Late Drive, Team Effort Pushes Football To 23-21 Opening Win
Sept. 17, 2005
EASTON, PA. - The last time head coach Roger Hughes saw one of his teams achieve a similar drive, the quarterback was Jay Fiedler, and the opponent was Princeton. This one was much more pleasing to the Tiger faithful, as a 16-play, 59-yard drive that ate up 9:25 in the final quarter helped push the Princeton football team to a season-opening 23-21 victory at formerly undefeated Lafayette. This was Princeton's first season-opening road victory since 1992 and ended a skid of six consecutive losses in road openers.
Hughes, the former offensive coordinator at Dartmouth, wasn't watching a seasoned veteran and future NFL quarterback engineer this drive. Instead, it was junior Jeff Terrell, who made his first career start a memorable one. He completed 19 of 28 passes for 197 yards, and he was 3-for-3 on third-down conversion passes in the fourth quarter. As a team, Princeton completed five of its final six third-down conversions. None was bigger than a 3rd-and-5 run by sophomore fullback Rob Toresco, who effectively ended the game by getting one last conversion after Lafayette had exhausted its final timeout.
"My part is easy," Toresco said after rushing for 79 yards on 16 carries in his first career start. "I think the offensive line did an unbelievable job on that drive. They got a great push every time."
As a team, Princeton rushed for 157 yards on 43 attempts. Starting tailback Cleo Kirkland gained 46 yards and a touchdown on 10 attempts, although cramps limited his play in the final quarter. Wideout Brendan Circle caught five passes for 75 yards, and he shined brightest on the critical fourth-quarter drive. The defense was led by senior linebackers Justin Stull and Abi Fadeyi, both of whom had eight tackles apiece. The biggest defensive play of the game was made by Jay McCareins, who gave Princeton a 17-0 lead in the second quarter with his second career interception return for a touchdown. The defense limited Lafayette to 3-of-11 on third-down conversions and helped Princeton earn an 11:12 edge in time of possession.
Princeton opened the game by driving the ball to midfield, mostly on run plays but also the first career completion for Terrell (a 6-yard pass to Jon Dekker). The Tigers fell short of a second first down, but they punted from midfield and established an early advantage in field position. The defense held the advantage by forcing a 3-and-out, and the special teams built on it with the first return of the season by 2004 All-Ivy selection Greg Fields, who returned the punt 19 yards to the Lafayette 41-yard-line.
The Tigers opened their second drive with a 17-yard pass to Dekker, and following a short run, Kirkland broke through the middle on a fake end-around and recorded a first down on the Lafayette 14-yard-line. A quick screen to Fields got Princeton to the 9-yard-line, and Kirkland followed by busting through the middle and breaking through a would-be tackle at the 2-yard-line for Princeton's first touchdown. The drive, which encompassed five plays, 41 yards and 2:06, was the by-product of everything that happened since the opening kickoff. It was also the first touchdown Lafayette has allowed in the first quarter this season, and the first it had allowed since the opening game of the season.
Princeton quickly got the ball back and went back to work. On 3rd-and-11, Terrell threw a deep out to Brian Shields, who used his body to shield off the defender and stay in bounds, and he found some extra running room to get the ball to the 36-yard-line. Three plays later, another third down, Terrell completed a 5-yard in to Shields for another first down. The Lafayette defense bore down from there, and following a stop on Kirkland, the Leopards forced three incompletions, including one on a fourth down that Roger Hughes felt was just out of kicker Derek Javarone's range.
The Tigers held strong again and got the ball back just before the end of the first quarter, and Terrell completed a pair of passes to sophomore wideout Brendan Circle for a total of 42 yards, including one on a 3rd-and-short. Circle took a quick slant on the play, bounced off the linebacker and broke outside for the long gain. A roughing the passer penalty sent Princeton to the 11-yard-line, but it also temporarily knocked Terrell out of the game. Sophomore backup Bill Foran came in and used his athleticism to run a keeper to the 5-yard-line. Javarone completed the drive with a 22-yard field goal to open a 10-0 lead.
