Princeton territory, Steven Cody was finally able to get to Newhall for a nine-yard sack. Defensive lineman Caraun Reid followed Cody to the ground on top of Newhall; his hit was ruled late, giving a talented Brown offense a second life. After another first down, Newhall hit Sewall on a crossing pass in the end zone for the 20-14 lead.
That looked like it would be the halftime score, but Wornham hit quick passes to Harry Flaherty and Matt Zimmerman to get into Brown territory with eight seconds to play. Wornham dropped back and looked into the end zone, but everybody was covered; instead, he pulled the ball down and tried to get to the sideline. He took a shot from A.J. Cruz which was ruled a personal foul; that penalty would be a 10-point swing, as Wornham would fumble and Cruz would scoop it and run 80 yards for an apparent touchdown. Instead, the penalty moved the ball to the 10, and Bologna hit a 27-yard field goal.
If that provided Princeton momentum, it lasted only 13 seconds into the second half. A low kickoff by Bologna gave Farnham more than enough opportunity to pick up his blockers, and the senior standout found a seam and returned the kickoff 92 yards for the touchdown. It was the first kickoff returned for a touchdown against Princeton since 1988.
"That was a big play," Hughes said. "We went in with some momentum, down only 3 points, and our offense had been moving the ball. I thought it was a downer, but I didn't think it was a momentum-killer."
Unfortunately, the Princeton offense was never really able to regain the momentum fully. The Brown defense adjusted to the screen pass, stopping several attempts on third downs and forcing several Tiger punts. The last one came early in the fourth quarter, when the outcome was still very much in doubt.
Nineteen plays, 74 yards and 11:08 later, the outcome was no longer in doubt. Brown put together the ultimate possession drive, converting on third down after third down, mostly thanks to the tough running of Zachary Tronti. The drive ended, fittingly, with Tronti going around the right side of the line for a 2-yard score with less than two minutes remaining.