Lafayette Game Story – Jay Greenberg
Lafayette Game Story By Jay Greenberg
In case you were wondering, Bob Surace was going for it.
If John Lovett’s stretch on a third-and-nine with 1:50 to go had fallen inches short at the Lafayette 44, the Princeton coach, leading by four, was going to stretch his neck by going for it on fourth down. The alternative—to put the ball back in the hands of a quarterback, Drew Reed, who already had thrown for 356 yards and three touchdowns—was no option at all.
“I thought our offensive line was doing a really good job against one of the best defensive lines we will see this year,” said Surace. “If we need just [inches] with a John Lovett and a Joe Rhattigan, in my heart we were going to get it.”
In Lovett’s heart, he knew that wasn’t going to be necessary. Later, on a third-and-nine, James Perry had called a short pass that made Lovett hoof it, which he did like the game depended on it. He came across the middle, tucked in a Chad Kanoff’s pass, and carried defenders Eric Mitchell and Michael Root an extra yard to put away an opening night 35-31 win over.
“There are no ugly wins,” smiled Surace, a few minutes after saying the film session on Sunday will be interesting. The Tiger pass defense was riddled on early drives of 79 and 81 yards, then started to get some front four pressure and make some plays. Ty Desire hit Reed’s arm to send a flutter-ball into the eager hands of Dorian Williams to setup a Lovett two-yard run that tied the game 14-14 in the second quarter.
It was 21-21 in the third, Lafayette threatening again, on third-and-two at the Tiger seven, when Jim Salgado’s blitz call freed Luke Catarius for a sack that forced the Leopards to settle for a field goal. “They were short dropping, we had not done much blitzing,” said Catarius, who was a revelation as a substitute for the injured Rohan Hylton in 2015 and with 13 tackles last night, was dynamite beside him. “Everybody did their job, that’s how I could get the sack.”
It changed the game. The Tigers promptly drove 10 plays in 67 yards, went ahead for good 28-24 on a Rhattigan one-yard run, and then got a pick from Markus Phox on a Reed underthrow and cashed in on Rhattigan’s third touchdown of the game,
Leading 35-24, it appeared Princeton had worn the Leopards down. The Tigers forced a three-and-out and got the ball back, but a blitz on a third down stopped one Princeton possession and a false start penalty didn’t do much to help the next one. Tyler Roth had to punt again, and starting from the Lafayette 20, Reed resumed picking Princeton apart. A 31-yard pass over the middle to Joey Chenoweth got Lafayette in range and, on third down, Reed got outside containment and hit an open Matt Mrazek in the end zone with 5:27 to play.
Coach Frank Tavani decided not to go for two, leaving Lafayette, trailing 35-31, needing a touchdown, and Princeton still needing first downs to put the game away.
“James told the huddle, ‘you are going to run the ball and you are going to finish’ and the guys’ eyes lit up like ‘Yeah we can do it!’” said Surace.
Rhattigan, who finished with 137 yards, got one first down, Charlie Volker got a second with a 30-yard dash to the Lafayette 25 that should have started the post-game fireworks. But a holding call put the Tigers in trouble, first-and-20 at their own 35 with too much time remaining on the clock, too many timeouts (all three) left for the Leopards and too many yards to go to keep pounding a cloud of dust.
The Tigers had to get close enough before they could even think of throwing. Lovett ran for six, and Rhattigan for five to make it third-and-nine and, in Surace’s mind, workable. “I didn’t have a number in mind of how many yards we need but you have to be close enough to risk it,” said the coach.
“To have the confidence to throw the ball on third-and-nine and try to get that first down, that’s a huge thing. That defense is like the good Ivy League defenses we will play.
“Our pass protection on that play was terrific. Chad showed poise and John showed great effort. I was impressed.”
So the Tigers beat Lafayette for the ninth straight time, and won a second straight opener after losing eight in row. When you are playing a team that has two games under its belt, as the Ivy League teams do every year in Game One, you don’t look for style points, just be happy to get by.
Princeton did on Saturday night because Lafayette could not stop Rhattigan from cutting back while the Tiger run stuffers held the Leopards to 1.8 yards per rush. Also because the special teams, particularly on kick coverage, were excellent.
Kanoff, save for one interception and one failure to get rid of a ball that ended up as sack at the Princeton two-yard line, was cool, and made some good throws to Isaiah Barnes (five catches). Plus, the Tigers’ front four eventually wore down the Leopard’s offensive line enough to be able to blitz selectively against an accurate and mobile quarterback.
“We shook off the cobwebs,” said Catarius. After four games got away in the final minutes a year ago, a win is a win is a win.