When head coach Roger Hughes handed the game ball to 2008 Ivy League rushing champion Jordan Culbreath in the middle of a jubilant and victorious locker room, it set off as emotional a cheer as Princeton has experienced during a turbulent season. That cheer followed a gutsy 17-13 win over Cornell, a game highlighted by two touchdown catches by Trey Peacock.
Tears streamed from players and coaches, many of whom waited for an opportunity to hug Culbreath, who was diagnosed with aplastic anemia at the beginning of the season. Culbreath attended his first game since the diagnosis, and he was able to watch his teammates rally from a 13-10 fourth-quarter deficit with the longest pass play from the Tiger offense in five years.
After Cornell's Brad Greenway missed a 27-yard field goal that would have give the Big Red a six-point lead, Princeton took over at its own 20 with 7:48 remaining in the game. Following a short pass to Andrew Kerr, an option run by quarterback Tommy Wornham turned into a fumble, but senior center Andrew Hauser beat a pair of Big Red defenders to the ball and fell on it at the 22.
One play later, Princeton had the lead. The Tigers sent four receivers on vertical routes, including Peacock, who streaked down the home sideline. Peacock got a step on defensive back Emani Fenton and used an over-the-shoulder catch on a perfect deep ball from Wornham. He avoided an ankle tackle from Fenton to score his second touchdown of the day.
"When I caught it, I didn't really know where the defender was," Peacock said. "When I got back to the sidelines, the guys told me that if I didn't score on the play, they wouldn't have talked to me for a week."
Instead, Princeton can prepare for Penn this week on the momentum of a balanced team effort. The offense was led by Wornham, who completed 16 of 27 passes for 198 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions. Kerr led the team in catches with six, but it was Peacock's three catches for 113 yards and two touchdowns that made the biggest impact. With the score even at 3 in the second quarter and Princeton facing 2nd-and-12, Wornham changed the play at the line of scrimmage and threw a 17-yard post pattern to Peacock for a touchdown. That play gave Princeton its first halftime lead since a 17-14 win at Lehigh.
The Princeton defense was led once again by junior Steven Cody, who recorded 15 tackles, an interception and a pass breakup. Senior John Callahan had the best performance of his season, recording 10 tackles and an interception; it was Callahan's second straight game with a pick. Sophomore defensive lineman Matt Boyer had a career game with nine tackles, including one for loss, while both Carlos Roque and Dan Kopolovich both had eight tackles apiece.
Much has been asked of the linebacking corps after the loss of Scott Britton, who tore his ACL against Brown. One linebacker Princeton is depending on is Keola Kaluhiokalani, who made one of the biggest tackles of the season in the victory. After Peacock's second touchdown, Cornell began to mount a drive late in the fourth quarter. After one first down, Cornell got just short of midfield and faced a 4th-and-1. Using the same rushing play it used earlier for a 1-yard touchdown, senior running back Randy Barbour took the handoff and looked for a hole on the right side of the line.
Whatever hole may have been there didn't matter, as Kaluhiokalani busted through the line and hit Barbour a yard short. He was able to fall forward back to the original line of scrimmage, but not after several more Tiger defenders had jumped on him to assure that no first down would be gained.
"I'm proud of the team," head coach Roger Hughes said. "There were times we could have folded up the tent, but we hung in there and found a way to win the game. We have a long way to go, but this was important for the team."
Princeton will look to build on the momentum when it takes on Penn Saturday at 3:30 p.m. at Franklin Field. That game has major importance in the Ivy League standings, as the Quakers defeated Brown in overtime Saturday to remain in a first-place tie with Harvard. The game can be seen locally on The Comcast Network.