Sunday, October 28, 2012

This Time, The Tigers Lose it Late, 37-35


BY JAY GREENBERG

ITHACA, NY—For the second time in two weeks, the Tigers pass defense was riddled, 525 passing yards by Cornell’s Jeff Mathews on top of 448 by Harvard’s Colton Chapple.

But, for the second time in two weeks, Connor Michelsen was almost throw-for-throw with the two acknowledged best quarterbacks in the Ivy League, leaving Princeton well positioned to make this fine turnaround season take on a look as charmed as was the Tigers’ last Ivy League championship year in 2006.

On consecutive fourth quarter Cornell possessions, the Tigers, on breakups by Matt Arends on third down and Mandela Sheaffer on fourth down, had finally held. Up 35-34, they had the ball back and were breezing again down the field at the Cornell 30 when Dre Nelson got the ball on third-and-three.

“Twice at Lafayette, plays were whistled down for a loss of momentum,” said Coach Bob Surace. “[Nelson] was turning and churning and was stood up and then ball was out.”

With 3:27 remaining, Tre Minor recovered the fumble forced by Brian Gee. And now the Tigers had to get one more stop to get and couldn’t make it. They forced a third- and-one that Luke Hagy picked up with a run, then a third-and-ten when Jeff Mathews, with way too much time—like he had more often in the second half—hit Luke Tasker at the Princeton 46.

Mathews found Grant Gellatly for another 35 to the Princeton 10. A first-down roughing the passer penalty on Mike Catapano (his second on a final drive this season and, in his mind, just as “ridiculous” as the one against Georgetown) gave Cornell a first-and-goal, plus license for coach Kent Austin to trust John Wells, whose missed extra point was the difference on the scoreboard, to kick a 23-yard field goal with 50 seconds remaining.

When Michelsen was intercepted by Taylor Betros on an underneath try to Connor Kelley on the first play of Princeton’s drive, the Big Red (4-3, 2-2) had hung an excruciating third loss of the season on the Tigers, 37-35.

“Georgetown was a pretty low [point] too, field goal at the end, roughing the passer, same thing,” said Surace. “It is what it is, we have to bounce back.”

Four wins between those losses help, of course, as does the knowledge that with victories over Penn, Yale and Dartmouth, the Tigers can still get a share of the Ivy League title no matter how many points Harvard puts up in its three remaining games. 

We will begin to find out against the Quakers Saturday on Powers Field at Princeton Stadium, whether the Princeton defense, which had played three straight dominant games against Columbia, Lafayette and Brown, has deteriorated this badly in successive weeks or just how good were Chapple and Mathews.

“We varied [defenses],” said Surace. “We blitzed, we played cover two, and we played quarters.

“Maybe we varied it too much, maybe we’ll have to take a look at that. Was it an example of a terrific quarterback and passing game two weeks in a row? Or do we have to fix some things?”

It was both but the game also turned on other issues. Against a Cornell offensive line minus two starters, the vaunted Princeton pass rush sacked Mathews four times (all in the first half) when they needed to get to him even more.

“Every time I was out there we were close,” said Catapano, but Mathews (35-for-51, 4 TDS, 0 INT) got the ball away quickly with uncanny accuracy. And until the fourth quarter the Tigers could not contend with Tasker (10 catches for 201 yards) and Gellatly (12, 215) yards.

But Princeton still would have won, with more probability than it did against Harvard a week ago, too, had it taken better care of the ball. “First time this year we lost the turnover battle,” said Surace, but Princeton lost it decisively, two fumbles and two interceptions to none of either by Cornell.

To suffer their first league loss, the Tigers had to stop themselves. Down 34-28, they had driven 11 plays to the Cornell 12 when Gee got his helmet on the football and knocked it from Will Power’s arms and Taylor Betros recovered.

A terrible sequence to start the second half also had put Princeton in an uphill fight.

First Anthony Gaffney ran out a kickoff that Wells had put six yards deep, only got it as far as the six, plus an illegal block penalty on the play started the Tigers at the three.

“To me, (at 14-14) that was the turning point of the game,” said Surace. “I don’t know why we ran the kickoff out.

“You saw it last week too. If it’s high and deep you don’t run it out. Maybe I have to be more clear on that.”

Two plays later Seth DeValve dropped a first-down pass for Michelsen’s first incompletion of the game. On third down, the sophomore threw the ball slightly behind a crossing Roman Wilson, who reached back and tipped it in the air to Cornell’s Andrew Nelson, who was stopped for taking in for a touchdown only by a Max Coale tackle.

Michelsen beat himself up as always, “I have to make that throw,” he said but his coach wasn’t faulting the quarterback.

“It was behind Roman a little but he still has to make that catch,” said Surace.

Andrew Starks blew up a run by Luke Hagy on second down and it looked like the Tigers had a chance to dodge the bullet by making the Big Red kick a field goal. But on third down and eight, Mathews drilled a pass deep into the end zone for a Tasker touchdown against a struggling Sheaffer.

Still, within eight plays the Tigers—Quinn Epperly, running in untouched from six yards—had tied it. Terrible coverage on a screen that went for a 23-yard touchdown by Hagy put Cornell ahead on its subsequent drive, but Michelsen came back to find Wilson, whose stiff arm of freshman Kendall Brown broke a 72-yard touchdown to tie it again at 28-28.

Mathews hit Tasker for 15 and 37 yards to set up a too-easy 2-yard run touchdown run by Silas Nacita but Wells kicked the PAT wide to leave it 34-28. Even after the Powers fumble, Princeton finally got a stop and a 12-play, 91-yard drive was finished off on a Michelsen 6-yard pass to Mark Hayes.

“They are so good offensively that when they get in a rhythm and hit the tight windows you have to respond with points and we did,” said Surace.

Nolan Bieck’s fifth PAT of the game put Princeton ahead and the Tigers had the ball back, with no reason to believe they were going to be stopped when Nelson, getting seven carries because Akil Sharp (still not 100 percent with an ankle sprain) got none, coughed it up straining for what would have been a first down.

So it went down almost to the wire, but Princeton went down regardless.

“You can’t get just two stops in a whole half and expect to win the game,” said defensive captain Andrew Starks. “We didn’t play well enough to win.”

And if it looked too much like Georgetown five week ago, and sent a shudder down loyal Tigers’ striped backs at its resemblance to too many games in 2011 when their team couldn’t stop anybody, the Tigers can prove they have already played the toughest part of their schedule by running the table in three remaining games in which they should be favored.

“The turnovers upset me and so did our defense on that screen upset me because we had prepared for it,” said Surace. “But Connor was 29-for-35 (390 yards) with one drop and a tipped interception.

“This was the best our offensive line [Michelsen was not sacked] has played. So there were good plays and bad plays and we were one play short.

“We knew coming in there would be no excuses for a letdown and we didn’t have one. I told the guys in the locker room the effort was great. You have give credit to Cornell on some of those plays.”




