POSTGAME AUDIO: BOB SURACE
They came into the game answering questions about losing streaks and confidence. They left with momentum and an unblemished record in the Ivy League. Led by 117 yards rushing by sophomore Brian Mills, the Princeton football team won its first game of the 2011 season 24-21 over Columbia Saturday night.
Mills became Princeton's first 100-yard rusher since the final game of the 2009 season when he rushed 26 times for 117 yards, including a two-yard touchdown run early in the third quarter. Princeton's other two touchdowns came on the arm of senior quarterback Tommy Wornham, who connected with both tight end Mark Hayes and wideout Tom Moak on the first touchdown receptions of each player's career.
The 12-yard touchdown to Moak came with 3:52 remaining in the third quarter and gave Princeton a 24-14 lead. Columbia would cut the deficit to three points midway through the fourth, but an opportunistic Princeton defense made sure the Lions would get no closer.
Princeton's ensuing possesion got inside the Columbia red zone, thanks in large part to a 47-yard reception by freshman wideout Matt Costello, who would have had his first career touchdown reception had it not been for a holding call. Princeton was stopped on fourth down inside the Columbia 5, which left the Lions with less than three minutes to drive into field goal range.
After three plays gained five yards, Columbia quarterback Sean Brackett tried to rush for the first down. He was hit first by Steven Cody, but he tried to spin away for the extra couple of yards needed for the marker. Unfortunately, he spun into junior linebacker Andrew Starks, who drove Brackett into the ground two yards short of the first down.
Columbia would use its timeouts and get one last shot with 28 seconds remaining, but senior defensive back Harrison Daniels picked off Brackett at the 29 yard line to clinch the game. The win ended a program-record 10-game losing streak and leaves Princeton in a four-way tie with Harvard, Penn and Yale for first in the Ivy League.
Wornham ended the game 19 for 28 with 194 yards, two touchdowns and one interception. Freshman Chuck Dibilio rushed six times for 70 yards, including a 45-yard rush that set up the Moak touchdown. As a team, Princeton rushed for 227 yards, which nearly doubled its average in the first two games.
Both Isaac Serwanga and Shane Wilkinson caught four passes, though Wornham did a good job spreading the ball around. He completed passes to eight players, including a running back, fullback, tight end and five wideouts.
The defense continued its strong play over the last two weeks, limiting Columbia to 87 yards rushing and forcing its first two turnovers of the season. The Tigers held Columbia to two conversions in 13 third-down opportunities and recorded three sacks.
Starks led Princeton with nine tackles, while freshman cornerback Khamal Brown added eight tackles. Junior defensive lineman Caraun Reid added six tackles, a sack, a forced fumble and a fumble recovery, while both Mike Catapano and Matt Landry also added a sack apiece.
For the third straight game, Princeton scored on its first drive to take a 3-0 lead. Senior Patrick Jacob connected from 27 yards to complete a nine-play, 61-yard drive. The defense stopped Columbia after that, but miscommunication on offense left the Tigers in a hole, as A.J. Maddox stepped in front of a Wornham pass and returned it nine yards for a touchdown.
Last weekend, the Princeton offense compounded one mistake with another until it was in too deep a hole to recover. Showing a new demeanor that impressed head coach Bob Surace, Wornham took charge after the mistake and drove the Tigers down the field. A seven-play, 62-yard drive followed, and that ended with a five-yard touchdown pass to Hayes for a 10-7 lead. The play, similar to one that nearly scored late against Lehigh in the season opener, began with Wornham scrambling left and seeing two receivers on his side. Hayes found open space on the other side of the field and left Wornham with an easy pass back for the score.
After a scoreless second quarter, Mills put Princeton ahead 17-7 with a two-yard touchdown run up the middle. Getting his first start of the season, Mills ran hard and didn't get tackled for a loss throughout the game. He was quick to credit his offensive line, which played one of its best games of the last two seasons.
Princeton will take its new momentum on the road next weekend for its final nonleague game of the season. The Tigers will head south to take on Hampton for the completion of a home-and-home series that began in 2007. Hampton won a physical 48-27 game in the first meeting. Princeton will complete the season with six straight Ivy games, beginning Oct. 15 at Brown.