Oct. 2, 2004
NEW YORK CITY - Junior Jay McCareins is known as one of the premier defensive players in the Ivy League. It was his offensive and special teams contributions Saturday that gave the Princeton football team a thrilling 27-26 overtime comeback win over Columbia on Homecoming Saturday at Wien Stadium. Princeton (3-0, 1-0 Ivy) sent its Ivy opener into overtime at Columbia on a 64-yard drive in the final two minutes of the fourth quarter and won it on a Jon Veach touchdown and an extra point by Derek Javarone.
"One thing we worked hard on all during the offseason was making plays to win games," said head coach Roger Hughes, who is off to his best start as Princeton head coach. "All of our hard work and resolve paid off today." A 4-yard touchdown run by Ayo Oluwole with 2:11 remaining in regulation gave Columbia a 20-17 lead. From there, senior quarterback Matt Verbit, who completed passes to eight different receivers for the third straight game, engineered the most important drive of his career. Following a 26-yard kickoff return by Greg Fields, who had given Princeton solid field position all afternoon, the Tigers moved four yards in three plays to face an immediate 4th and 6. After calling timeout, Verbit hit McCareins on a 13-yard crossing pass to midfield. On its next set of downs, McCareins extended as high as he could to catch a 21-yard reception on 3rd and 6 to get the ball to the Columbia 24-yard line. Another completion to McCareins and a penalty set Javarone up for a 21-yard chip shot to tie the score at 20-20 with five seconds remaining.
Columbia started the overtime with possession and needed only three Rashad Biggers touches to take the lead. Biggers went up the middle on 3rd and 2, broke a tackle and stumbled into the end zone for the touchdown. The excitement was tempered moments later when McCareins, who had already blocked a field goal attempt earlier in the contest, came around the left side of the line and blocked Rudd's point-after attempt.
Princeton, which lost a pair of overtime games last season, gained five yards on three plays to bring up another fourth down with the game on the line. Verbit dropped back and avoided a sack off a blitz from the right side, bought himself time and took off down the right side. He got the first down, and instead of going out of bounds, cut inside and drove a defender to the 2-yard line. Two plays later, Veach went off the left side of the line to even the score at 26-26, and Javarone ended the contest with a point-after attempt.
"The games in this league come down to the end," senior captain Jon Veach said after his second straight two-touchdown game at Wien Stadium; he had his other during his sophomore year. "We have guys to make the big plays now. We've gone over these situations so much, and we're making the plays we need to make."
Princeton, which overcame 11 penalties and three turnovers in the win, improved to 3-0 for the first time since the 1995 Ivy League championship season. Verbit, who improved as the game went on, threw for 205 yards and rushed for another 22 yards; he surpassed Keith Elias for fourth place in total yards all-time at Princeton and needs only four more to catch 1951 Heisman Trophy winner Dick Kazmaier for third on the list. Branden Benson rushed for 70 yards and a score while Veach gained 67 and two scores. Jon Dekker caught five passes for 46 yards, while Fields and McCareins has three apiece. Each of McCareins receptions came on the final drive of regulation.
Justin Stull and Zak Keasey combined to lead the Princeton defense with 13 tackles apiece. It is the ninth straight game with at least 10 tackles for Stull, who entered the game as the Ivy League's leading tackler. Sophomore J.J. Artis and junior Alan Borelli both had 12 tackles, while senior Chris Browne had eight tackles and two sacks.
For the first time this season, Princeton played a scoreless first quarter. The Tigers held the ball for six offensive plays: three on their first drive before punting, two on their second drive, which ended with a fumble by Verbit, and a final run by Benson that ended the quarter. Despite the lack of offensive production, Princeton ended the quarter with a 0-0 tie thanks to key defensive stops. Columbia had its longest drive of the quarter move to the Princeton 14-yard line, where Tiger linebacker Zak Keasey recorded his third sack of the season to bring the Lions back to the 25-yard line. The sack saved three points, as Nick Rudd's field goal attempt landed just short of giving Columbia a 3-0 lead.