Thursday, October 25, 2012

What Princeton Must Do to Defeat Cornell


Greg Sotereanos '14
BY JAY GREENBERG

1) Rush Jeff Mathews.  The Cornell, quarterback, probably the Ivy League’s purest passer, threw for 357 yards last week, but final drive went nowhere in 21-14 loss to Brown because of the Bears’ pressure (four sacks for the game). A third interception then put the game away.  Tigers only got to Harvard’s Colton Chapple once last week and he threw for 448 yards, albeit with two NFL prospect tight ends.  Tigers need the usual big games from Caraun Reid, Mike Catapano and Greg Sotereanos.

2) Rush the Ball.  Tigers got nothing going on the ground until the second half against Harvard.  It’s hard to imagine winning this game against such an accomplished passer without winning the time of possession battle, although after last week we can imagine almost anything. “Have to convert third downs,” says Coach Bob Surace, another way of saying third-and-two, not third-and-nine. 

3) Pass the ball. The Cornell defense is young and the Tigers’ offensive confidence is surging. Princeton doesn’t want to trade scores with Cornell, but if it comes down to that there are plays that can be made.  
Anthony Gaffney '16

4) Tsk Tsk Luke Tasker. Son of the ex-Bills special teamer deluxe, Steve, has 52 catches and goes up against one or both of two freshmen cornerbacks, Anthony Gaffney and Matt Arends.  Quite the test.

5) Fall Behind by 24 Points in the Fourth Quarter.  Hey, worked once. Seriously, it is huge for the Tigers to know they have come-from-behind capability, but the vast majority of games are won by getting ahead and staying ahead.  That means no looking ahead to any Ivy League title, not with four big games to go.  Only way the Tigers, who in 2006 stumbled to their only loss at Cornell, get to that championship is one down at a time.








Tigers Go To Cornell Fully Warned


BY JAY GREENBERG

Dre Nelson says there is at least one more advantage to being a 5'6" running back besides having a heart disproportionate to one’s body.

“With big guys up front blocking, half the time the defense can’t even see me,” he said. “It helps being small when you stay low and get behind your pads.”
Dre Nelson '16

Nelson, finally freed from the weeds by Offensive Coordinator James Perry, caught a 7-yard touchdown pass from Connor Michelsen to start the mother of all comebacks Saturday, thereby blowing the freshman’s cover, much like his team’s.

After coming from 24 points behind in the fourth quarter to end Harvard’s 14-game winning streak, Princeton no longer is a program in the midst of a nice turnaround season, but suddenly the sole Ivy League leader.  It was fun watching the Tigers becoming a hunter again while it lasted.  Not too fast, hopefully, have they graduated to being the hunted.  

“Licking their chops.” is how Coach Bob Surace envisions the preparation of Jeff Mathews, the best passer in the Ivy League, and Cornell’s offense this week against a Princeton team that gave up 448 yards in the air against Harvard. 

Meanwhile, thanks to three interceptions and four sacks, the Big Red lost 21-14 Saturday to a Brown team the Tigers shut out the previous week, one more lure to this treacherous trap Saturday afternoon in Ithaca.  Take it from a couple Tigers snared there in 2006: Don’t let this happen to you.

At the conclusion of practice Tuesday, Surace read to his team emails he says he received 20 minutes apart from Tim Strickland ’07 and Brig Walker ’07, asking the coach to remind the 2012 Tigers that a 10-7 loss at Cornell cost the 2006 team an undisputed Ivy League title.

Strickland remembered a headline following the win over Harvard about  “an unstoppable offense” being mounted in a Princeton locker during Cornell week.  Ultimately, the Tigers rallied from two touchdowns down at the half at Yale to earn a share of the title with the Bulldogs and lived happily ever after, just not quite as happily as the haunted Strickland and Walker believe they should have.

The Tigers had the best team in the league that year.  No one should be quite willing to say that yet about this year’s squad, not with four games to go and Harvard highly unlikely to lose again.  Surace says the 634 yards Princeton gave up to the Crimson is the best teaching tool, but he also didn’t pass up the opportunity to quote Strickland and Walker to his team.

Strickland, probably the best Tiger safety of this decade, ran out of eligibility six years ago, unfortunately. He would come in handy against Mathews, who as a sophomore last season threw for 224 yards in a raging freak October blizzard on Powers Field at Princeton Stadium.

“They may be the best in the country passing and throwing it,” said Surace. “Mathews is on pace to break all of James’ (Perry, the Princeton offensive coordinator) passing records (set at Brown).”

James Perry
Perry will have two shots, this year and next, to forestall the inevitable. The best way to do that would be with about 35 minutes worth of Princeton possession time.

“We know we need to run the ball,” said Perry. “It’s who we are no matter who we play.

“We have worked for three years to establish what we see as a staple of the offense so that would be really critical again.”

Perry called a brilliant game to bring the Tigers back against Harvard, but falling behind in that one was no more a part of the original plan than it is this week.  Of course Princeton will pass the ball against Cornell because likely the Tigers can, as Michelsen grows more confident by the week with an array of consistent receivers.  But even more critical for this game, probably, is Princeton’s depth at running back.

Akil Sharp probably will be back Saturday while Di Andre Atwater likely takes at least a week’s leave. So it goes, but the Tigers still are going strong in the absence of Chuck Dibilio while freshman Nelson begins to make like Darren Sproles and sophomore Will Powers, who made some tough yards in the second half against Harvard, steps up.

“Will is so strong,” said Perry. “That pass he caught along the sideline (an 8-yard gain on second-and-ten on the final drive) was such a great illustration of what he brings to us.

“One, he gets a nice chip on the D end who was a terror for us all day, then runs an effective route and catches the ball. Nothing flashy, he then lowers his shoulder and is able to take the guy down on his way out of bounds, what the two minute drill is all about.

Will Powers '15
“That’s four things on the one play, none of which takes your breath away, but obviously ends up winning the game for us.”

You have to love a 5'9" running back named Will Powers, for whom the field at Princeton Stadium is not named. He will live in perpetuity for his role in The Miracle regardless.  But his body, he realizes, is more week-to-week.  

“Hopefully I stay healthy,” said Powers. “That’s something everybody worries about.

“These guys are coming back to be a big part of the game plan again but it definitely feels good to step in and do my part. Everyone doing his part is the reason we are being successful. We’re not doing anything spectacular, crazy or different.”

After last week, Powers must have a different definition of spectacular, crazy and different than the rest of us.  But he is right about that not being the game plan for Saturday in Ithaca.

TIGER TAILS

INJURIES:  Beyond the likely return of Sharp, also thickening the depleted running back ranks are Jonathan Esposito, who missed three games (foot) but appeared to work his rust off with a strong JV game Sunday against Milford Academy and Brian Mills, who is a defensive back no more.  . . .LB Garrit Leicht, who played five plays in his season debut against Harvard, will be used more this week, particularly in passing situations. And Brendan Sofen, who had to concede the placekicking competition to Nolan Bieck because of pre-season injury to his kicking leg, has progressed to the point he will be on the travel squad to Cornell to backup Bieck, whose emergency reserve has been Roman Wilson.