While the offense was efficient through the remainder of the first half, the defense was spectacular. Midway through the second quarter, Lafayette started to move the ball on Princeton and attempted a 3rd-and-8 inside Tiger territory. Starting quarterback Brad Maurer attempted a deep out to Travis Hutson, who had man coverage. Unfortunately, the man was McCareins, who stepped in front of the pass, picked it off and sprinted untouched into the end zone for a 75-yard touchdown. It was his third career score and second defensive touchdown.
Lafayette's next offensive opportunity was an improvement, if only because junior Nate Starrett's interception on another out pass by Maurer didn't end up in the end zone. Starrett, making his second career start, made a diving pick in Lafayette territory late in the half. While the play didn't directly lead to a score, the advantage in field position would eventually translate into a 25-yard field goal by Javarone for a 20-0 halftime lead.
The Leopards came out with renewed aggression to open the second half and drove 79 yards for the touchdown. Reserve quarterback Pat Davis, who replaced Maurer following the Starrett interception, got Lafayette into the red zone with a 46-yard pass to Shaun Adair and then into the end zone on a high fade to Brandon Stanford.
Terrell returned to the game for Princeton's first drive of the second half, and he gave the offense a spark with another 3rd-down conversion pass to Fields. Running inside with Toresco and an option to Fields gave Princeton 3rd-and-3 at the 24-yard-line, but Lafayette stood tall and picked off a desperation pass by Terrell at the 3-yard-line. Lafayette drove to the 29-yard-line, but a dropped pass and a missed field goal allowed Princeton to hold on to its 20-7 lead. Terrell attempted a deep pass on third down, but it was intercepted by Torian Johnson and returned to the 40-yard-line. The Leopards moved into the red zone by the start of the fourth quarter, and a keeper by Davis gave Lafayette 1st-and-goal from the 7-yard-line. A pair of runs got Lafayette to the 3-yard-line, and Belton finished the drive with a burst up the middle for the touchdown.
Desperately needing to move the ball on its next drive, Princeton faced an immediate 3rd-and-4 at the 27-yard-line. Once again, Terrell found Circle on a quick out for a 13-yard gain. Three plays later, on 3rd-and-9, Terrell hit Circle on an in pattern for another first down. Another three plays later, this time on 3rd-and-short, a hobbled Kirkland, who had been battling leg cramps because of the excessive heat, broke through the line for another first down.
Care to guess what happened another three plays later? Terrell converted again with a quick screen pass to Fields, who followed a solid block by Circle and found the first-down marker. A hold and a false start made another first down nearly impossible, but a catch by Circle and an inside run by Toresco brought the ball to the 20-yard-line, and Javarone paid off the 16-play, nearly 10-minute drive with a 37-yard field goal that split the uprights. The score opened a two-possession lead and returned momentum to the Princeton sidelines, albeit temporarily.
Kick returner Larry Johnson returned the ensuing kickoff to the Princeton 23-yard-line, and Davis immediately hit Chad Walker on a 23 lob to the front left corner of the end zone. Walker got a foot down for the score, and in the blink of an eye, the score was cut to 23-21.
Lafayette faced a decision at that point. With 3:28 remaining and all three timeouts, the Leopards chose to kick the ball away and attempt to force a punt. Seven running plays later, including six by Toresco, left Lafayette with no way to stop the clock and get the ball back.
"We're excited to get out of here with a win," head coach Roger Hughes said. "Lafayette is a playoff team from last year, and they had almost everybody back. We're not surprised they didn't fold the tents after we got out to a quick start. We expected a fight, and I'm very proud of our guys for the effort they put forth."
Princeton will begin a three-game homestand next weekend when it hosts San Diego at 1 p.m. The Tigers own a 1-0 edge in the all-time series, anks to a 24-17 win at Torero Stadium last year. James Williams and Jay McCareins scored touchdowns on back-to-back defensive plays to lead Princeton to the win. Tickets are still available for the game and can be ordered on www.GoPrincetonTigers.com.