NEW YORK CITY – They award style points for figure skating, not football. Led by an overwhelming team defense that allowed only five first downs and 23 yards rushing, the Princeton football team improved to 3-0, 1-0 in the Ivy League with a 19-6 victory over Columbia at Wien Stadium.
The Princeton defense didn’t only hold Columbia to six points, which followed a Tiger turnover inside its own red zone. The Tiger defense, which came into the weekend as the No. 1 scoring defense in the league, scored two points of its own on a Mike Meehan safety late in the fourth quarter.
Princeton’s offense wasn’t pretty, but it scored the points it needed. Quarterback Jeff Terrell, who entered the weekend in the Top 10 nationally in both passing yardage and total yardage, completed a 1-yard touchdown pass to Billy Mitchell in the second quarter. R.C. Lagomarsino scored his first rushing touchdown just over five minutes later, completing a 50-yard drive with a 4-yard run.
Lagomarsino led all players with 98 yards rushing, while junior fullback Rob Toresco added 39 yards on 14 carries. Lagomarsino also led the team with four catches for 35 yards, while five other Princeton players caught at least one pass. Tim Boardman led the Princeton defense with five tackles, while Bill Foran added three special teams stops. The Princeton special teams played its best game of the season, giving the Tigers favorable field position throughout the game.
“The guys may not have realized it, but I dreaded this game for 12 months,” head coach Roger Hughes said, “because of the way Columbia plays at home. I credit them as a team for taking us out of a couple things we wanted to do, but I also credit our defense for the way they defended some short fields after turnovers. The best thing about winning ugly is winning.”
And this win came from the defense, which didn’t allow Columbia a first down on eight of its first 10 drives. Columbia was 0-for-11 on third downs and 0-for-2 on fourth downs.
Missed opportunities plagued Princeton in the first quarter. Despite spending the majority of its offensive plays on the Lions’ side of the field, Princeton missed on its first two offensive opportunities of the game. After forcing a 3-and-out to open the game, Princeton moved into Columbia territory on a deep post to Circle, but was forced to go for a fourth down and could not convert.
After getting a 49-yard punt return by Brian Shields to start the next drive at the Columbia 38-yard-line, Princeton did convert on a fourth-down pass to Adam Berry to move inside the red zone, but Terrell was hit on a pass attempt, and the throw was intercepted by Andy Shalbrack. Again, the Tiger defense held strong and forced a quick punt, which Shields fair-caught at the 26-yard-line.
A holding call threatened to cut Princeton’s drive short, but Lagomarsino took a misdirection handoff, bounced off one of his own offensive lineman and took the ball 36 yards down the right sideline. He ended his run at the Columbia 41-yard-line, bringing Princeton into Lion territory for the third time in as many drives. Princeton moved to the 25-yard-line on a center screen to Rob Toresco, which converted 3rd-and-9.
Following an option keeper by Terrell, Lagomarsino moved the chains again by going up the middle to the 15-yard-line. Terrell hit Adam Berry over the middle to get the ball to the 6-yard-line, and Toresco went up the middle for three yards to earn 1st-and-goal at the 3-yard-line. Runs by Lagomarsino and Terrell got the ball to the 1-yard-line, but a fumbled snap nearly derailed the momentum. Terrell recovered the fumble, got the offense back to the line and found tight end Billy Mitchell on a play-action pass for the touchdown. Mitchell fended off a linebacker and brought down the pass off the left side of the line.
Following another 3-and-out, Circle went up for a brilliant 26-yard reception on 3rd-and-long to get Princeton to the Columbia 22-yard-line. He was hit on the play, but held on to the ball, landed on his feet and managed to pick a couple more yards before a second defender dragged him down. Terrell kept on second down, found a hole and dragged a Columbia defender down to the 10-yard-line. A draw play to Toresco brought the ball to the 4-yard-line, and Lagomarsino went off left tackle to score his first rushing touchdown. Princeton held a 2:1 edge in time of possession with slightly more than five minutes remaining.
The defense did its job again, but this time the Princeton offense made a mistake. An attempted center screen was picked off inside the Tiger red zone, and Horman found Austin Knowlin on the first play for a 14-yard touchdown. Jon Rocholl’s extra point bounced off the upright and failed to go through, so Princeton’s lead remained 14-6.
In need of regaining momentum, as well as a two-score advantage, Princeton put its offense on the shoulders of Lagomarsino, who picked up first downs on four consecutive runs, including a 16-yard run down the left sideline. Columbia held firm inside the red zone and tackled Lagomarsino for a loss. That proved critical, as Louden’s 38-yard field goal hit the left upright, and Columbia took the field again needing only a touchdown and a two-point conversion to even the score.
That’s where the Princeton defense came up huge. J.J. Artis made a third-down tackle, and on 4th-and-inches at its own 30-yard-line, the Tiger defensive line drove the line backwards and stopped Jordan Davis in the backfield.
Columbia nearly pulled off a fourth-down stop, but a roughing the passer call gave Princeton first down at its own 19-yard-line. Runs by Toresco and Terrell got the ball down to the 4-yard-line. Louden drilled a 23-yard field goal to open the 17-6 edge with 3:26 remaining.
Princeton got a stop, but Shields misplayed the punt and Columbia recovered the ball at the Princeton 36-yard-line. Brig Walker made sure the Lions wouldn’t get within scoring range; he played a third-down screen perfectly and intercepted the pass at the 33-yard-line for the final play of the third quarter. The Tiger offense wouldn’t move the ball, but a 45-yard punt by Colin McDonough and a perfectly timed hit by Bill Foran forced Columbia to start at its own 17-yard-line with 12:58 remaining in regulation.
The Lions got beyond midfield, but Strickland defended a fourth-down pass to regain possession for Princeton. The Tigers were able to stop another fourth down play, and after Princeton ran as much clock off as possible, McDonough showed his All-Ivy skills by pinning Columbia on the 3-yard-line with 4:16 remaining. Following a false start, Hormann dropped back to pass, and then was dropped by Meehan, who came around the right side of the line.
Princeton will complete the nonleague portion of its schedule next Saturday at 1 p.m. when it travels to Hamilton, N.Y., to compete against the Colgate Raiders. Colgate has won three straight against the Tigers, including a 16-10 win at a rain-soaked Princeton Stadium last fall. The Raiders were the preseason favorite to win the Patriot League, ahead of No. 3 Lehigh and No. 2 Lafayette. The Tigers have already defeated Lehigh and Lafayette this season, their first sweep of those two teams since 1992, and will look for their first 3-0 performance against Patriot League rivals since 1997 (Fordham, Holy Cross and Colgate). That season marked Princeton’s most recent win in Hamilton, N.Y.
Saturday’s game can be heard live on WBUD 1260 AM and on www.GoPrincetonTigers.com.