Bob Surace said he was happy to go into the locker room at halftime. But he was way happier at the end.
After two weeks of comfortable victories, his Princeton football team was pushed hard by an aggressive Lafayette squad through a tense first half. Surace knew this was what games would be like for the rest of the season, and he was thrilled to see how his team responded in a 42-26 home win over Lafayette.
The victory, which featured 447 yards of total offense and three forced turnovers by the defense during the crucial third quarter, is Princeton's third straight win, and it sends the Tigers into the heart of the Ivy League season with serious momentum.
It was a balanced effort on both sides, though there were several individual highlights. Junior wideout Connor Kelley caught eight passes for 102 yards and a touchdown, and his diving 29-yard catch on fourth down (pictured) set up Des Smith's five-yard touchdown reception late in the third quarter.
Senior Roman Wilson caught ten passes for 80 yards and two scores despite playing only sparingly in the second half. Surace held out Wilson for much of the second half for cautionary reasons, and his offensive teammates responded with three touchdowns.
Junior Quinn Epperly had four touchdown passes for the second straight week, while classmate Connor Michelsen threw for 174 yards and rushed for 31 more. Sophomore DiAndre Atwater led the Tigers with 56 yards rushing, though it was a team effort that got Princeton to its eventual total of 182 rushing yards.
Defensively, it was another swarming effort by a squad that settled down after allowing three touchdowns in the first quarter. Sophomore Matt Arends had a career-best 10 tackles, as well as a key break-up on a two-point conversion that would have tied the score, while juniors Garrit Leicht and Mike Zeuli both had seven stops apiece.
After forcing only four turnovers through the first three games, the defense managed three in the third quarter, when Princeton turned a one-point lead into a nine-point advantage. Zeuli recovered a fumble forced by Arends, while both Anthony Gaffney and John Hill recorded interceptions. Gaffney's pick led to a five-yard score for Kelley, his second of the season.
Princeton didn’t waste any time putting pressure on Lafayette; the Tigers took the opening drive 69 yards in eight plays and scored on a 7-yard pass from Epperly to Wilson. A 19-yard pass to Connor Kelley extended the drive on third down, and Epperly hit Wilson for their fourth touchdown connection in five quarters. Princeton added its fourth two-point conversion in as many games when punter/holder Tyler Roth found Des Smith on a pass across the field.
Lafayette answered with touchdowns on each of their first two drives. Scheuerman took Lafayette’s second offensive play down the Tiger sideline for a 69-yard touchdown, and he capped the second drive by busting through the right side of the line for an 18-yard score. Princeton held Lafayette to only 13 points on the two drives, though, as Caraun Reid blocked the first extra point.
In between, sophomore kicker Nolan Bieck hit a 30-yard field goal on Princeton’s second drive.
Lafayette’s third offensive drive was bolstered by a pair of defensive penalties, including a pass interference call on a fourth-and-long deep pass. A face mask moved the ball inside the 10, and Scheuerman eventually finished the drive with a 1-yard score.
Princeton was able to reclaim the lead just before halftime. Following a two-yard touchdown pass from (guess who) Epperly to Wilson, the Princeton defense stopped Lafayette and gave its offense one more drive in the half. Michelsen led the Tigers to the 23, and Nolan Bieck connected on a career-long 40-yarder to send the Tigers into the half with a 21-20 lead.
The defensive adjustments at halftime paid immediate dividends, as the Tigers forced turnovers on the first two possessions. Mike Zeuli recovered a fumble that was forced by Garrit Leicht, and Anthony Gaffney picked off a pass by Andrew Dzurik and returned it to the Tiger 20. The latter resulted in a Princeton touchdown, as Epperly faked an end around handoff to Wilson, took two steps toward the line and threw a quick slant to Connor Kelley.
Lafayette responded again, and it did so with a bit of trickery. A flea flicker ended up with Mike Duncan all alone behind the Tiger defense for a 37-yard score. Matt Arends knocked down the 2-point conversion pass, which kept Princeton ahead 28-26.
The Princeton defense continued to play well in the quarter, and a sack by Zeuli and Hill forced a punt that was caught by Max Lescano, who was interfered with on the catch. That put the ball near midfield, and the Tigers capitalized. The key play came on 4th-and-5 at the 34, when Michelsen threw a deep ball down the home sideline to Kelley, who made a terrific adjustment and catch to prolong the drive. Two plays later, Des Smith caught a deep lob to the back corner and managed to get a foot down for his first score of the season.
Princeton finished the scoring off with an 11-play, 73-yard drive that was capped with a 1-yard run by Epperly. The score was set up by Princeton's other two quarterbacks, as Michelsen hit Kedric Bostic for a 15-yard gain on third-and-10 to put the ball at the Lafayette 1.
Princeton will play its final six games against Ivy opponents, starting next Saturday night with a 6 pm showdown against Brown in Providence. Brown has won four straight home games over the Tigers, but Princeton ended a 162-game scoring streak by Brown last season with a 19-0 win on Powers Field. The game will be shown live on Fox College Sports.