The Princeton senior class was determined to change the course of the program this year. While the tale is far from written, Saturday's 35-14 victory over Lafayette was another sign that this team is moving in the right direction.
The Tigers raced out to a 29-0 lead after three quarters and never looked back in their second straight dominant win. Princeton, which hadn't won consecutive 20-point games since the conclusion of the 2001 season, now enters the Ivy League schedule with a brand new feeling on its sideline: momentum.
More than any game under the tenure of third-year head coach Bob Surace, this was a complete team effort. The defense, which gave up two touchdowns on long plays with the game well in control, stifled and frustrated Lafayette throughout the first three quarters. Senior Mike Catapano continued his brilliant start to the season with eight tackles, including three for loss, and 2.5 sacks. Classmate Andrew Starks led Princeton with 11 tackles, and added his first interception of the season.
The Starks pick came with Princeton ahead 8-0, and it gave Princeton the ball at the Lafayette 45. Five plays later, quarterback Quinn Epperly faked a handoff and went off the left side of the line 23 yards for an untouched score.
That opened a 15-0 lead, though it wouldn't stay that way for long. Three plays into its ensuing drive, Lafayette quarterback Zach Zweizig was picked off by Phillip Bhaya along the right side of the field. Bhaya caught the ball in perfect stride and was never threatened en route to a 32-yard touchdown return. It was Princeton's first interception return for a touchdown since Week 2 of the 2009 season, a Steven Cody return against Lafayette's most historic rival, Lehigh.
Princeton also got two touchdowns from senior tailback Akil Sharp, who returned from an injury suffered against Georgetown with 16 rushes for 60 yards and two touchdowns. Wideout Roman Wilson added five rushes for 55 yards and a touchdown, while Will Powers had seven rushes for 48 yards.
Altogether, the Tigers ran the ball 54 times for 262 yards and four touchdowns, and they did so with 2011 Ivy League Rookie of the Year Chuck Dibilio watching from the stands; Dibilio, who set an Ivy rushing record for a true freshman last season, is unable to play this season after suffering a stroke in January, but his presence thrilled head coach Bob Surace after the game.
There was plenty to excite Surace during the game as well, but those feelings will quickly turn towards an Ivy League showdown against Brown next Saturday at noon. That game will be televised live on the NBC Sports Network. Princeton will look to join Harvard, and potentially Penn, as the lone unbeatens in Ivy play when it finally makes its return to Powers Field.
• Saturday's victory was Princeton's first over a team with a winning record since Week 7 of the 2007 season, when the Tigers defeated a 4-2 Cornell team 34-31.
• Over the span of four straight quarters (the final two at Columbia and the first half at Lafayette), Princeton allowed a total of three rushing yards.
• Princeton was 10 for 17 on third-down conversions, and it limited Lafayette to three conversions on 11 attempts.
• Princeton saw something on film that it was able to exploit after its first touchdown. Following a 10-yard touchdown by Sharp, the Tigers called a fake run by Jason Ray
on the point after. Ray, a former fullback, took the ball up the middle.
• Anthony Gaffney
, the Ivy League leader in kickoff returns, averaged 28 yards per return. His longest, a 34-yard return, set up Princeton's final touchdown drive.
• Though the Princeton defense allowed its first passing touchdown of the season in the fourth quarter (it had been the last Division I team to not allow one), the Tigers have recorded four interceptions in the last two games. They had three all of last season.