Khamal Sighting:  Khamal Brown, released from the hospital Monday, was at practice Thursday.  "It's about the best thing you can ask for, seeing him healthy and happy and on the road to recovery," said Tom Moak, who attended Brown's prep school in Atlanta and has been a big help to the family since the ordeal began. "It's been a very stressful two weeks.

Brown, the sophomore cornerback who had to leave practice on October 9 with a head injury not caused by a collision,  is returning to his home with his parents on Friday. We will have a story on his travail and future next week.

 MORE THE MERRIER DEPT: Out of fear of Harvard’s deep and dominant defensive line, Tigers used only one extra offensive lineman last week, center Ryan Peloquin, even after RT Kevin Mill went out after one play from scrimmage.  “I want to get back to nine or ten this week,” said Surace.
Brian Mills '14

HE WANTS TO BOOT THE MISTAKES: Tigers’ adventures on place kicks are excitement Surace says he can live without.  “We got to get that corrected,” said the coach after Bieck saved a chip shot field goal against Harvard with a low line drive after holder Tom Moak had bobbled Jason Tiemeier’s snap. “We have had three bad snaps, one fumble and then a bobble that still went through,” said the coach.  “That’s ten years worth of mistakes.”

RESPECT DEPT:  Tigers got three votes in this week’s FCS coach’s poll and 24 in The SportsNetwork media poll, where they knocked Harvard out of the Top 25.   In the coach’s poll, Harvard, 20th a week ago, dropped to 24th..  Lehigh, 17-14 winner over Princeton in the Tigers’ opener, is sixth in the coach’s poll, eighth in the media vote.












Monday, October 22, 2012

The Making of A Miracle


BY JAY GREENBERG

Bob Surace awoke Sunday morning to “pinch myself and check the scores”.  Then, just to make certain he watched video that confirmed his Tigers really did rally from 24 points down in the fourth quarter Saturday to beat Harvard 39-34.
But having said after the game “I’m glad we only play them once” the coach was not tempted to call Harvard Coach Tim Murphy to ask for a rematch and a mulligan on the first three quarters.  

Matt Costello '15
If these two teams played each other 10 times, how often would Princeton win? Who really knows?  But what is certain is the Tigers pulled off a one-in-500 games comeback for a lot more reasons than a 90-yard drive culminating in a 34-yard touchdown pass from Quinn Epperly to Roman Wilson with 13 seconds remaining.

And those would include:

--- Big-time catches by more players than just Wilson for the winner, including Matt Costello’s 29 yarder for a touchdown. With the two-point conversion throw by Connor Michelsen to Shane Wilkinson, the Tigers were back to within one score.

“Crafty,” said Surace. “Matt was behind the guy a little and had to come back because the ball was a little underthrown. 

“He played high school basketball, where it looks like he learned how to box out.”

Tom Moak also tiptoed to stay in bounds on a two-point conversion throw from Michelsen. And Michelsen perfectly floated the ball over the rush to get the ball to Dre Nelson, who ran it in from seven yards for the touchdown that started the comeback.

“We have been trying and trying to get the ball to Dre in space and finally we did,” said Surace.

---Two special teams calls, one when assistant coaches Jim Salgado and Ryan Roeder tried a different kickoff return play than they had all season and Anthony Gaffney took it 59 yards to spark the first fourth-quarter drive.  “That got our bench back into it,” said Surace. 

The other was on the fourth quarter blocked punt, when Nelson, the extra rusher that Harvard’s three-man wall in front of kicker Jack Dombrowski couldn’t pick up, came off the edge.

Mike Zeuli '15
--- Offensive coordinator James Perry’s play calling on the final drives.  Perry went from a first half of having no answers to having them all. So it was more than just emotion, passes, catches and some clutch runs by Will Powers that was bringing Princeton back.  

The Tigers also didn’t have to waste any time outs in the second half because of any confusion in play calls. Thus all three time outs were there for their usage on Harvard’s final possession, making workable 90 yards in 1:57 following the punt.

 --- “We stuck to it,” said defensive coordinator Jared Backus. That persistence manifested itself when safety Mike Zeuli, who had tough afternoon like all the linebackers and safeties against NFL candidate tight ends Kyle Juszczyk and Cameron Brate, tackled Juszczyk one yard short of the first down marker on third-and-seven to get the ball back for Princeton’s final drive.  

But Princeton’s resolve to keep playing also was reflected in plays made long before the comeback started.

Phil Bhaya '14
Phil Bhaya, beaten as much as anybody by the two-headed Harvard tight end monster, didn’t quit on a play in the second quarter when he was faked out of his shoes by Treavor Scales.  Bhaya took a swipe at the ball, knocked it loose, and fell on it at Princeton 25, saving another likely Harvard score.

Mandela Sheaffer not only had a first half end-zone interception when Colton Chapple threw into triple coverage, but a clean pass knockdown on fourth down on the game’s initial drive.  So it was still 20-0 at the half when it could have been much, much worse. And in the fourth quarter Matt Arends ran down Scales the Princeton 5 to save a touchdown on the play just before Greg Sotereanos’s blocked kick.

--- And one more.  Wilson, the big hero in the end, did an unsung job of keeping Paul Stanton from picking up his muff of Nolan Bieck’s kickoff, enabling Jakobi Johnson to fall on the ball at the four, setting up a third-quarter field goal.

Jakobi Johnson '15
INJURIES:  The hit on Michelsen’s non-throwing arm that forced him from the final series caused only a temporary sting.  He should be 100 per cent for Cornell. “He was telling us he was ready to come back in just before the final play,” said Surace.  “Had to shoe-him away, we were out of time outs.”

RT Kevin Mill, out two weeks with a knee problem, had to be helped off after one play and never returned. But he suffered no further damage and is not out for the year.  “The Harvard game meant a lot to Kevin,” said Surace. “We probably rolled the dice a week too early and needs to strengthen it more. We miss him and want to get him back.”

Di Andre Atwater, who limped out after a second quarter run, will be questionable at Cornell Saturday, but the hope is Akil Sharp (ankle), held out an extra game by Surace. Will be at full strength this week. The Tigers so far have used Jonathan Esposito, coming off a foot injury, only on special teams and on the practice scout team. But he played well in the JV game Sunday to “work the rust off,” according to Surace.  And Brian Mills, who was converted to defensive back for this season but is getting practice reps at running back as injuries have depleted the Tigers, is “getting more comfortable”, said Surace.

Quinn Epperly '15
FREE PLAY DEPT: Surace saw the flag, so he knew Harvard (which committed 12 penalties) had too many men on the field on the winning touchdown. Thus the coach understood that the Tigers had a free play and could take a shot in the end zone, then come back with an intermediate route on fourth down to try to set up a field goal.   

“Not sure Quinn (Epperly) saw it though,” said Surace. “It would have been awfully mature of him if he did.  I think he just saw the matchup (Wilson vs. safety Chris Splinter)”

TESTED TIGERS DEPT:  Closeness does count in more than horseshoes.  Surace believes that even though the Tigers were not able to seal the deal in so many fourth quarters in 2011 and 2012, even those painful experiences paid off Saturday.  “Every game Harvard won during their (14-game) winning streak was by at least 10 points, most of them blowouts,” said the coach.

