No. 3 Lehigh Rallies Late To Escape Upset Bid By Football Team
Sept. 21, 2002
Bethlehem, PA. - A 24-point fourth quarter, highlighted by a game-winning 12-yard scoring pass to Justin Barrasso with 13 seconds remaining, gave Lehigh a 31-24 victory over the Princeton football team in the Tigers' season opener. Junior quarterback David Splithoff threw for 251 yards and two touchdowns, but a costly interception in the fourth quarter helped Lehigh to its first tie since the early minutes of the first quarter.
Lehigh's only lead came after its final drive, which went 39 yards in five plays. After converting on a pair of first downs and getting into field goal range, Lehigh quarterback Chad Schwenk found Barrasso on an out pattern. The fullback went up the right side and scored, allowing Princeton only a kickoff return and a final deep pass attempt. The loss keeps No. 3 Lehigh undefeated (3-0) and drops Princeton to 0-1.
The Princeton defense answered the early challenges, forcing the Mountain Hawk offense to 3-and-outs on the first two drives. The second stand was crucial after a botched punt attempt gave Lehigh the ball on the Princeton 41-yard line. The Mountain Hawks moved six yards before punting away, and a Tiger bounce gave Princeton the ball at its own 15-yard line.
Princeton took the ball and began a 13-play, 85-yard touchdown drive, highlighted by a trio of strong plays by sophomore wideout B.J. Szymanski. The Wichita Falls, Texas, native went high for a 14-yard completion midway through the drive, the put the Tigers at the 11-yard line with an 18-yard run on a double reverse. He completed the drive by going high again for an 11-yard touchdown pass by Splithoff. Szymanski was alone in the back of the end zone, and was able to get both feet inside the back line for the score. Atkinson rushed five times on the drive, including a fourth-down conversion when he broke the tackle of Neal Boozer-Gallman and got past the marker.
Lehigh got its offense going on the ensuing drive, but a Zak Keasey sack forced Lehigh's Matthew Douglas to try a 48-yard field goal. The attempt went wide right, and Princeton set up on the Mountain Hawks' 31-yard line. The Tigers wasted much less time getting in the end zone, as Splithoff threw a perfect deep pass to Szymanski, who beat Boozer-Gallman down the middle for a 66-yard pass. One play later, sophomore Branden Benson took a sweep to the left and got across the goalline to open a 14-0 lead. Lehigh, which ended its first quarter the week before against Georgetown with a 28-0 lead, entered the second quarter trailing 14-0.
The Mountain Hawks cut the deficit in half 11 seconds into the quarter, when Chad Schwenk had enough time to find a streaking Michael Sutton down the Princeton sideline for a 52-yard score.
Princeton went right back to the offense, and scored on a crazy 54-yard scoring pass to Chisom Opara. The senior captain, who spoke in the preseason about how much he enjoyed Splithoff's scrambling and compared it to "playing at recess" scored on the ultimate schoolyard play. Splithoff scrambled left, fumbled on a play he wasn't touched on and picked the ball back up. He then started running right and stayed balanced after an ankle-tackle attempt by Royce Morgan. While all of this was going on, the Lehigh secondary lost sight of Opara, who stood alone deep in Lehigh territory. Splithoff threw a lob across his body to the senior co-captain, who had no problem finding the end zone for a 54-yard score.
After a Kevin Kongslie interception ended the ensuing Lehigh drive, Splithoff put Princeton on the move again. A pair of passes to Opara and a third-down conversion on an option to Atkinson put Princeton on the Lehigh 9-yard line. Benson went six yards off left tackle, and a quarterback keeper by Splithoff took the ball to the one-yard line. Lehigh kept Benson out of the end zone, but Derek Javarone converted on his first collegiate field goal from 19 yards out to open a 24-7 lead with 5:19 remaining.
That lead stood through halftime, making it the largest regular-season deficit faced in the Pete Lembo era. Princeton took the opening drive of the second half to the Lehigh 22-yard line, but Javarone missed a 39-yard attempt wide right. The Mountain Hawks appeared on the move, but consecutive passes defensed by linebacker Zak Keasey and blitzing defensive back Blake Perry forced a Lehigh punt. The Mountain Hawks' next offensive possession was sabotaged immediately when Sutton attempted to turn a screen pass into a big play by running backwards back and forth. By the time he was tackled, and it did take a team effort to bring down the speedy receiver, Sutton had a 23-yard loss on his hands. After a sack and an incompletion, Lehigh punter Karl Keating sent a kick two yards short of the first-down marker.
Lehigh finally cut into the deficit on a drive that was helped by a pair of Princeton personal fouls. A roughing the passer call moved Lehigh into the red zone, and a face-mask call gave the Mountain Hawks first and goal. Another penalty, this time an offsides call, negated a loss and gave Lehigh first and goal on the 3-yard line. On the first play of the fourth quarter, David Wilson scored up the middle. Keasey got a hand on the extra-point attempt, keeping Princeton ahead 24-13.
Lehigh earned a three-and-out, and an interference call against Princeton on the punt gave Lehigh the ball in Tiger territory. The Mountain Hawks took two shots at the end zone, both of which hit Lehigh receivers in the hands, before Douglas hit on a 47-yard attempt to cut the deficit to eight points.
The Lehigh defense, which had played significantly better in the second half, got on the scoreboard on a 26-yard interception return for a touchdown by Matt Salvaterra. The strong safety got in front of a crossing pass attempted for Opara and went down the right side for the score. A pass from Schwenk to Sutton for two points evened the score at 24-24 with 8:52 remaining.
Lehigh nearly forced another three and out, first by almost sacking Splithoff on third down and second by tackling Benson before the third down marker. An unsportmanlike conduct foul on the third down kept the drive going for Princeton, but a fumble by Jon Veach was forced by Mike Gregorak and recovered by Michael Taggart. A sack by Keasey and a timely third-down tackle by Mueller gave Princeton another opportunity with the ball. A penalty on the punt gave the Tigers the ball at their own 8-yard line with 4:44 remaining. Princeton tried a trio of runs, but could not gain a first down, and Lehigh got the ball back for the eventual game-winning drive.
Princeton will open the home portion of its 2002 schedule next Saturday at 7 p.m. against Lafayette College.