Chalk one up for the Princeton defense. Despite losing the reigning Ivy League rushing champion, Jordan Culbreath, to injury in the first half, the Princeton football team left Lehigh with its first win of the 2009 season. Steven Cody’s 77-yard interception return for a touchdown pushed the Tigers to a 17-14 victory over the Mountain Hawks.
“To come up here and win at a place with such a great tradition is tough,” head coach Roger Hughes said after winning the Week 2 game for the sixth straight season. “I’m proud of the kids for the way they hung in there and got the win. The defense really flew around today.”
Cody led the defense with 11 tackles and his first collegiate touchdown, while senior Dan Kopolovich made nine tackles and broke up a fourth-down pass on Lehigh’s final drive of the game. Matt Wakulchik made eight tackles for the second straight game, while Scott Britton added seven stops.
The offense struggled all day with an aggressive Lehigh defense, but it made the one big play it needed. Sophomore quarterback Tommy Wornham completed nine of 20 passes for only 47 yards, but his 67-yard touchdown run in the first half have Princeton a two-touchdown lead in the first half. Culbreath gained 25 yards on eight rushes before leaving the game with an injury; Hughes said after the game that the staff was unsure of the severity of Culbreath’s injury.
Junior Meko McCray replaced Culbreath and ran the ball 12 times for 16 yards. With the passing game struggling, the Mountain Hawks pressured the run game throughout the second half and kept the offense from generating any major time-consuming drives. Princeton held the ball for 23:57, but the defense made sure that time would be enough.
“Especially in football, with only 10 games, a win or a loss is so important,” Cody said. “It will either help you or haunt you all week at practice.”
After Princeton was stopped on its first possession, the Tiger defense went out with the intention of creating its first turnover of the season. Although the Mountain Hawks put together a trio of first downs, Princeton made its first turnover of the season count for seven points.
Cody intercepted a short out intended for tight end Alex Wojdowski, found the right sideline and took ball the ball 77 yards for a touchdown. His only obstacle was quarterback J.B. Clark, whose diving tackle attempt around the 20 failed to bring down Cody, who record Princeton’s first interception return for a touchdown since Jay McCareins picked off a San Diego pass and returned it 99 yards for a touchdown.
“We saw that play on film all week and I stared it down,” he said. “The throw was a little behind him, and I caught it and tried to run as fast as I could. I was a little gassed at the end, so I slowed down a bit and hoped the quarterback would over-pursue.”
Those would be the only points of the first quarter, but Lehigh was the team that drove the ball more effectively. A sack of Wornham ended Princeton’s longest offensive drive of the quarter, while the Mountain Hawks ended the first 15 minutes with the ball at the Princeton 26. A near first-down completion to Travis Artim was jarred loose by Britton, who drilled the Lehigh wideout as he came back to the ground after the leaping attempt. That play proved critical, as kicker Tom Randazzo pushed a 44-yard field goal wide right.
After a short Princeton offensive possession and a long punt by Otavio Fleury, Lehigh went on the move again and faced a 4th-and-3 at the Princeton 32. Clark went for Wojdowski again, but the tight end was double-covered by Britton and Cody and the pass sailed high and incomplete.
Princeton once again had a brief possession, but this time it ended in the Lehigh end zone. After an incompletion on first down, Wornham faked an end around to Culbreath, which drew the entire Lehigh defense, short of one player, to the right side of the field. Wornham kept it, got a block from Harrison Daniels against Casey Eldemire, and went in untouched for a 68-yard touchdown. It was Princeton’s longest touchdown run since Derek Davis scored on a 72-yard touchdown run at Harvard in 2005.
Lehigh cut the deficit in half on its final drive of the opening 30 minutes. With good field position after a long kickoff return, Lehigh marched 44 yards in 10 plays and got a seven-yard touchdown catch from Jake Drwal with 1:10 left. Much of the credit on the scoring play, which came on third down, went to the Lehigh offensive line, which gave Clark plenty of time to find Drwal on a crossing pattern.
The third quarter would be more of the same until the Princeton defense forced a second Lehigh turnover inside its own territory. After the Mountain Hawks recovered their own fumble on a muffed punt, Clark dropped back looking for a big play on first down. An up-the-gut rush by Britton kept Clark from getting comfortable, and he lofted a pass towards Craig Zurn along the Princeton sideline. Wilson Cates got in front of Zurn on the jump ball and, like a power forward boxing out on a rebound, kept position as he went high for the catch.
A fourth-down conversion pass to tight end Harry Flaherty got Princeton inside the red zone for the first time all game. Ben Bologna made it count with a 31-yard field goal, giving Princeton a 17-7 lead with 1:01 remaining in the quarter.
Lehigh went back on the move and drove to the Princeton 14, where the Mountain Hawks faced 4th-and-2 in a 10-point game. Instead of attempting a 31-yard field goal that would cut the deficit to a single touchdown, Lehigh went for it and called an inside run; unfortunately for the home team, the quarterback and running back went different ways, and the play ended with a big loss and a Princeton possession.
A 3-and-out for Princeton gave Lehigh another chance, and this time the Mountain Hawks drove 60 yards in five plays. A five-yard touchdown run for Chris Lum cut the deficit to three points with 5:27 remaining. Princeton converted one first down before giving the ball back with 2:28 remaining.
The Mountain Hawks got the ball to their own 37 before a trio of incompletions and a holding call set up a 4th-and-20. Lum’s pass to De’Vaug Gordon was knocked down by Kopolovich, and Princeton was able to run the clock out for the win.
The Tigers will open their 2009 Ivy League season next Saturday at 3 p.m. against the Columbia Lions, who are 1-1 on the season and were picked to finish sixth in the Ivy League this season. Check back with GoPrincetonTigers.com during the week for complete coverage of the weekend’s Ivy League opener.