Oct. 18, 2003
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PROVIDENCE, R.I. - The Princeton football team was looking for a little something to kickstart its offense, to kickstart its season As it turned out, there was nothing little about it. Junior wideout Clinton Wu set an Ivy League record with a 99-yard touchdown reception to ignite Princeton to a 34-14 win at Brown. The victory ended Princeton's season-opening winless skid at four games and also featured the Tigers' best half of offense.
Junior Branden Benson rushed 22 times for 128 yards and two touchdowns, both in the decisive fourth quarter, to pace the offense. Quarterback Matt Verbit had his early struggles, completing two of 10 passes in the first half, but he rebounded for an effective second half and ended with 178 yards passing. Of course, more than half of it came on the play of the game, and so far, the play of the season.
"I'm very happy with the outcome of the game," head coach Roger Hughes said afterwards. "At halftime, I told the guys that this is where we want to be, and if they keep fighting, good things will eventually happen. That long pass to Clinton was the little spark of confidence that really helped us."
Although Princeton did allow one score after Wu's touchdown, the defense stiffened for most of the second half. Sophomore middle linebacker Justin Stull led the way with a career-best 15 tackles, including nine solo stops, while All-Ivy defensive end Joe Weiss had 10 tackles.
Sophomore Greg Fields took the opening kickoff to midfield, and Benson gained 12 yards on Princeton's first play from scrimmage. All the good feelings from the first few seconds quickly evaporated, when an attempted screen pass by Verbit hit sophomore lineman Dave Szelingowski on the back of the shoulders. The official ruled that the pass was thrown backwards, and Brown pounced on the loose football to set up the opening score of the game. Nick Hartigan broke one tackle for a two-yard touchdown run with 10:25 remaining in the opening quarter.
Princeton would come up scoreless on its next two drives, but would find a way to get on the scoreboard. Brown drove to the Princeton 32-yard line, and with a struggling kicker on its sideline, decided to go on 4th-and-12. Sophomore linebacker Abi Fadeyi blitzed from the blind side, and quarterback Kyle Slager never saw him as he waited for his three receivers on the left side to get open. Fadeyi drilled Slager, who lost the ball The only player both standing and aware of the loose football was Blake Perry, who picked it up and sprinted 56 yards down the Brown sideline for Princeton's first touchdown in two weeks. A similar bug bit Princeton again, as Elliot Bishop missed the extra point, and the score was 7-6. The Tigers have yet to convert on all point-after attempts in any game this season.
It was Princeton's first fumble return for a touchdown since Craig Foote returned a fumble 40 yards against Brown in 1998.
That would be all the scoring in the first half, as both offenses struggled to put anything together. Brown had the majority of the chances, controlling the ball for 21:27 of the half, but the Bears were 2 for 10 on third-down conversion attempts and 1 for 5 on fourth-down conversion attempts.
The third quarter turned into a battle of field position, which wouldn't end up being a good thing for Brown. Princeton had the early edge, following a Colin McDonough punt that pushed Brown to its 10-yard line. A steady dose of Hartigan earned Brown some breathing room, and a brilliant punt by Tim Goobic pinned Princeton at its own 3-yard line
On the first play, Benson took a handoff and worked hard just to get the ball outside of the end zone. He was stuffed at the 1-yard line before being dragged back into the end zone. The Brown defense celebrated what it thought was a safety, but forward progress gave Princeton a 2nd-and-12 at the 1-yard line. Following a near interception, Princeton spread the field for third down, while Brown brought its defense up. Wu caught a slant and never broke stride, splitting the defenders and making a 99-yard run to the record books. He avoided a final tackle attempt and went in along the left sidelines. It was the longest play in Ivy League history, topping 98-yard touchdown receptions by Dartmouth's Craig Morton and Cornell's Norman Dawson.
The 13-7 lead was short-lived though, as Brown moved right down the field and scored on a seven-yard run by Hartigan, who ended the day with 40 rushes for 156 yards and two scores.
The rest of the day belonged to Princeton, as the Tigers scored on three consecutive drives. Benson ran the ball 11 times in those drives, with two of them being touchdown runs of 1 and 17 yards. Benson also threw a 2-point conversion pass to B.J. Szymanski. The other touchdown was run in by Verbit, who found a running lane on the right side of the line and scored from three yards out. The defense stuffed Brown on its final two attempts, including one on the first career interception for freshman Tim Strickland.
Princeton will travel to Cambridge, Mass., next Saturday to take on Harvard at noon. The Crimson have beaten Princeton seven times in a row, although its three wins at Harvard Stadium during that stretch have been by an average of three points per game.