The 22nd-ranked Lehigh Mountain Hawks scored 26 points in the final 21 minutes of the game and held off a final Princeton drive in a wild 29-28 comeback win Saturday night on Powers Field at Princeton Stadium. Despite gaining more than 500 yards of total offense, Princeton dropped its seventh straight season opener.
Sean Farrell capped the Lehigh comeback with a one-yard touchdown run with 2:45 remaining in regulation. A failed two-point conversion left the Mountain Hawks up one, and a kickoff out of bounds gave Princeton the ball at its own 35.
A first down run by sophomore DiAndre Atwater, who recorded a career-best 111 yards and two touchdowns on 13 carries, moved the ball to the Lehigh 48. After two incompletions, junior quarterback Connor Michelsen rolled right and threw for the marker, but the pass was picked off by Isaiah Campbell at the 37. Lehigh gained one more first down and ran out the clock to preserve a second thrilling comeback in three weeks.
While the Mountain Hawks celebrated, Princeton was left wondering what had happened in the final 20 minutes of a game it led 22-3 at halftime. The Tiger offense clicked through much of the game, recording 501 yards of total offense and seeing both a rusher (Atwater) and a receiver (Roman Wilson) go over the 100-yard mark.
While Wilson's numbers (9-168, TD) were the biggest of the bunch, it may have been Atwater's performance that was most exciting to the Princeton fans. After dealing with an injury-plagued freshman season, Atwater showed his potential with 111 rushes on only 13 carries, an average of 8.5 yards per rush.
He opened the scoring with an 18-yard run up the middle with just over four minutes gone in the game, and then he regained a lead for the Tigers with 8:03 remaining in regulation when he busted through one tackle by the Princeton sideline and scored from 17 yards away.
Sophomore Connor Michelsen led the passing attack with 210 yards on 19-of-32 passing. As was the case last season, he spread the ball around; nine teammates caught at least one pass. Wilson had the biggest day, though his touchdown came on the shortest of all throws; he took a pitch from Quinn Epperly (6-of-8, 100 yds, 19 rushes on five carries) for a five-yard touchdown to put Princeton up 22-3 at the half.
The Princeton defense played remarkably well in the first half, giving up yards but holding strong in scoring territory. Junior Mike Zeuli, in his first start at strongside linebacker, had a game-high 18 tackles, while Phillip Bhaya added 10 tackles and an interception. Senior Jason Ray had nine tackles and a sack, while Evan Kappatos added 1.5 sacks in his first game on the defensive line.
Unfortunately, the Lehigh offense started to get going in the second half, and a pair of blocked field goals kept the Mountain Hawks in position to grab the lead. Brandon Bialkowski completed 42 of 57 passes for 430 yards and two touchdowns. His 15-yard scoring pass on the final play of the third quarter got Lehigh within six points, and he gave Lehigh its first lead with a three-yard pass to Dylan Colgate.
Princeton will look to bounce back next Saturday when it heads to Georgetown for a 2 pm game. The broadcast can be heard live on WPRB 103.3 FM, as well as on GoPrincetonTigers.com.
NOTES … Jason Ray rushed for a two-point conversion following Princeton's opening touchdown … DiAndre Atwater's 100-yard rushing game was Princeton's first since Chuck Dibilio ran for 148 yards against Yale in 2011 … Roman Wilson ended the game as the Ivy League leader in both receptions and receiving yards … Tyler Roth made his collegiate debut as Princeton's starting punter and averaged 37 yards on two punts … freshman Dorian Williams had six tackles and a pass breakup in his debut.