Sept. 18, 2004
PRINCETON, N.J. - Junior Greg Fields gained 230 all-purpose yards while senior quarterback Matt Verbit threw for two touchdowns and rushed for another, as the Princeton football team opened its 2004 season with a 34-18 victory Saturday night over Lafayette. The Tigers, who held a commanding 35-6 lead early in the fourth quarter, earned their first season-opening victory since 1998.
Verbit completed 18 of 26 passes for 227 yards and two touchdowns. He now has 3,661 passing yards all-time at Princeton, and he moved past Dave Splithoff '04 (3,446) and Bob Holly '82 (3,624) to fourth place on the all-time list Saturday night. He needs one yard to tie Ron Beible '76 for third on the Princeton passing list. Verbit completed passes to eight different receivers, including a team-high seven to senior Clinton Wu.
Fields was the most explosive player on the gridiron Saturday night, gaining 165 of his 230 yards in the return game. He helped Princeton win the field position battle all night, especially by averaging more than 14 yards per punt return. The defense was dominant until the game was out of reach, and it was led by its linebacking duo of Justin Stull and Zak Keasey. Stull, a first-team All-Ivy selection in 2003 and the league leader in tackles last season, led all players with 14 stops. Keasey, a first-team All-Ivy selection in 2002 and the Princeton leader in tackles in 2001 and 2002, has 12 tackles and two sacks. Keasey joined senior defensive back Brandon Mueller and junior defensive back Jay McCareins back on the field for Princeton; the three players, expected to be leaders on the defensive side, had 25 tackles. Keasey had two of Princeton's three sacks, while senior nose guard Peter Kelly had one sack to go along with his seven tackles.
Princeton got on the scoreboard on its second drive. After forcing a 3-and-out to Lafayette on the Leopards' first possession and getting a 27-yard punt return from Fields, the Tigers moved 42 yards in four plays to take a 7-0 lead. A 15-yard pass to Wu and a face-mask penalty helped Princeton get to the Lafayette 16-yard line, where Fields took a handoff, found the left sideline and beat one defender for the score.
Lafayette looked for an immediate answer, moving 65 yards on 12 plays to get to the Princeton 14-yard line. Quarterback Brad Maurer faked a handoff and rolled left before attempting to loft a pass to Justin Lauver into the corner of the end zone. The pass was underthrown to the well-covered Lauver, and junior linebacker Abi Fadeyi was able to turn in time to grab the interception. It was the first career interception for Fadeyi, who made his first career start in this game.
The Tigers made it 14-0 on an eight-play, 80-yard drive that concluded with a four-yard touchdown pass to Joel Mancl early in the second quarter. A 41-yard completion to Wu, who ended the half with six completions before leaving with an injury, got Princeton into Lafayette territory. Following four touches by Benson and a personal foul against Lafayette, Verbit threw his first touchdown pass of the season to a wide-open Mancl on a play-action pass. It was Mancl's first career touchdown.
Lafayette responded later in the quarter with a 13-play touchdown drive that ended with a bootleg score from quarterback Brad Maurer, who just got outside of Zak Keasey for the score. Maurer muffed the snap on the point-after attempt and threw an incompletion, which kept the score 14-6.
The Tigers did well to keep Lafayette from carrying any momentum into halftime. A 28-yard kickoff return by Fields gave Princeton the ball at its own 32-yard line with slightly more than five minutes remaining. Verbit completed passes to five different receivers, including a slant to Jay McCareins to give Princeton first-and-goal at the 4-yard line with eight seconds remaining. Out of timeouts, Hughes directed the offense to go for the score and called a passing play for his senior quarterback. Lafayette provided good coverage, but the Tiger offensive line gave Verbit enough time to find an open area to run. He took it from there, diving into the end zone with no time remaining to give Princeton a 21-6 lead.
The Tigers held that momentum in the third quarter, dominating the field position battle with defensive stands and big punt returns by Fields. Princeton turned its field position into points late in the quarter when senior running back Jon Veach scored on a four-yard run. Veach, who was unsure whether he would even play due to a nagging injury, carried the Princeton offense on the drive and got a key third-down conversion in the Lafayette red zone. His score gave Princeton a comfortable 28-6 lead heading into the final 15 minutes.
Princeton waited significantly less time getting its first score of the fourth quarter. On the first play of the quarter, and the first play of its drive, Verbit found sophomore wideout Eric Walz on a deep post pattern. The pass went just over the outstretched hands of the defensive back and ended in Walz' hands as he crossed the goal line.
Lafayette got a pair of touchdown runs from Jonathan Hurt in the fourth quarter, although both point-after conversions failed. The second score came with less than four minutes remaining and forced Lafayette to attempt an onside kick, but Princeton's Brandon Mueller recovered it to give Princeton the ball.
Princeton will play its first California opponent ever next weekend when it takes on the University of San Diego next Saturday at 4 p.m. Eastern time. San Diego fell to two-time defending Ivy League champion Penn Saturday 61-18.
NOTES - Princeton won its first season opener since 1998, when Princeton defeated Cornell 6-0 in the first game ever at Princeton Stadium ... the game was in doubt during the afternoon because of severe rain in Easton that affected Lafayette's travel ... Princeton improves to 34-4-3 all-time against Lafayette ... the Leopards recorded a 28-13 victory over Princeton in Easton last season.