Tigers Turn It Around on Lehigh, 52-26

  • September 26, 2015

BY JAY GREENBERG

At a point you are begging for one good late drive to take a lead into the half, Princeton had made two, to take a 24-13 edge into the locker room. So why, after Joe Rhattigan and Seth DeValve had flattened Lehigh defenders for touchdowns 1:11 apart, did the Tigers trudge into the locker room like they were the guys getting steamrolled?

“(Bob Surace) kind of yelled at us, ‘Why are your heads down?” said Dorian Williams.

Maybe it was because Lehigh, putting together two dominant drives, had held the ball for five minutes longer in the first half. Or perhaps it was because the Tigers hadn’t forced any of the turnovers they likely would need to outlast an offense that appeared to be Princeton’s equal. The Tigers may have been in the lead, but they were hardly in control.

“We were down a little bit,” said Surace  “We hadn’t played as well as we could and they were taking it to us a little bit.

“I wasn’t yelling and screaming because (Defensive coordinator Jim) Salgado came in and did that for me.  We just knew we had to play better.”

That meant, largely, turn the ball over once or twice, keep scoring and maybe, maybe, in the end, squeak out a first win over Patriot League power Lehigh in five meetings.  Instead, in the second half, the Tigers forced two fumbles, had two interceptions and pulled away to win, 52-26 to go to 2-0.

Dorian Williams stripped quarterback Nick Shafnisky during a first-down run on the first Lehigh possession of the second half, then chased down Troy Pelletier on his  39 yard pass and run, stripped the ball and recovered it too.  The other two turnovers, an interception returned by R.J. Paige 36 yards for a touchdown and a pick by Khamal Brown were hand-delivered through Lehigh receiver tips, but then, as Surace pointed out, there have been times those have gone through two sets of hands, too.

“We have had balls go through their hands and we’ve dropped it then, too,” he smiled. “So those were huge.”

So was the Princeton response, when with Lehigh still breathing, down 31-12 on the second play of the fourth quarter, Olivier Rigaud sniffed out a throwback to Chad Kanoff, arrived just as the ball did, forcing a fumble, recovering it and running 72 yards for a touchdown to make it a two-score game with practically a whole quarter to play.

“We have run that play a lot with Spenser Huston catching it, Quinn Epperly catching it,” said Surace. “It has been very safe, but their guy made a heckuva play, give him the credit.”

Knuckles were turning white throughout Princeton Stadium, Kanoff’s being the exception. He threw 22 yards to Trevor Osborne, 18 yards to Dre Nelson and after Joe Rhattigan ran to the 30, hit Scott Carpenter after the tight end had impressively separated himself from what looked like a dogfight with Stephen Willingham in the end zone.

Just 2:40 after a disaster, Princeton had its three score lead back.

“Because of the inexperience at quarterback we ran a lot more two minute drills at training camp so I think there is a comfort level,” said Surace. “But nothing seems to fluster Chad.

“He has such poise, sometime I wonder if the (play) clock is going to run out (before the snap).

“Just before the Seth (DeValve’s, first half) touchdown he had him running down the middle with the only guy who could have tackled him was the back judge. Chad missed (seeing) him, didn’t throw it.

“I tell him about it on the sideline and he says ‘I thought I’d run a little clock off.’ He has a really good sense of humor.”

It’s a lot funnier when you win. Kanoff, seized a second chance, went back to DeValve and Lehigh defenders had no chance at standing the dynamic slotback up for the last ten yards.

Williams second strip, setting Princeton up again at the 30, allowed Rhattigan and Atwater to pound away for the putaway score.   On his first half touchdown run, Rhattigan had been stood up by three defenders at the three, slipped two and carried the first one into the end zone.  On this one, Atwater was not to be outdone inbulldozing the final five yards to build the lead to 45-19.

Kanoff was 13-for-24 for 195 yards and the two touchdowns, but perhaps the most clutch throw of the day was by John Lovett for 33 yards to Isaiah Barnes to set up the Rhattigan touchdown. It might not even have been the sophomore quarterback’s best play, though. He ran for 59 yards and caught four passes.

“He’s a throwback,” said Surace. “He was blocking as a lineman last week, we put him in that position, too.

“He gives you running, he gives you receiving.”

With Kanoff, he gives Princeton again the kind of 1-2 running and throwing punch they had when they were running up 50 points a game two seasons ago with Connor Michelsen and Epperly.

There is plenty of talent here, and plenty of confidence with which to put it to use.  Just at the point it appeared that for a fifth straight time Lehigh might be too much for Princeton to handle, it proved to be the opposite.

“You are not going to play a perfect game,” said Williams.  But on both sides of the ball, these guys have their first 2-0-start since the 2006 Ivy League championship season, because whatever happened on the last play, they think can make the next one perfect.

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