PRINCETON, N.J. - Two weeks ago, Princeton head football Roger Hughes believed in the talent and character of his football team, but he just didn't know how his cast of largely-inexperienced players would react when they faced game adversity.
Two of the premier teams in the Patriot League helped answer that question.
For the second straight week, Princeton rallied for an impressive win against a likely contender for the Patriot League title. Led by three touchdown passes by Jeff Terrell, a pair of interceptions by J.J. Artis and a spectacular 49-yard touchdown reception by sophomore R.C. Lagomarsino, the Tigers improved to 2-0 on the season by claiming a 26-14 win over Lafayette in their home opener. Playing its first game on the new FieldTurf, Princeton scored two touchdowns in the fourth quarter and fought off several Lafayette charges to stay undefeated on the young season and head into next weekend's Ivy League opener at Columbia with momentum.
"I'm very proud of what this team did tonight," Hughes said afterwards. "And I stress team. J.J. had some great individual plays, and R.C. did as well. Jeff led them the way I expect him to, but it's great to see the culture change that we have been working towards really come to fruition. I'm hopeful that we can continue to get better, because we have a very good Columbia team coming up next week."
Terrell completed 20 passes for 261 yards and three scores, including the winning touchdown to sophomore Will Thanheiser. That score, a 14-yarder with 13:59 left in the fourth quarter, gave Princeton a 19-14 lead and was the first career touchdown for Thanheiser.
He was one of eight receivers to catch passes from Terrell. Senior Brian Brigham led the way with six catches for 72 yards and a touchdown. He caught a 25-yard scoring pass late in the first half to give Princeton a 13-7 lead at intermission.
Terrell also led Princeton with 39 yards rushing, while Lagomarsino added 37 rushing yards to his 49 receiving yards. Princeton rushed for 109 yards as a team and held Lafayette to 77, thanks to another strong effort by the Tiger defense. For the second straight game, Strickland led the defense with seven tackles (three solo), while Doori Song added five stops, including one critical tackle for loss on a third-and-short. Sophomore linemen Pete Buchignani and Tom Methvin both had sacks late to thwart Lafayette's final possession.
"I have to congratulate Princeton and head coach Roger Hughes," Lafayette coach Frank Tavani said after the game. "They played a great game. We had our chances, but when you play a great opponent, you can't let those opportunities get away. This game is what is great about college football. Two great schools who take their academics seriously and take the sport seriously, playing in a great venue like this."
Princeton opened the scoring on its first drive of the game, as the Tigers went down the field in 12 plays and taking 5:02 off the clock. The defense held on Lafayette's first possession, and Terrell took the ball from his 20-yard-line to the Lafayette 13-yard-line. Using an array of misdirections on both the run and the pass, Princeton set up Conner Louden to make his first career field goal, a 30-yarder.
Terrell made four spectacular plays on Princeton's next drive to pick up first downs. Dropping back into his own end zone, he gave the Princeton offense breathing room by avoiding a blitzing linebacker and hitting Adam Berry on a post pattern. He then found Brian Brigham along the right sideline to get the Tigers near midfield. His next two pick-ups came on the ground, although the first involved most of the ground and a little air. Terrell leaped for one first down, jumping over a would-be tackler and landing with enough yardage to extend the drive and thrill the Tiger faithful. He took his next third-down play up the middle, fighting off an arm tackle and bringing the ball to the Lafayette 23-yard-line. The Leopard defense would not allow Princeton into the end zone, but Louden made sure Terrell's efforts were rewarded with a career-best 38-yard field goal. That completed a 17-play drive that took 7:46 off the clock. At that point, Princeton led the time of possession battle 12:48-4:11.
A 41-yard kickoff return by Tim Watson set Lafayette up in good field possession on its first drive of the second quarter. Maurer worked a little magic of his own, avoiding two near-sacks on the first play to gain eight yards and put the Leopards in Princeton territory. Lafayette nearly capitalized on a third-down pass to Shaun Adair, who was by himself running into the end zone but couldn't hold on to the Maurer pass.