COLD WATER DEPT:  So what kind of attitude do the Tigers, coming off the highest high of their athletic lives, take to Cornell?

“We gave up [634] yards on offense and in the first half we barely had 50,” said Surace. “Cornell has to be licking its chops and smiling.”

“If we played a great game and won by three scores.  I would be worried about overconfidence.  It’s easer to coach now with so much to correct.”

Jonathan Esposito '15
BEFORE INVESTING, TALK TO SHANE DEPT:  Soothsayer of the Week Award goes to Wilkinson, who, when asked at Wednesday’s media luncheon about the 39 points Princeton scored at Harvard a year ago said: “Whatever they want to give us, we are going to try to hang 39 on them like last year.”

GAME BALLS

They went to Wilson, Sotereanos, scout team players Chris Pondo and Nick Fekula and strength and conditioning coordinator Jason Gallucci for the Tigers having so much left for the fourth quarter.

TIGER TAILS

Win was only the Tigers’ third in 17 years against Harvard.  “Tim (Harvard coach Murphy) was very gracious,” said Surace about the post-game handshake..  “He said we deserved to win the game.” . . . 
Evan Kappatos had multiple receptions in a 14-7 JV loss to Milford Academy Sunday, when both Esposito and Zach Smith ran well. . .  Princeton Football Association honored Ron Rogerson, whose head-coaching career was stopped tragically short by a fatal heart attack in 1987, and the 1992 Ivy League Championship team at The Captain’s Dinner Friday night. Assistant head coach Steve Verbit, PFA President Anthony DiTommaso ‘86, Aaron Harris ’93 and Keith Elias ’94 spoke.  . . . Zeuli led the Tigers Saturday with 12 tackles. Alex Polofsky had 11.











Saturday, October 20, 2012

Tigers Pull a Miracle, 39-34


BY JAY GREENBERG

Did it really happen? 

Did Princeton, down 34-10 with 13 minutes remaining and seemingly no answers for a Harvard juggernaut, really come back?

Did the Tigers score four touchdowns in the fourth quarter, twice convert two-point conversions, lose their passing quarterback, Connor Michelsen, on a final drive that began at the Princeton 10, then have their running quarterback, Quinn Epperly, heave a prayer into the end zone on third-and-two at the Harvard 36 and have it answered?

Did Roman Wilson, with 13 seconds left, come down with the ball, a 39-34 victory, and undisputed possession of first place in the Ivy League one season after 1-9, one half after the Tigers looked completely in over their heads, and almost a full quarter after they had every reason to pack it in?

But it had to be true, because the scoreboard said so and because it was witnessed by 10,823, many of them partying at midfield along with Tigers who apparently believed all along.

“I just told them in the locker room I’m so proud of them," said Coach Bob Surace. “It's not only a matter of believing in me but believing in themselves.

"And they do. They never thought there was anything but a chance we would make play after play."

Harvard’s Colton Chapple threw for 448 yards, Trevor Scales run for 108, and tight end Kyle Juszczyk caught 15 passes for 3 touchdowns. When Princeton’s Jakobi Johnson recovered a Paul Stanton fumble at the four on the kickoff following the Tigers' 86-yard touchdown drive to start the second half, their chance to get back into the game seemed squandered when Princeton had to settle for a Nolan Bieck field goal.  

Harvard drove 75 and 66 yards for two more touchdowns and still the Tigers refused to pack in.

“The same thing happened as when you are picked to finish last (in the Ivy League) in the poll,” said Mike Catapano. “You can’t look at the scoreboard, can’t let the big picture get to you.

"We wouldn’t let the big picture overwhelm us.”

For three quarters Harvard had looked even more overwhelming that the big picture. Their two tight ends, Juszczyk and Cameron Brate, had shredded a Princeton offense that, coming into the game, had not given up a touchdown in the first two league games.

So even when Anthony Gaffney ran the kickoff back 59 yards, Dre' Nelson completed a 34-play drive by catching a 7-yard lob over the Harvard pass rush, and Connor Michelsen, who threw the touchdown pass, hit Tom Moak for two points, the Tigers' chances still seemed even smaller than Nelson, who is only 5'6".

But Princeton held and the mighty mite flew off the edge to block Jack Dombrowksi’s punt, putting the Tigers in business at the Harvard 48. After a first-down Michelsen pass to Wilson, Matt Costello used his body as a shield to remarkably came down with a 29-yard touchdown pass. James Perry, the offensive coordinator, put in Epperly for the critical two-point conversion, Shane Wilkinson caught it, and somehow the Tigers were only one score away.

Of course that meant they were one stop away, too. Qnd it looked like they never were going to get it. Helped by a 40-yard kickoff return by Stanton, Chapple, Ricky Zorn, Brate, had the ball at the Princeton five in a lightning three plays before the Tigers swarmed to stop three runs. Greg Sotereanos got his hand up, blocked David Mothander’s attempted 22-yard field goal, and now the crowd was as wired as the Princeton bench.

Will Powers, carrying most of the load after Di Andre Atwater followed Akil Sharp-- —who didn’t play at all— -- to the sideline,  ran for 10 yards for one first down. Michelsen hit Wilson for 26, Mark Hayes for seven, Costello for six before finding Seth DeValve in the end zone from 20 yards out to make it 34-32 with 2:27 to go. Harvard's Alexander Norman got his hand up to knock down Michelsen’s two-point attempt to Wilkinson, but the Tigers still had three timeouts and all the the belief in the world.

On third down, Mike Zeuli, who spent much of the day bouncing off Jusczyzk and Brate, ran down Jusczyzk one yard short of a first down at midfield on what turned out to be the defensive play of the game.

Harvard tried to draw the Tigers offsides before punting. With 1:57 remaining, the Crimson downed the ball at the 10, a good 60 yards away from a makeable field goal.

Michelsen hit Wilkinson for one first down, then the quarterback made another with his legs on third-and-two . He took a sack and a hit on his left, non-throwing arm, and came out of the game.  But Harvard, called for a staggering 12 penalties, eight in the first half when it should have had at least two more scores, was flagged again for taunting and the Tigers dodged that bullet, then another when Chris Splinter dropped an all-but certain interception of Epperly.

"I had to have the confidence I could step in and pull it off, too," said Epperly.. "Just stay calm and try to win it for us."

Powers took a checkoff pass from Epperly for five, and two plays later, the Tigers were at the Harvard 36 on third-and-two, a good 15 yards from giving Bieck his best chance.

Wilkinson appeared to have those 15 yards on an intermediate route, but Epperly went for it all. "I took a shot," he said.

Wilson, pushing off Splinter just enough to not get it called, caught the ball in the corner of the end zone. And those who had stayed were rewarded for their loyalty by becoming an eyewitness to one of the most inspirational finishes in three decades of Tiger football.

“I don’t know if it has sunk in yet,” said Wilson after Chapple, being chased by three Tigers with half the student section racing towards the sidelines ready to pitch in, threw incomplete as the clock ran out. 

