Nov. 23, 2002
PRINCETON, N.J. - Senior tailback Cameron Atkinson had the game of his career to make sure he ended his career the only way acceptable - with a victory. Atkinson rushed for 233 yards, including 181 in the fourth quarter, to lead Princeton to a 38-30 comeback win over Dartmouth. The victory gives Princeton its first winning season since 1997.
Atkinson set a number of individual marks in the win. His 233 yards gave him 2,449 for his career, moving him past Walt Snickenberger and Hank Bjorklund and into third place on the all-time rushing list at Princeton. He also became the sixth player at Princeton to rush for more than 1,000 yards, as he ended his season with 1,028 yards. The 233-yard performance on the ground is also sixth-best all time and the first of more than 200 yards since Marc Washington ran for 219 yards against Colgate in 1995. The win ends Princeton's season at 6-4, 4-3 in the Ivy League. Princeton earned its first overall winning record since 1997, its first winning record in the Ivy League since 1998 and its first winning record at Princeton Stadium since its debut season of 1998. It also the first winning record for third-year head coach Roger Hughes, who earned it by sweating out a victory against a team with players he helped recruit. Hughes, prior to coming to Princeton, was the offensive coordinator at Dartmouth.
Princeton rallied with 28 points in the fourth quarter to win the game. It is the fourth time this season that the Tigers have trailed in the final quarter and won the game.
"I hope that is an indication of the maturity of our program and where we are at right now," Hughes said. "This is a game we wouldn't have won last year."
Princeton got on the scoreboard first, driving 40 yards in 14 plays before freshman kicker Derek Javarone hit a low line drive through the goalposts from 32 yards out. The kick, which was sent through a stiff wind into his face, gave Princeton the 3-0 lead with slightly more than three minutes remaining. The Tigers used a number of different runners during the drive, including sophomore Branden Benson, who barreled through the line of scrimmage to convert on fourth-and-one.
Dartmouth evened the score early in the second quarter, when Tyler Lavin converted on a 32-yard field goal. Princeton nearly took the lead minutes later, following a blocked punt by Sam Snyder. It was the Tigers' second blocked punt in as many weeks, and it was recovered by freshman Abi Fadeyi, who recorded Princeton's block the week earlier. Two plays later, on a screen pass by substitute quarterback Dave Splithoff, Benson was stripped of the ball by Mathew DeGutes. The senior defensive lineman came up with the fumble to end the Princeton possession.
While the Tiger defense was able to overcome that turnover, it wasn't as fortunate the next time. Verbit came back into the game and attempted a deep pass to Chisom Opara along the right sidelines, but free safety Clayton Smith was in position to come up with the interception. Smith brought it down the 27-yard line, and six plays later, Mike Giles scored on a two-yard run to give Dartmouth its first lead. Lavin missed the extra point, making the lead 9-3 with 7:33 remaining in the first half.
After being stopped on its ensuing drive, Princeton got off a short punt that bounced back to its own 41-yard line. The Big Green moved down the field in four plays, and spread four receivers out wide with the ball on the 5-yard line. Fullback Scott Wedum, the only man in the backfield, took the handoff and took a Princeton defensive player into the end zone for the team's second touchdown of the quarter. Erik Hinterbichler converted on his first extra-point attempt of the season, and the Big Green opened the lead to 16-3.
Dartmouth would maintain that advantage throughout most of the third quarter, but the Princeton offense finally got back on track to reclaim the lead. The Tigers got to within one score when Verbit hit Randy Bly on fourth down for a five-yard score. It was only the second third-quarter touchdown of the season for the Tigers.
After holding strong on the next drive, Princeton needed three plays to go 75 yards and grab the lead. The big play came from the explosive Atkinson, who sprinted through the line and went 65 yards for the score. As it turned out, it wouldn't even be his longest rush of the quarter.
After Dartmouth drove down the field and scored on a 16-yard pass to Mathew DeGutes (the Big Green added the two-point conversion on a run by quarterback Brian Mann), Atkinson sprinted down the right sidelines, untouched over the last 50 yards, for a Princeton Stadium-record 86-yard touchdown run. Atkinson, who entered the fourth quarter needed 155 yards for the magical 1,000-yard mark, was within four yards with plenty of time remaining.
He wouldn't need much of it.
Dartmouth misplayed the kickoff, and the loose ball was recovered by Brandon Mueller. After a two-yard run got Atkinson to 997 yards, the Mantua, N.J. native went up the middle for seven yards to grab the mark. Two plays later, Atkinson was happy to watch Benson, his sophomore understudy, go in the end zone from one yard out to grab a 31-24 lead.
Dartmouth continued to unravel, as Mann threw a pass that deflected off his intended receiver and ended in the hands of All-Ivy strong safety Kevin Kongslie. Princeton moved 27 yards in seven plays and scored, fittingly enough, on a one-yard run by Atkinson. The touchdown, his third of the game, matching a single-game high he set earlier in the season against Lafayette, gave Princeton a 38-24 lead.
To its credit, the Big Green did not give up. Dartmouth took its next drive 79 yards on eight plays and scored on a 26-yard touchdown pass up the middle to likely first-team All-Ivy tight end Casey Cramer. The extra point failed, and the ensuing onsides kick didn't go the necessary 10 yards, which gave Princeton the ball. A third-down conversion by Atkinson, his 233rd yard of the game, ensured Princeton its first winning season under Hughes.