Lafayette stopped Princeton in three plays, and Adair made up for his miscue by returning a Colin McDonough punt 33 yards to the Princeton 36-yard-line. A fourth-down plunge by Hurt gave Lafayette 1st-and-goal on the 10-yard-line, and, following a loss of six yards, Maurer and Adair finally connected for a touchdown. The score came on a short post pattern, as Maurer got terrific pass protection and waited for Adair to get a step on his defender.
With less than three minutes remaining in the first half, Terrell engineered a no-huddle drive that got Princeton into scoring territory. Passes to Circle and Brigham got the ball into Lafayette territory, and then Terrell kept on a rush to get the ball to the Lafayette 25-yard-line. Following an incompletion, Terrell lofted a perfect floater to the front left corner of the end zone, where Brigham caught it in front of a defender and got a foot down to secure the touchdown.
Both teams were locked in defensively to open the second half. A critical penalty negated a long Princeton kickoff return to open the third quarter, and the Tigers were on the wrong end of the field position battle throughout much of the quarter. The Tigers punted the first time from their own 1-yard-line, but the Tiger defense forced a fourth down stop to keep the lead at 13-7. The Leopard defense responded again, but this time a special teams penalty against the visiting squad forced Lafayette to start from its own territory. Princeton would force a punt, but it would be right back under the gun when Torian Johnson stepped in front of a pass intended for Brigham and returned it to the Princeton 33-yard-line.
Maurer completed a third-down pass to Duaeno Dorsey across the middle, and Dorsey found a seam in the middle to get it to the Tiger 7-yard-line. Lafayette wouldn't let that play go to waste, as Hurt took it off left tackle for a 2-yard touchdown. The extra point by Ziska gave Lafayette a 14-13 lead with 1:39 remaining in the third quarter.
Princeton ended the third quarter by getting its offense back on track. A first down catch by Shields and an 18-yard gain by Lagomarsino on a reverse got the ball just short of midfield to start the fourth quarter. Terrell found Brigham in the middle of the field to convert on third down at the Lafayette 30-yard-line, and then scrambled up the middle to the Lafayette 14-yard-line. The senior quarterback then found the left side of the end zone to his liking, lofting a touchdown pass to Will Thanheiser for a 19-14 lead. Terrell's two-point attempt was blocked at the line of scrimmage.
A crushing third-down tackle by Song gave Princeton the ball back, and the Tigers finally received favorable field position following an 8-yard punt by David Yankovich. Starting at the Lafayette 49-yard-line, Lagomarsino wasted little time showing he would be an offensive force in the Ivy League this season. Terrell scrambled to buy himself an extra second and threw a short sidearmed pass to the sophomore tailback, who sprinted past one defender and cut back to avoid another. Maintaining his balance after nearly getting tripped up, Lagomarsino was able to run into the end zone with nobody but a pair of Princeton blockers by his side. The score opened up the first double-digit lead for either team.
Princeton got the ball back on JJ Artis' first interception of the season, but a disputed fumble call gave Lafayette the ball at the Tiger 17-yard-line. Toresco took a sweep to the right and was being taken down by Bryan Kazimierowski when Trey Martell rushed in to strip the ball away. Toresco's knee appeared down when Martell wrestled it away, but Lafayette was awarded possession. In need of a score, Maurer threw another ball Artis' way, and the senior cornerback once again made him pay. This time, his pick in the end zone killed a terrific scoring opportunity for Lafayette and gave Princeton the ball back with just over 5:00 remaining.
Princeton will travel to Columbia next weekend to open its Ivy League schedule. The Tigers, who defeated Columbia 43-3 last season but typically play very close game at Wien Stadium, were projected to finish sixth in the Ivy League last season, despite finishing 5-2 and placing second in 2005. The game will begin at 1:30 and can be heard live on WBUD 1260 AM and www.GoPrincetonTigers.com.