Perhaps it never should fully sink in. It happened only because the Tigers were unsinkable.

TIGER TAILS

Already minus Akil Sharp, the Tigers also suffered the loss again of Di Andre Atwater (—who missed last week’s win over Brown—)  on a second-quarter run. Kevin Mill, who had been out two weeks with a knee problem, limped off after the first Princeton offensive play and did not return. . . Harvard, self destructive to its bitter end, was flagged for 12 men on the field on the winning touchdown. So even if Wilson had been called for offensive pass interference, the Tigers would have gotten another shot.
           
“The only way I can explain it is ‘go figure,’” said Harvard Coach Tim Murphy.  “Extraordinarily different halves and it wasn’t just our defense but mistakes we made on offense and special teams.

“We moved the ball at will pretty much and didn’t score enough touchdowns. Absolutely we did not let up; we had a great dynamic in the locker room at halftime. Last year we had to score 50 to beat these guys (54-39) so we knew there was plenty of time left.”


Wednesday, October 17, 2012

What Princeton Must Do to Defeat Harvard




BY JAY GREENBERG

Andrew Starks '13

Stop Colton Chapple:  The Harvard senior quarterback has completed 66 percent of his passes, run for a 59-yard touchdown, and is averaging 5.5 yards per rush, not all of which have come on scrambles. Obviously, the Tigers need the relentless pass rush they have been bringing for the last four games, but also some shrewd spy work by the linebackers, principally captain Andrew Starks, the quickest guy in the unit.

Stop Treavor Scales.   “The best running back I have seen on film,” says Bob Surace.  The senior, averaging 6.4 yards per carry, can both run over and away from you. The Tigers aren’t going to be in same stadium with Harvard if they lose the time of possession battle by more than five minutes.

Mandela Sheaffer '13
Stop Kyle Juszczyk and Cameron Brate. “Tight ends like this come along once a decade and they have two of them,” said Surace.  Juszczyk ran over seemingly the entire Bucknell student body for a 59-yard touchdown to make SportsCenter’s Plays of The (last) Weekend.  Tiger safeties Mandela Sheaffer and Phil Bhaya do not want to wind up on SportsCenter this weekend.

Shane Wilkinson '13
Stop the Wave.  The Crimson are eight players deep on the defensive line. So Tigers’ increasing confidence in up to ten offensive linemen will be critical if they are going to have anything left in the fourth quarter. Despite a 30-point explosion in 12:39 that was the astonishing highlight of a 1-9 season, Princeton wilted in the end of last season’s 54-39 loss at Cambridge.  But it certainly was fun while it lasted as Shane Wilkinson (eight catches) and Matt Costello (six) had a field day with quarterback Tommy Wornham '12 against a Harvard secondary that didn’t struggle like that against anybody else.

"Whatever it takes to move the ball like last year," said Wilkinson. "Whatever they want to give us, we're going to take it and try to hang 39 or more on them again this year."

Stop the Presses. That’s what a win against what Surace calls “by far the best team I have seen on video in three years” would do. Tigers impressively handled the sudden mid-week hospitalization of starting cornerback Khamal Brown before the Brown game but stakes are one week higher now and so is the level of the competition. Thus, false starts, missed throws, drops can’t be tolerated.  There is practically no margin for error against Harvard.


Silver Line-ing: Tigers Block Out Their Injuries


BY JAY GREENBERG

Ernie Accorsi, who built good Browns and Giants teams, always liked to compare the synergy of an offensive line to the five fingers on a hand.  So he would say that Princeton has won three straight after an 0-2 start with a two-fisted approach.

For the last 10 quarters, the Tigers have been missing their most accomplished lineman, RT Kevin Mill ‘13, and their best backup, G Jack Woodall ’15,  in his case potentially for the season. Nevertheless, using 10 different offensive linemen, not one senior among them, Princeton has outscored its opponents in those three games by 87-20.
Eddy Morrissey 

Gotta hand it to offensive line coach Eddy Morrissey, it would appear his refusal to treat these kids with kid gloves is paying off.

“Never satisfied,” said Morrissey. “But we’re getting better.

“They work, they do what they are told to do and they’re a good group to be around.  But we’ve got a long way to go."

Morrissey would say the same thing while roasting marshmallows at a November bonfire, an event which the Tigers would be halfway to for the first time since 2006 with an upset of undefeated Harvard Saturday on Powers Field at Princeton Stadium.  Actually, Eddy spends every practice roasting guys whom he feels are playing like marshmallows, but concedes another major test was passed last week against Brown, which presented the most physical defensive front the Tigers had seen through five games.

And now Harvard, which rotates eight defensive linemen, is another level up. 

“Fast and physical,” is Princeton’s mantra, but in reality, the faster its hurry-up offense is put into play, the harder it is to remain physical over 60 minutes.

“We’re a no-huddle operation, trying to get 80-85 plays a game,” said Morrissey. “That allows you to use more guys and give guys a series off while the young guys get some experience. 

“I go back to Oregon (Morrissey coached there from 2006-2008) where we played eight. It’s a great question about whether you lose continuity but (Offensive Line Coach) Steve Greatwood used to say the more guys you play the more they are involved, the more they take ownership in the line and the program.”
Kevin Mill '13

The Tigers have bought in, and not just because Morrissey invited them to his house for steak and didn’t yell at them that the meat he served was tougher than they are.   

“Our relationship has grown so much since freshman year,” said RT-LG Taylor Pearson ’14.  “We really enjoy him, especially now that he feels we know what we’re doing and only yells a little bit.”

They know it’s not personal.  And the starters do not take their periodic respites personally.

“We all work together during practice, everybody supports everybody else,” said guard Max Coale ’14.  “The coach has a saying, ‘The train doesn’t stop, the next guy has to be ready,’ and that’s true.

“Playing 10 guys is great because we are interchangeable parts. Our guys get a breather and come in fresh. Our rotation is phenomenal.”

Even though it will be shortened this week with Mill's probable return, the return for what the Tigers did without him will be ongoing. They are a much deeper unit than when the senior went down against Columbia.

Pearson moved into Mill’s right tackle spot with little problem, because at 6-5, he has the length for the outside job, plus gained experience there as a freshman.
Ryan Peloquin '15

Into Pearson’s place at left guard went the rapidly improving Joe Tull ’15, backed up by Hanur Kim '13, who had seemed to fall by the wayside until he played the entire 86-yard touchdown drive that got Princeton on the scoreboard before the half at Lafayette.

Ryan Peloquin ’15 continues to spell starter Joe Goss ’14 at center, as does tackle Tom Yetter ‘15 fill in for Huston.  Mike Ramos '15, received 10 plays against Brown. Tackle Britt Colcolough ’16, who may have the most upside of any of the underclassmen, was used little against Brown, and may be the odd man out because of Mill's return. Regardless the senior comes back without need to play 60 snaps, a good thing.

TE Mark Hayes '13 does more than make spectacular catches off defender's backs while being a victim of interference.  He has contributed blow-up blocks to the Tigers' increasing red zone successes. The locomotive is picking up speed. And on this train, the O-line practically requires its own club car.

