It was a story of two halves and two different Princeton teams during Saturday's 2012 season opener at Goodman Stadium. The Tiger unit that came out for the second half showed a ton of resolve and nearly stunned No. 13 Lehigh, but Princeton ultimately fell short 17-14.
The Tigers couldn't muster anything offensively in the first half and found themselves trailing 17-0 entering intermission. In the third quarter, the team started to move the ball; in the fourth, it nearly pulled a stunner.
Princeton got on the board first when senior Akil Sharp, who rushed 22 times for 79 yards, burst through the middle of a tough Lehigh line for a 13-yard score. Freshman Nolan Bieck's extra point attempt was blocked, which left the Tigers down 17-6 early in the fourth.
The defense, which played well throughout the game but got caught on a few big plays in the first half, responded to the offensive score and forced another Lehigh punt. The Tigers, led by starting quarterback Connor Michelsen (14-30-0, 103 yards), couldn't respond, but Princeton caught a break on the punt. Lehigh muffed the return for the second time, and Jon Esposito came up with the ball at the Mountain Hawk 28.
Princeton took over, and a Michelsen strike to Roman Wilson (4 receptions, 40 yards) got the Tigers to the 1-yard line. Two plays later, Sharp went through the left side of the line for a one-yard score, and Michelsen connected with Wilson again for the two-point conversion.
And all of the sudden, a relaxed day in perfect conditions for the Lehigh crowd got far more tense. It got even tougher when reigning All-Ivy lineman Caraun Reid batted down a third-down pass, which gave Princeton a chance to take the lead with 3:15 remaining.
A miss and a three-yard pass to Connor Kelley set up a third-and-7, but a potential conversion pass to senior Shane Wilkinson was just too high. With more than 2:30 remaining and all three timeouts, Princeton decided to punt and ultimately forced a third-and-11, but Colvin hit tight end Dylan Colgate for 27 yards to put the game away.
Sharp led the rushing game with 79 yards, while Wilson added 23 on an end around that seemed to spark the offense in the third quarter. His four catches and 40 yards were both team highs, while sophomore Matt Costello added three catches for 19 yards. Michelsen played the majority of the game at quarterback, though classmate Quinn Epperly did play a handful of series and had 19 yards of total offense (13 rushing, six passing).
The defense, which kept Princeton in the game early while its offense struggled to find a rhythm, was led by senior co-captain Andrew Starks. The two-time Tiger leader in tackles had 11 stops, including two for losses. Defensive backs Phillip Bhaya, Khamal Brown and Mandela Sheaffer each had eight tackles apiece, while Greg Sotereanos had five tackles, including one for a loss.
The senior lineman duo of Reid and Mike Catapano may not have made a big impact on the stat sheet, but they were able to create enough of a pass rush to keep Lehigh's attention. Still, Mountain Hawk quarterback Michael Colvin showed impressive poise against the rush and completed 21 passes for 276 yards, including seven for 102 yards to All-America receiver Ryan Spadola.
Keith Sherman and Zach Barket both had first-half touchdown runs for Lehigh on drives that featured long pass plays; a double-move by Lee Kurfis in the first quarter went for 37 yards and led to Barket's touchdown, while both Kurfis and Spadola had long passes on the second-quarter drive that built the lead to 17-0.
The adage in college football is that a team makes its biggest jump from Week 1 to Week 2, and the Tigers will have a chance to show their improvement to a national audience Friday night when they host Georgetown at 7 pm on ESPNU. The Hoyas dropped a 24-21 decision to Yale Saturday afternoon.