The Tigers’ Third Straight Win Was Elementary

  • October 3, 2015

BY JAY GREENBERG

Minus their most dynamic receiver, best offensive lineman, top running back and pass rusher, the most tangible thing the Tigers had going for them Friday night on Powers Field at Princeton Stadium was a lead.

In a driving rain, against winds gusting well over an unrelenting 20 miles an hour, they started the game against Columbia without some key contributors on both the offensive and defensive sides of the ball.

On a night fit for neither man, beast, nor an offense averaging 46 points a game and a 69 per cent third-down completion percentage – the Tigers clung for dear life against the elements and a revitalized Lions team that not only clearly wasn’t going to go down hard, but for a time in the third quarter appeared poised not to go down at all.

We don’t really know how many games Columbia can win in this first season under a big time Ivy League winner like Al Bagnoli, but the conditions were right Friday night for the Lions to steal one. Yet, minus a good portion of its skill, Princeton went to 3-0 on resolve, winning 10-5.

“It was an unbelievable relentless effort by all of the 11 that was on the field at any particular time,” said Co-Defensive Coordinator Steve Verbit. “They believed they were going to win on each and every play.

“They showed a tremendous consistency from a physical and a discipline standpoint throughout the game.  They just kept believing good things were going to happen.”

Before the Tigers made them happen in the end, running out the final 4:13 on third and fourth down conversions by Johnny Lovett and Joe Rhattigan, it was happenstance that kept Princeton ahead.  Columbia’s Max Keefe, who blocked Tyler Roth’s third-quarter punt, had his feet over the end line when he fell on the ball in the end zone.

“If that’s a touchdown, we’re still playing,” said Bob Surace.

As it was, Columbia took the free kick still trailing by five and drove to the Princeton 13 before an illegal block on a third down play blown up by R.J. Paige, then a sack by Khalil Bryant, forced a Lions punt.

The Tigers, who had started the previous series at the 10, this time began at the three, but Roth got this punt out and Khamal Brown intercepted a hurriedly thrown ball by Skylar Mornhinweg at the 33 to give Princeton decent field position finally.

“Coaches kept saying, keep the pressure on and eventually he will give us one and he did,” said Brown.

Tigers were dropping like flies, but Columbia, going into the wind in the fourth quarter, managed only one first down on its last three possessions and never got closer than the Princeton 47 before having to give up the ball for the final time.

“Coach (Surace) said after the game that what won it for us was heart,” said Brown.   “Terrible weather, guys banged up a little bit and at the end of the game needing a stop and a couple of first downs and we did it.”

By the end, the Tigers had their fourth string punt returner, Trevor Osborne, back at safety.

“Next man up right?” said Surace.

Next man had to man up all night long. Princeton scored on two of its first three possessions but at no point was this not a struggle.

The Tigers dodged a bullet when Cameron Nizialek was wide with a 33-yard field goal attempt after an impressive opening drive. One possession later, Atwater ran down the sideline for 47 yards to the five and, on the next play, Trevor Osborne took a quick flip from John Lovett and dove to the pylon. Nolan Bieck’s point after made it 7-0.

A muff on the ensuing kickoff put Columbia in a deep hole, starting at its 10, and thanks to an illegal formation penalty on the punt, Princeton had a short field for Bieck to hit a 45-yard field goal through the swirling wind, giving Princeton a 10-0 lead.

When a Mornhinweg pass was tipped by Cameron Dunn to the Tigers’ Andrew Frisby, the interception set up the Tigers one more time and when Rhattigan (25 carries for 90 yards) spun for a first down on a fourth-and two dive play, the Tigers were at the 30 with a chance to make it a three-score game.

But on the next play, center Jack Woodall snapped the ball a count early, forcing Kanoff to run back and fall on the ball 20 yards behind the line of scrimmage. Penalties on the next two plays by Woodall left the Tigers second-and-55 and eventually punting.

“I had some bad series in my day,” smiled Surace, a former center, “but I don’t know if they were that bad.

“But then we had to move Jack to guard on the final drive when Britt got hurt and he did a great job.  Jack played three positions tonight. We ask a lot of him.

John Hill’s interception at the one ended one drive, and Rhattigan carried five Lions 16 yards to get the Tigers off the goalline, but Kanoff couldn’t handle a slippery snap and had to fall on it.  So Princeton punted and Columbia had one more opportunity to get on the board before the half and this time Nizialek hit a 30 yarder.

Thus, the Lions were within seven at the break, then had the wind and the Tigers backed up for almost the entire third quarter. But Brown made a play, the rain died down, and the Tigers toughed it out.

“I always ask a question of our players during the week that that’s impossible for them to answer correctly,” said Surace. “I asked one of them on Thursday what the weather was going to be like on Friday night and he said, ‘Wind and rain.”

“I said, ‘No the weather will be the same for both teams.’

“Weather, injuries, turnovers, an officiating mistake, whatever it might be, you have to keep playing. And our guys found a way.”