“Joe Tull has a great attitude,” said Morrissey. “He gets better every week and he might be the hardest worker I have. 

Tom Yetter '15
“Coale is getting better, has had a a couple of nagging injuries he loves to tell you about. He gives you some flexibility because he has played left guard, right guard, and center.” Obviously losing Kevin Mill hurts but the next guy goes in and Pearson did a very unselfish thing making that move.

“The more competition, the more that breeds success.  At Columbia was the best Jack Woodall had played, so losing him that game hurt. But come Saturday, nobody cares.  I tell them all the time, the train doesn’t stop.”

He tells them that so much that each member of the line repeats it in every interview.  It’s no gravy train playing for Eddy Morrissey, but his guys are all on board.

TIGER TAILS
"Our guys are excited about playing Harvard," said captain Andrew Starks at Wednesday's media luncheon. "For some of us this is our last five games so we are taking every one of them to heart.  "I think the fact that we are in a place to compete for first place in the Ivy League right now is a bigger deal to the Princeton comunity.  That's a little different for me, we haven't been in this position in my four years here, this late in the season.  I think the community is enjoying that as much as the team."  . . . .  . "

RB Akil Sharp (hamstring pull against Brown) remains questionable. But RB Di Andre Atwater's return looks probable, and Jonathan Esposito, who made a successful return to special teams against Brown adds depth at running back, too, behind Will Powers and Atwater  So does Brian Mills, who is seeing some time with the offensive unit at practice,after being converted to defensive back at spring drills.

Princeton's 11.6 points per game allowed are the second best in FCS football, behind North Dakota State.   The Tigers have yet to allow a touchdown in Ivy League play . . . Harvard is ranked 20th in the FCS Coaches' Poll, the only Ivy team to even get any votes. . . . Game will be streamed on ESPN 3 and WatchESPN.





Monday, October 15, 2012

Nothing Hazy About Arends' Response


BY JAY GREENBERG

Princeton banned hazing of freshmen in the early sixties. But on Saturday Brown considered itself outside jurisdiction and immediately tried to initiate Matt Arends.

The Tigers’ other starting cornerback, Anthony Gaffney also is a member of the Class of 2016, but he had already been on the job for four games and had two interceptions to his name. So the Bears’ first three passes of the game were to receivers being covered by Arends, who, following the loss of Khamal Brown ’15 for the season, was elevated last week from a 20-snap-a-game role to the first string.

“Even going back to the previous games, when I came in they attacked me so I knew that would be the case,” said Arends. “But to have a little experience and know I wasn’t going to go out there cold made me more confident. 
Matt Arends '16

“The coaches have been great about it. I can tell they have confidence in me.”

It’s symbiotic with the confidence Arends exudes.

“He is such a disciplined guy and has shown that from Day One,” said Coach Bob Surace after Arends recorded four tackles and had one pass break-up in Princeton’s 19-0 win over Brown. With the Bears’ running game shut down, quarterback Patrick Donnelly had to throw 50 passes (25 completions, two interceptions), ultimately not many in Arends’ direction -- or actually in the direction of anybody dangerous for that matter -- thanks to a fierce Tiger pass rush.

It was a dominating win over a proven senior-laden team that announced the Tigers, just a year removed from consecutive 1-9 seasons, a contender for the Ivy League title.

“I think it did,” said Arends. “Everyone is so confident right now, in that locker room, the feeling of closeness was unbelievable.

“The way the upperclassmen took in the freshmen, have welcomed us from the time we got here, you could tell that everyone is in it for everyone else. I noticed that right away. The majority of us have spent time at the hospital (with Khamal Brown). And it was unbelievable how (intense) we came out.”

GAME BALLS ALL AROUND:  In addition to Brown, they were also given to Spenser Huston, not only due to his touchdown run off an overhand lateral by Connor Michelsen, but because of the offensive tackle’s strong work on his day job; Caraun Reid, who had four tackles for loss, including a safety and 2.5 sacks; and scout team players Joe Bonura and Matt Skowron for their excellent practice impersonations of Brown players the Tigers shut down.

INJURIES:  Akil Sharp (leg cramps in the second half), practiced yesterday and should be fine for Harvard Saturday. Same for OT Kevin Mill (knee), LB Garrit Leicht (knee), and RB Di Andre Atwater (ankle), all of whom were held out on Saturday in the hopes of making them stronger for the rest of season.  “With Garrit (an expected starter who has yet to play this season) I just think he needs more practice,” said Surace.
Mark Hayes '13

NO (WILLIAM) TELLING HOW GOOD IT WAS:  Surace, marveling at the second quarter 34-yard throw by Connor Michelsen, caught off  a defender’s back by TE Mark Hayes (even as the officlal was calling interference) to set up a Nolan Bieck field goal: “It was like shooting an arrow through an apple on a guy’s head.”

WHO’S WHO:  Though Michelsen is stereotyped as the passing quarterback and Quinn Epperly the option runner, a staple of the offense during Michelsen’s series has become the quarterback draw.

“It’s all by comparison to their obvious strengths,” said Surace. “Connor has a really strong arm but Quinn throws it better than he’s given credit for and Connor is a strong runner, too. Both are already above average in areas where they are still developing.”

WHITEWASH DEPT:  On Brown’s last offensive series Tigers substituted the entire front seven but left the four starting defensive backs in the game. “I could have cared less about the shutout,” said Surace.  “I didn’t want them to score because we were down some people (principally Sharp) on our hands team (for a potential onside kick).

UNSUNG PLAY OF THE GAME:  Will Powers’ 37-yard third quarter burst up the middle behind big blocks by Houston and Taylor Pearson on third-and-21 from the Princeton 4. Drive died from there, but field position was gained at a point where Brown, trailing 19-0, still had a glimmer of a chance.

Will Powers '15
TRICKERATION DEPT:  Tigers executed perfectly on Huston’s touchdown, not so much on a short snap to Mike Catapano on fourth-and-three at their own 43 during the first quarter.  The defensive lineman, sent the vote of confidence by Khamal Brown from his hospital bed to “Don’t fumble!” held onto the ball fine, but was stopped a good yard short.

“I thought Brown was going to be forced to call a time out but didn’t,” said Surace.  “Then we missed a couple blocks.”

AFTERGLOW DEPT:  “Probably slept as well as I ever do during the season,” said Surace. “But I don’t know if it’s Harvard’s plan to use a million guys on the defensive line or they just blow [opponents] out and have an opportunity to get them in.  

“Their running back (Treavor Scales) is the best I have seen on video, their quarterback (Colton Chapple) is at a really high level and they have an outstanding offensive line. Their tight ends are high quality players, too.

"They have won 14 in a row and most of them have been blowouts. They get a lot of NFL scouts for a reason, so there’s not much time to enjoy this. But it was nice. That was a long bus ride home from Providence (after a 34-0 loss) last year.”

FOOTNOTE DEPT:  Alumni and students are invited to a Wikipedia edit-athon of articles on the website about Princeton athletics from 12:30-4:15 p.m. Friday in the Wiess Lounge at Mudd Library.  It is intended to both correct existing entries on the user-written on-line encyclopedia and add new ones, whatever might move the participants. Two previous edit-a-thons were on Princeton Grounds and Buildings and Princeton Women.  