The defense was immediately put back on the field, as Verbit's first pass of the second bounced off the arms of Brian Brigham and was intercepted by Chuck Britton. The Lions had a run for a loss and threw two incompletions before Alex Smith attempted a 33-yard field goal. The kick never had a chance, as Jay McCareins came around the end and stuffed the kick. The ball bounced 15 yards backwards before going out of bounds. It was Princeton's first blocked field since Bob Farrell blocked one against Lehigh during the 2000 season.
The play inspired the sleeping Princeton offense, which went to Benson on five consecutive plays, including a 3rd and 3 at the Columbia 20-yard line, to get down to the 12-yard line. Following a five-yard run by Verbit, Benson took it up the middle again and got Princeton another first down with a five-yard gain. An incompletion and a one-yard gain by Benson set it up on the 1-yard line, and a second and third effort by Benson on third down gave Princeton a 7-0 lead with 8:14 remaining in the half.
Columbia didn't waste any time getting on the scoreboard, taking its next series and going 66 yards on a mix of tough runs and timely receptions. On 2nd and goal from the 7-yard line, quarterback Jeff Otis looked for an open receiver in the end zone, but saw nothing besides covered teammates and open running room. The quick quarterback, who had a key run in the middle of the possession to get the ball in Princeton territory, took it himself and hurdled into the end zone for the score. The kicking woes for Columbia continued though, as Alex Smith sent the point-after attempt wide right, keeping Princeton ahead 7-6.
The Tigers went three and out, and Colin McDonough made a good play securing a low snap and sending his punt 44 yards. J.J. Artis, as he did all of last season, made an open-field tackle on the punt, keeping Columbia from starting with good field position. The Lions moved into Princeton territory but were stopped outside of kicking range, and the defensive-oriented first half ended with Princeton holding a 7-6 lead.
Princeton didn't get going in the second half until its second possession, when a pass to Jon Dekker and a long run by Verbit keyed a drive that got the Tigers inside the Columbia 10-yard line. On second down, Benson had the ball stripped from him as went into the line, and Jason Auguste recovered at the 4-yard line for Columbia. The Princeton defense answered the call again, keeping Columbia from getting outside of its own 10-yard line. A 38-yard punt was taken by Fields, who got outside of the coverage and made his way down the right sideline. His return to the 10-yard line set up a 25-yard field goal by Javarone, which he put down the middle for a 10-6 lead.
Columbia would begin to move the ball late in third quarter and took the lead with 11:9 remaining on a 4-yard touchdown run by Rashad Biggers. A Princeton personal foul and a third-down conversion to Brandon Bowser inside the red zone keyed the Columbia drive that gave Princeton its first deficit of the season. The Tigers nearly dealt with disaster on the first play, as the kickoff was sent high and short and bounced straight backwards off a hand of a Columbia player. The Tigers ended up diving on the ball to start the drive on the 27-yard line. Veach broke off a 16-yard run on second down to get Princeton to its own 43-yard line.
A screen pass and a short run by Veach got Princeton inside Columbia territory, but another penalty pushed Princeton into its own territory. On third down, Verbit found Dekker for a key 13-yard gain, thanks in part to a pair of broken tackles by the junior tight end. Veach got Princeton to the 23-yard line on a fake reverse up the middle, and a pair of short runs got Princeton into the red zone for a 3rd and 6. The pass play was short of the first down, but a roughing the passer call against Columbia gave Princeton a 1st and goal at the 9-yard line. Following an incompletion and a run back to the line of scrimmage, an apparent sack was negated by a personal foul face mask call that gave Princeton a first down at the 4-yard line. Veach scored on a run, cutting inside as his line pulled and beating one defender before taking another one into the end zone with him. Javarone, who is perfect on extra points this season, put the lead to 17-13 with 7:31 remaining.
Columbia started its next drive at its own 10-yard line and moved the ball 90 yards on 14 plays to gain the 20-17 lead and force Princeton's late heroics. The final 10 plays of the drive were all running plays, ending with Oluwole's 4-yard score.
Princeton will complete its nonleague schedule next weekend when it travels to Hamilton, N.Y., to face the Colgate Raiders. Princeton has split its last two meetings with Colgate, which reached the NCAA championship game last season. Princeton topped Colgate 14-10 two seasons ago, while the Raiders took a 30-3 win last season.