The Next Man – and the Next Man After That – Steps up Again as Tigers pull away from Colgate
BY JAY GREENBERG
In 2010, Bob Surace thought he had inherited from Roger Hughes as many top-level players as any team in the Ivy League. By the third game they practically all were injured and his worst fears about his depth realized. The Tigers finished 1-9.
Six seasons later they are without their bookend dominant pass rushers, their unstoppable slotback, their best three-down running back, their quicksilver specialty back, their most accomplished offensive lineman and most experienced returning wideout. And the Tigers are 4-0, which would be amazing if this wasn’t apparently them merely going about their business.
The Tigers are proving deeper than students in thought at Mudd Library during finals week. They have a line of next-men-up longer than even goes out the door of the Hoagie Haven at noon. On Saturday Princeton avenged last year’s loss at Colgate by wearing down the Red Raiders, 44-20, with a bunch of second stringers.
“There are going to be injuries in football,” said Surace. “We all would love to have Seth DeValve but until he’s back, which should be soon, we’ll go with the next guy.”
“Two years ago we didn’t get a chance to see a lot of those [depth players] because we stayed healthy.”
One year ago, while first time defensive end starters Kurt Holuba and sophomore Ty Desire, were only holding their own through the first four games, the Tigers were going 2-2. Indeed, much of the hope Princeton would finish better than 5-5 of 2014 was about the growth of these monsters in the making, but Desire is not in school this semester while Holuba is injured. And still, Henry Schlossberg has been giving the Tigers their best nose tackle play since Greg Sotereanos while junior Brannon Jones and sophomore Khalil Bryant have been standing taller by the week.
Among Bryant’s three tackles Saturday was a sack and Jones had three tackles in addition, while emergent junior rush linebacker Birk Olson totaled six.
“Khalil has a knack for pass rush and he wins one-on-ones,” said Surace. “He is getting stronger; the last two weeks he has started to play the run at the level we need him to.
“When a guy can do something better than he can do something else, put him on those things he’s good at.
“Brannon runs a 4.65 in the 40 and is the king of the weight room. He is (strength coach Jason) Gallucci’s dream.”
Only in your dreams, could Princeton replace Quinn Epperly as a goalline touchdown machine, but it is happening. John Lovett ran in another four scores Saturday. On one he made a big-time sidestep at the five, on another a smart pump fake that froze his pursuers and got him to the pylon.
This jack-of-all-trades – runner, blocker, receiver –is the most visible of underclassmen stepping up but far from the only one. Freshmen receivers Jesper Horsted, Cody Smith, and Alex Parkinson each caught two balls, and freshman running back Charles Volker broke a 64-yard touchdown run to set the final score.
Third and fourth stringers answered the call in spots they were called upon Saturday, were all important contributors, of course. But a game that figured to go to the end was won going away largely by projected backups playing like first stringers.
Joe Rhattigan – has anyone this season taken this kid down one-on-one? — ran through multiple defenders on a 12-yard touchdown run and totaled 67 yards in 12 carries before retiring to the bench with an injury not believed serious. Receiver Isaiah Barnes caught eight passes, the most impressive one being for 14 yards on a third-and-seven after having suffered consecutive drops, one of them in the end zone, during the second quarter. .
“Isaiah was a really high recruit,” said Surace. “First scrimmage (as a freshman) he is blocking a guy and suffers one of the worst injuries–his foot was facing the wrong way.
“It was disgusting, one of those injuries that it take years from which to recover. At times it still bothers him but he just fights through it now, has learned how to manage it.
“His attitude has been phenomenal. I’m just so proud of him.”
One after another, the Tigers continue to do themselves prouder and prouder by the week. They are not only undefeated but also unfazed.
A miscommunication breakdown between Anthony Gaffney and Dorian Williams handed Colgate a gift 67-yard catch-and-run that set up a touchdown on the game’s first possession. But the defense did not give up another big play. Quarterback Chad Kanoff missed a wide open Trevor Osborne in the end zone but coolly went 25-for-41 for 277 yards, despite the absence of the Ivy League’s best security blanket, DeValve and the roster’s most accomplished returning wideout, James Frusciante.
The defense gave up 436 yards and didn’t get a turnover but held Colgate to just two-of-five in the red zone and seven-of-18 third-down conversions.
When Colgate was still only 10 points down early in the fourth quarter, Williams’ tip saved a touchdown pass on a third-and-six at the Princeton 10. When Lovett fumbled – the replay indicated it should have been called an incomplete pass — killing a drive that had reached the Colgate 21, the defense promptly forced a three-and out, And when Kanoff fumbled on a scramble at the Princeton 24, Schlossberg blocked the resultant field goal attempt that would have made it a one-score game.
Matt Arends had blocked another field goal attempt in the first quarter. In the third, when Rhattigan went out, A.J. Glass broke an 11-yard first down run that chewed clock.
“At halftime I said we just have to finish things a little better,” said Surace. “We came out in the second half and the guys were amazing.
“So many guys are involved in our game, running in and out and making plays that at two different points we had an all-freshman defensive line in there. When Ian McGeary (who limped off with an apparent serious leg problem), comes off (freshman) Simeon Lane comes in.
“It’s an impressive win for us.”