“For better or worse, people look at Wikipedia,” said University archivist Dan Linke.  “So why not harness the power of students? And with so many alums in for this weekend, we’re hoping this interests them, too.” 

The session will begin with lunch and a tutorial on making Wikipedia entries. Participants must bring a laptop.  RSVP at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wikipedia:Meetup/Princeton_University_Edit-a-thon_Three

TIGER TAILS

Reid also was named the Ivy League Defensive Player of the Week and Gaffney, who added his third interception of the season, was named Rookie of the Week. . . Tigers’ last win over Harvard was by 31-28 in 2006 on Powers Field at Princeton Stadium.  Only other Princeton win in the last 16 meetings was in 2005 at Harvard Stadium on Jay McCareins’ touchdown kickoff return. Crimson have averaged 46 points in the last three victories.









Sunday, October 14, 2012

Tigers Dominate Brown for Third Straight Win


BY JAY GREENBERG

From Brown’s one-yard-line—on first and forever against this Princeton defense—the call was a draw. And the Tigers practically drew straws to tackle running back Mark Kachmer six yards deep in the end zone.

Caraun Reid got there first, only appropriate on a day where he would have 2.5 sacks in addition to this safety and play his most dominant game yet. But practically all the Tigers were there, including in spirit Khamal Brown, who had asked for his No. 10 game jersey to wear during the game in his Trenton hospital bed. 

Princeton took it to Brown, 19-0, Saturday on Powers Field at Princeton Stadium with as much pride as senior Tom Moak, Brown’s high school teammate at Atlanta’s Westminster School and his assigned mentor during Brown’s 2011 freshman season, took the game ball to him after the game.

“We had a tough week,” said Coach Bob Surace. “And to see our guys come together, well, they do it every day, but sometimes it takes something like adversity to show it to everybody else.   

“I’ve never been more proud of a team.  I thank the guys for everything they’ve done.”

Their coach is very welcome to enjoy his first winning record, 3-2 in his three Princeton seasons, and a 2-0 Ivy League mark going into next week’s home game against also-undefeated Harvard. After consecutive 1-9 seasons, after being 0-2 following a self-inflicted loss to Georgetown that looked like too many from last season, who ever would have thought?  Actually, the Tigers did.

“I’m not surprised,” said Reid.  “But I believe we sent a very physical message to the other teams in the league. 

“We beat Columbia, great, but we beat Columbia last year. We have teams that we haven’t beaten in my four years here, so this is like a big checklist. Beat Brown, then beat Harvard.”

Reid left out Penn, the third team Princeton hasn’t beaten since the 2006 Ivy League championship season, but there is little chance the Tigers will be caught looking that far ahead. With Khamal Brown, their starting sophomore cornerback hospitalized with a head injury not caused by a collision at Tuesday’s practice, they never let up on what everyone still assumes will prove to be a good Brown team (3-2, 0-2) that had beaten Princeton in the last five meetings.

Princeton held Brown to 0.8 yards per rush, sacked quarterback Patrick Donnelly six times and intercepted him twice, one an impressive display of inside coverage by Anthony Gaffney at the Princeton 7 in the third quarter that killed Brown’s only real drive of the day.

By then the Tigers, content to run the ball and let Joe Cloud (nailed four inside the 20) kick the ball away, had all the points they needed off the safety and three good drives. Two of them keyed by trick plays to complete an 80-yard march that put Princeton up 7-0, quarterback Connor Michelsen (13-for-22, 156 yards) threw an overhand lateral to tackle Spenser Huston, who ran the ball in untouched from the 15.

“When (offensive line) Coach (Eddy) Morrissey said ‘we’re putting in a tackle screen,’ I said ‘no, we’re not,” said Huston. “He said ‘yes, we are.’

“I’ve been an undersized linemen all my life, so I think I’m a skill position player, and I have always asked to get the ball. But this was my first touchdown at any level.

“I had the easiest job on the field. Connor threw a great ball, the blocking was perfect both up front and from the wide receivers. When I caught the ball there was nothing but green grass in front of me. It was a walk in.”

Well, more like a lumber in, but six points nevertheless. The Tigers immediately forced one of nine Brown punts and Mark Hayes, ignoring interference by Anthony Franciosi, remarkably grabbed a Michelsen pass off the defensive back's back for a 34 yard gain. A 16-yard completion to Roman Wilson set up the Tigers at the three but a quarterback draw failed on third down and Princeton settle for a 21-yard Nolan Bieck field goal and a 10-0 lead.

Bieck kicked off and Brown’s Emory Pollard, apparently believing he was in the end zone, put his knee down at the 1-yard line. On Bears first attempt to get themselves out of danger, the Tigers had a team party at Kachmer’s expense in the end zone and led 12-0.

In the third quarter, they used more trickery, a 21-yard end-around to Wilson to get to the Brown eight, from where Will Powers, getting the bulk of the carries as Akil Sharp was injured in the second quarter, went up the gut behind Joe Goss to finish an 8-play, 80-yard drive.

After that, the Tigers went to vanilla runs and to Cloud in complete confidence in a defense that hasn’t given up one touchdown in any kind of meaningful – the two by Lafayette last week were with the issue decided – situation since the first half of the opener at Lehigh.

Early, the Bears clearly tried to test Matt Arends, Brown’s replacement in the starting lineup but the second of what is now two starting freshman cornerbacks (Gaffney the other) aced the exam.

“They’re talented players, even if they are freshmen,” said Brown Coach Phil Estes. “But it’s hard to challenge anybody when you are on your back.

“That’s the best front we’re probably going to see this year.”

Next week the Tigers will face the best team they will see this year in their first showdown for first place since 2006.   Talent will decide it, not likely maturity.

“We kept our focus all game,” said Reid.  “There wasn’t a moment we were worried about what we were doing, we were confident from the get-go.   

“We were playing with a little extra oomph today, which was great. But this is only what we’re supposed to do.”

TIGER TAILS

Injury to Sharp put the Tigers down a second running back, as Di Andre Atwater (ankle last week at Lafayette) was held out for another week by Surace. . . Only downer: Eight Princeton penalties, even if one was only Mike Catapano trying to finish a play after his helmet had gotten knocked off, which is unsportsmanlike conduct. . . Catapano also had two sacks. . . Mandela Sheaffer had nine tackles and Alex Polofsky eight.
  

Friday, October 12, 2012

Tigers Say They Are Fine, Practice Like They Mean It


BY JAY GREENBERG

After a second good practice in as many days, Coach Bob Surace called the Tigers together early Thursday evening to tell them what it would appear they already know.

“Don’t underestimate your ability to focus and do what you did today in practice,” Surace told his team. “Be ready to play Saturday and have no excuses.

“Leave this practice field, go to the hospital and show Khamal (Brown) your support and love. And when you are out here, focus on what you have to do.”

