Luke Steckel loves Friday nights. The last one he played was for the Tennessee state championship, and his late interception helped lead Brentwood to the title. Steckel hopes to cap another senior year with a championship, and he made another Friday night interception to help the effort. The Princeton defense, led by a brilliant all-around effort by Tom Methvin and Steckel's timely pick, carried the No. 22 Tigers to a 17-3 win over Brown Friday night in front of 10,136 fans at Princeton Stadium and a national ESPNU audience.
The win improves Princeton to 5-0 overall, 2-0 in the Ivy League. It is Princeton's first 5-0 start since 1995, which was the last Ivy championship season in the storied history of Tiger football. The Tigers will enter the sixth week of the season in at least a three-way tie for the Ivy League lead. Harvard and Yale were 2-0 in league play entering the weekend and play nonleague teams on Saturday. Penn is 1-0 and will host Columbia Saturday.
Methvin recorded six tackles, including four for losses, and added three sacks and three pass break-ups to lead the defense. Classmate and fellow defensive end Pete Buchignani led the team with seven tackles and recorded one sack, while senior linebacker Brig Walker added six tackles, including two solo stops. Princeton picked off Brown's explosive passing attack twice, including a spectacular diving grab by J.J. Artis in the first half.
It took the Tiger offense more than a half to get going, but in a span of less than two minutes, Princeton scored all the points it would need. Even at 3-3, Princeton started with the ball at the Brown 43-yard-line late in the third quarter. Senior quarterback Jeff Terrell, who completed 17-of-27 passes for 185 yards and two touchdowns, engineered a seven-play scoring drive that ended in a 18-yard scoring strike to junior back Rob Toresco. The Tigers' leading rusher last season, Toresco showed his hands by bringing in the catch and holding on, despite a major hit at the goal line. Toresco was shaken up for a bit, but the ball never left his hands until the referee signalled the touchdown.
Leading 10-3 at that point, the Princeton defense forced a three-and-out by tackling Brown quarterback Joe DiGiacomo for an eight-yard loss on first down and defending two straight incomplete passes. With good field position at the Brown 46-yard-line, Toresco took a handoff for six yards and then Terrell looked for his favorite target over the last two weeks, Brendan Circle. The slant was good enough for the first down, but Circle turned it into plenty more. He stopped and spun after the catch to avoid the tackle by Jose Yearwood, and then he sprinted untouched into the left corner of the end zone. That gave Princeton a 17-3 lead, and the defense made sure it stood.
"In the second half, we just got back to doing what we do offensively," head coach Roger Hughes said after winning his career-best sixth straight game. "The defense played great. The line got the pressure we needed. It was another good team win, but we still have a long way to go this season. Nobody is satisfied in our locker room."
The Princeton defense could certainly feel proud of its effort against the Brown passing attack. Quarterback Joe DiGiacomo entered the game ranked fourth nationally in passing with 272.2 yards per game, but he didn't even manage one-third of that against the Princeton defense. The senior quarterback threw for 71 yards, was picked off twice and sacked three times by the aggressive Princeton defense. Brown used two other quarterbacks during the game, but neither threw for more than 30 yards.
Terrell led all runners with 57 yards on 15 carries, while Toresco added 34 yards on seven rushes. Circle caught six balls for 88 yards and a touchdown, while five other receivers caught at least one pass. Terrell, who didn't throw an interception for the second straight week, moved into eighth place on the all-time Princeton passing list. He stands 54 yards behind Brent Woods for seventh on the all-time list.
The Tigers will welcome preseason Ivy League favorite Harvard next Saturday at noon (YES Network, WBUD 1260 AM, GoPrincetonTigers.com). The Tigers ended a nine-year losing streak to the Crimson last season with a 27-24 win in Cambridge.