Princeton at Lafayette Recap
BY JAY GREENBERG
EASTON, PA – Eight straight years, Princeton had started behind the 8-ball with a loss, no way to win ‘em all, of course, and the hard path to 9-1 or 8-2 for sure.
You have to start somewhere, and in the 10-game Ivy League that always means against a team that already has played two games. History — and not just recent history — would indicate that’s a decided edge for a Patriot or Pioneer League team, but as Dre Nelson spun for first-half runs of 39 and 23 yards Saturday night, that disadvantage turned out to be so much spin, particularly when the team with the cobwebs came out spinning like an army of Spidermen.
The Tigers rolled like ball bearings off a rickety table, 40-7, to get to 1-0, which may not have seem uphill at all. But to these seniors and especially this coaching staff – which suffered five of these opening losses – it surely seemed like it.
Certainly this win was a lot longer in coming than it appeared to take new quarterback Chad Kanoff to get comfortable; for Nelson, DiAndre Atwater and Joe Rhattigan to pound down the Leopards for a whopping 276 of Princeton’s 316 rushing yards; and for head coach Bob Surace and offensive coordinator James Perry to waste no time reaching into their bag of tricks for a new season.
Defensive end Kurt Holuba caught a one-yard touchdown pass – from John Lovett – with six seconds to go in the first half, sending the Tigers into the locker room up 23-0, a score too close to one at halftime of the opener two years ago to make Surace comfortable. The Tiger defense was making it an impossibly long field for Lafayette, but not longer than the Princeton coach’s memory.
“We were up 22-3 at the half against Lehigh two years ago,” said Surace.
“We only travel five freshmen, the lowest we have since I’ve been here, so most of these guys were here for that game. So I said, ‘We have all been here, don’t be satisfied 23-0.
“We had a really good drive to start the third quarter and at that point it was going to be an uphill climb for Lafayette.”
A Nelson run ate up 37 of the 65 yards that Princeton covered to make it 30-0. After Kanoff hit Seth DeValve for 40 yards — the second most beautiful throw he made next to one that split two defenders to James Frusciante for 27 yards — Nolan Bieck nailed his second field goal, this one a 45 yarder, with almost nine years to spare, let along nine yards, giving the Tigers a 33-0 lead
Lafayette, which finally scored on a 50-yard pass from Drew Reed to Rajhan Meriwether against the Princeton second team with 5:07 go, otherwise had only one drive into the red zone, which was snuffed out on fourth down by Anthony Gaffney at the two. It wasn’t necessarily the best tackle of the night, just one of many good ones, as the Tigers ran to the ball with great speed and sure hands.
“We changed training camp,” said Surace. “I made the decision early in camp to take some of the physical out of it.
“I thought we were practicing hard, practicing well and there were too many collisions. I thought we were taking too many chances of injuries.
“We ran more, we executed more, but we didn’t tackle a lot and (it turned out) that was one of the best tackling games we’ve had.
“We lost (openers) five years in a row. We’ve lost many different ways, lost 17-14 (at Lehigh) with a comeback, lost after leading 22-3 at halftime. So we had to look at some different things, what NFL teams and higher-level colleges do.
“When you first become a head coach at a program that wasn’t having success, you try to have a tough camp. By now we have developed toughness, so let’s execute.”
Boy did the Tigers execute. Kanoff was 20-for-31 with one touchdown (to Trevor Osborne) and one drive killing first-quarter interception in which he appeared to try to jam a ball into a small space. Then again, there is every reason to believe that before the next two years run their course, Kanoff will jam more than a few balls successfully into tight spaces.
“I don’t think I felt nervous,” he said. “But I think some of my throws were nervous.”
It helped him that Lafayette was starting two freshmen safeties. Of even more aid was protection – no sacks – that was almost perfect, like much of execution on both sides of the ball.
In beating Lafayette for the eighth straight time, the Tigers outgained the Leopards (0-3) 573 yards to 278 and 26 first downs to 14 by no means was this a perfect performance, but for the starters it was astonishingly good.
“When I looked at the Lafayette defense on film, I thought it was going to be a 17-14 game, “ said Surace, as impressed as anyone. “That was as good as we have finished runs in five years.
“The guys just took it to a high level. Watching how hard we played was really fun. We had a few ups and downs in the second half but for 55 of the 60 minutes our effort was sustained at a high level. And it was really enjoyable to see.”
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