Tigers Outlast Georgetown in the Rain, Go to 3-1.
Tigers Outlast Georgetown in the Rain, Go to 3-1.
By Jay Greenberg
WASHINGTON, D.C. – Princeton had 21 points at the half that should have been who-knows-how-many-more, thanks to a blocked field goal that Georgetown ran back for a touchdown, an end zone interception, and two other missed field goals.
The Hoyas, down only seven points despite their four turnovers, had begun to take over the game in the second quarter. Somebody had to take it back or this was likely to be a struggle to the end.
“We have been so good in the red zone (seven touchdowns in seven visits in the first three game) it was frustrating (at the half) not to be able to finish those guys off,” said Bob Surace.
“Our guys came off the field in shock, like they couldn’t believe we let a blowout turn into one-score game. I said ‘Turn your frustration into getting ready to go out and play.’”
It was not a day made for making plays. But Isaiah Barnes did. On third-and-ten at the Georgetown 45, with Princeton’s first possession of the second half seemingly about to dissolve, Barnes crossed over the middle and rose for a Chad Kanoff throw.
“Isaiah was up in the air about four feet, about as high as he can vertical,” said Surace. “He knew he was going to get hit, too, and he held onto it.”
Jalen Goldwire nailed Barnes at the top of his leap as he cradled a wet ball, and still the wide-out came down with a huge first down at the 23.
“We had missed out on some opportunities,” said Barnes. “That helped us get our juices back,” said Barnes.
On the next play, Jesper Horsted made the second best play of the game, running a slant, taking a pass from Kanoff, leaping a defender and running to the one, from where Johnny Lovett scored his second of three touchdowns.
Princeton was back in charge at 28-14, on its way to a 31-17 win to take home for a number of reasons. With passing not the preferred option in a light but steady rain, the Tigers leaned on their three running backs to run hard. Joe Rhattigan answered the bell by setting up the first touchdown with an explosive 42-yard off tackle run. Sophomore Charlie Volker also stepped up by tirelessly carrying 23 times for 92 yards, and A.J. Glass contributed another six for 39. Princeton had 37 minutes of possession time for the second straight week thanks to 246 total rushing yards.
Even more important than the yards was the Tigers not fumbling once while Hoyas coughed it up five times, losing it four. “I saw the forecast coming in, knew we would be running lot,” said Volker. “You have to be prepared to hold onto the ball and the best way to do that is just run hard.
“I definitely didn’t lose my footing a much as I expected. It was pretty easy to make cuts. But I wasn’t trying anything like crazy cutbacks.”
The Field Turf was not nearly as treacherous as the ball was. Kanoff, 18-for-37 with just the one interception on a slightly underthrown first quarter fade route to Barnes, has been sharper. “I’m not using the rain as an excuse,” he said. “I just didn’t have a good day.”
It wasn’t all that bad. He and Lovett (six-for-ten) still spread the ball around to a remarkable 14 different receivers.
The Tigers were penalized five times, the Hoyas 12, which certainly helped Princeton. But with Georgetown first-string quarterback Tim Barnes on the sideline in a sling, backup Clay Norris struggled early and late with Princeton blitzes, which helped the improving Tiger secondary to five breakups.
“Our d-backs played the ball really well,” said Surace. “We came up with some tips and almost tips.”
Princeton’s second and third touchdowns were set up by turnovers. The first came on a Luke Catarius interception enabled by Rohan Hylton hitting the quarterback mid-throw. The second occurred when Birk Olson recovered a Norris fumble. That score was converted when Lovett faked a run, took a step back, and threw to a wide-open Graham Adomitis in the end zone from five yards out.
That made the score 21-7, but Georgetown immediately responded with a 65-yard touchdown drive that needed just six plays. Despite the Hoyas’ failed onside kickoff that didn’t go the required ten yards, the Tigers were unable to score in their final four possessions of the half, converting only one first down.
So the Barnes catch was huge, and of course, so was a defense that held Georgetown to 128 yards rushing. Another big factor was only allowing the Hoyas to convert on one of 12 third downs.
All the numbers suggest that the Tigers should have won by more than two touchdowns, but the special teams, which had been really strong in the first three games, prevented any degree of comfort.
The block, which bounced up perfectly into the arms of Jelani Williamson for a 51-yard touchdown return, was the result of a brutal breakdown in the middle of the Princeton line. The missed field goals of 42, 45, and 38 were simply misses, no problems with the snap or the hold caused by the conditions.
“Tavish (Rice) is going to be a dynamite kicker,” said Surace. “He kicks great in practice.”
Rice did nail a key 22-yarder in the third quarter that gave Princeton a three-score edge. The defense then stiffened after a 43-yard third-quarter Georgetown drive, forcing the Hoyas to settle for only three. They still had plenty of time to make this one big sweat down the stretch. But with the help of muffed punt by Alex Valles that was recovered by Connor Grogan and two three-and-outs, the Hoyas (3-2) had the ball for only those six offensive plays in the fourth quarter.
Princeton completed its non-league schedule at 3-1, 1-0 in the Ivy, by confusing an inexperienced quarterback, stopping the run and holding onto the ball. Nobody thought the Tigers played that great but as Surace said, they played hard enough to get the job done.
On a wet day, they still scored 31 points—another good sign that Princeton has a lot going for it as the conference schedule begins next week against Brown.