Captains Mike Catapano and Andrew Starks
Brown, a starting sophomore cornerback, remains in stable condition at Bristol-Myers Squibb Trauma Center at Capital Health Regional Medical Center in Trenton with a head injury, not caused by a collision, suffered at Tuesday’s practice.  In his absence, the Tigers have work to do at noon Saturday on Powers Field at Princeton Stadium against a Brown team that has beaten them five straight years, including 34-0 in 2011 at Providence.

The last time the real world so shockingly intruded in the middle of a Princeton football season, a diagnosis of Aplastic Anemia for returning Ivy League rushing champion Jordan Culbreath sent the Tigers into shock. They lost the next day to Columbia, 34-0. This time, they appear to be better coping.

“With Jordan we didn’t know a lot about what he had, we hadn’t seen him, and he was in serious condition for a long time,”  said senior captain Andrew Starks. “This time we’ve had some guys at the hospital to see Khamal and he is talking about the game already.

“His sprits are up, which is keeping the team’s spirits up. Anytime you are facing adversity like this you have to increase the focus, but the good thing is we have experience with this. You never want to see this happen to a teammate but the seniors have been in this position before with Jordan and then most of the team with Chuck (Dibilio, who suffered a stroke in January.)

“The guys have responded very well to this. Khamal is pulling for us to get this victory so we have to pull it out for him.”

It’s not difficult to figure out who would get the game ball should the Tigers, who have won consecutive games  in dominating fashion over Columbia and Lafayette, establish themselves as a credible contender for the Ivy League title with a victory over the 3-1 Bears. The offense that has struggled in the red zone for three years finished five drives at Lafayette, an excellent sign, but it’s the defense that drove the bus to the road wins, Brown usually drawing coverage of the opposition’s top receiving threat.

Anthony Gaffney '16
In Brown’s place goes freshman Matt Arends, who had been spelling both Brown and the other starter at corner, Anthony Gaffney.  It puts two freshmen as the first line of pass defense against a good Brown quarterback (Patrick Donnelly), who has a depth of receivers reflective of Brown’s usual depth almost everywhere. 

But the bouncer of this defense, tackle Mike Catapano, says he doesn't need to check Arends and Gaffney’s ID.

“I wouldn’t use the term freshman for these guys,” Catapano said. “Matt and (Anthony) Gaffney have been playing big, much older than what they are.

“Matt is a hard-nosed kid who really knows the defense well, takes the game very seriously and plays it so damn hard. That’s what we need, a guy who will hawk the ball, hawk tackles downfield and that’s the kind of kid he is.  

“He is going to be a great player.”

Arends has to be at least a good player right away if Princeton is to get off the schneid against Brown, Harvard and Penn, none of which the Tigers have beaten since the 2006 Ivy League championship season, Their confidence surging, the last thing needed by a program that has suffered so many cruel and sudden tricks of nature was the loss of Khamal Brown for the season, but the Tigers have been challenged to handle it by circumstances, coaches, and captains.

“I think that our job is to focus on playing, what Khamal wants us to do,” said Catapano. “We have to rally around him.

“He has 110 brothers on the team. You hate to see a teammate go down and we’re trying to support him in any way.  But we have a game to play Saturday.”

TIGER TAILS

Trocon Davis ’14 will take Arends' role as 20-snap relief to the starting cornerbacks .  . RB Di Andre Atwater (ankle) is questionable, as is LB Garrit Leicht (knee), whose only remaining limitation probably is rust after not playing in the first four games . . . RT Kevin Mill (knee) is doubtful, but might be ready for Harvard next week. . .Safety Jimmy von Thron (head), fully recovered from a injury suffered at practice in the week following the opening loss at Lehigh, was full-bore during drills this week, and probably will see action behind starter Phil Bhaya. . . . Running back Jonathan Esposito (foot), who has been out three weeks, also is good to go. .   Despite Brown’s recent dominance, Princeton leads the all-time series begun in 1898, 51-27. . . Game will be televised on NBC Sports Network with Tiger Alum Ross Tucker '01 doing the color commentating.



Thursday, October 11, 2012

Another Test Blindsides the Tigers


BY JAY GREENBERG

Energized by consecutive blowout victories, playing its best football since the 2006 Ivy League championship season, Princeton’s team took a severe real-world blow for the third time in four years Wednesday with the news that starting sophomore cornerback Khamal Brown is out for the season.

Khamal Brown '15
Brown, who left the practice field suddenly on Tuesday with a head injury not caused by a collision, is in stable condition at Bristol Myers Squibb Trauma Center at Capital Health Regional Center in Trenton. The only diagnosis available publicly is by Coach Bob Surace of his team’s ability to cope.

“Hopefully our team and coaches are mature enough to handle it,” said Surace. “I spent about nine hours with Khamal in the hospital and some of our players visited him Wednesday. You support your own guys.  

“But on the practice field, it is about practice and in a game I would hope we would not be distracted. I hope guys can separate that.”

One day before the Columbia game in 2009, the Tigers learned that Jordan Culbreath, the returning Ivy League rushing champion was suffering from life-threatening Aplastic Anemia. They lost, 38-0, on the way to a 4-6 season.

Football suddenly became insignificant, as it did when Chuck Dibilio, the Tigers’ All-Ivy freshman running back a year ago, suffered a stroke caused by a blood clot in January.  But that time the Tigers weren’t three days away from a game, which in this case they will play with 3-1 Brown at noon Saturday on Powers Field at Princeton Stadium.

Bob Surace '90
Matt Arends will take Brown’s spot, joining Anthony Gaffney as a second freshman starting cornerback, highly unusual and concerning too, as Princeton heads into the teeth of its league schedule.  Junior Trocon Davis will move into Arends place in the rotation on a unit that dominated Columbia and Lafayette the last two weeks.

“We have played four games with freshmen playing a number of snaps and both of them have done okay,” said Surace.  “They have had good moments and bad moments, what you would expect. 

“Trocon played really well last year against a good passing Yale team. And we have young corners behind them ready to step up.”

Nevertheless Brown, who recorded his first career interception against Columbia, is a significant loss.  

“I thought he was playing terrific football,” said Surace. “He gave up a touchdown at the very end of the game last week, but otherwise he was blanketing guys and had made a ton of improvement from his freshman year when we really threw him to the wolves as a starter.

"He’s not very big, but he is very physical and has good range. Hard to replace, but we must.”

Trocon Davis '14
He will explain that to a team, which after starting 0-2 following consecutive 1-9 seasons, seemed to be fast maturing, and now we’ll find out just how much. What a coach can’t make his team understand, however, is three Tigers in four years, all among the team’s best players, suddenly hit by life-threatening conditions not normally associated with persons of college age.

Culbreath, whose disease was discovered when he suffered an ankle sprain at Lehigh before a hard football hit could have caused a life-threatening bleed, returned to the field the following year to score the winning touchdown in a win over Lafayette. His Aplastic Anemia in remission, today he works on Wall Street. 

Dibilio has made a full recovery, plans to re-enroll at Princeton in the spring and hopes to play football again.  Khamal Brown can have his happy ending, too, with or without a game ball Saturday. But surely they would love to present him one.