Tigers Roll On, 66-7
BY JAY GREENBERG
Another day, another 50-plus points, another 733 total yards.
Seven Tigers scored the nine touchdowns in a 66-7 rout of Lehigh Saturday, five by pass and four by run. Princeton can beat you short—Charlie Volker getting in from the one and Ryan Quigley from the nine–or long–Tiger Bech on a 70-yard pass and run, and Volker on a 52-yard streak down the sideline. But the common denominator in this weekly devastation that has Princeton so far outscoring its four opponents 207-33 is its utter domination up front.
The Tigers 354 rushing yards Saturday, bringing their season total to 1311–an average of 327 for the season–were again not padded by Bob Surace’s mercy running of the clock from the middle of the third quarter. Princeton had 186 rushing yards Saturday at the half, when it led 31-7, even after not getting off to a particularly good start.
The only slowing of the Tigers in this game was done to themselves with two first quarter holding penalties, and the only stopping of them was by a Jacob Bermelin fumble that set up the Lehigh score. The Mountain Hawks presented the fourth straight defensive front that couldn’t slow John Lovett but he’s not the surest thing on third-and-four since, well, John Lovett in 2016, without this pile driving offensive line. And the Princeton offense is not getting the ball back–it forced four three-and-outs and ended another one play Lehigh series with a strip sack by Joey DeMarco–without an overwhelming performance by the run defense.
Dominick Bragalone, Lehigh’s All-American, needed 22 carries to gain 55 yards. He is big and strong and quick, and except for one time, when he dodge a blitz by Mark Fossati and made first down on Lehigh’s one scoring drive, Bragalone got nothing, just like everybody else who has tried to run the ball against Princeton. Three-hundred-and-52 yards, an average of 88 per game, is all the Tigers have given up.
Through six contests – the last a rout at Harvard – before the cumulative loss of nine defensive linemen decimated the Tigers, last year’s run defense was good too. But not this good. Tom Johnson made first team All-Ivy a year ago with a tireless 95 stops, but the first sign of a leaky defense against the run is when linebackers have to make too many tackles. Johnson had just three on Saturday, and although Fossati had six, and safety Ben Ellis seven, Princeton’s third leading tackler was D-end DeMarco. His six tackles included a sack that forced a fumble.
The decline of last year’s defense culminated with the late season losses of Kurt Holuba, Joe Percival and Matt Hampson. But it really began when DeMarco was not in school. A year later, the one Princeton D-lineman being used for every down–run or pass–is on his way to All Ivy consideration.
“I love having my Joey back.” says Johnson. “He’s a beast.
The Tigers can do this by committee. But it helps to have the chair that DeMarco is becoming.
“He is so strong for a guy that tall, but still can bend,” said Surace. “He is really coming into his own.
“When we had the (Caraun) Reids and (Mike) Catapanos up front, [blockers] were not getting onto the linebackers, making their jobs easier.”
Jake Strain and Jay Rolader, the other two starters up front, last year were gone by Game Two. This time, during another absence of Holuba the depth provided by Simeon Lane, Sam Wright, Joe Percival– gets stronger by the week as freshman who have a chance to be far above average are getting significant playing time in these second halves.
A missed tackle by Winston, a sophomore reserve cornerback, gave Lehigh its one touchdown. Otherwise, bees don’t swarm with the glee and instincts of Tiger tacklers. Cut back on one of them, there’s another one there.
“I was not happy with the mistakes in the first half,” said Surace. “But as I told our guys at halftime, the reason we led 31-7 was because of the effort on both sides of the ball.”
Volker went untouched on a 52-yard off-tackle run to put Princeton up 7-0 after the usual one possession. Lehigh, going for it on a fourth-and-eight at the Princeton 11, made it on Winston’s whiff. Meanwhile, the first two holding calls of the season–on George Attea and Cody Smith–complicated two drives but did not stop then. Volker had finished the first and Collin Eaddy did the next by taking a quick flip from Lovett and winning the race to the flag.
Tiger Bech was open by 15 yards on the throw-and-run of 70 to boost the lead to 21-7. And after Lovett got outside for 17 yards on third-and-three, Volker finished the next drive. Nick Ramos kicked a chip shot field goal before the half. And after the intermission, Lovett ran for 16 for one score, and then found Jesper Horsted for another.
Like every team in the Tigers way this season, Lehigh looked simply exhausted by the effort of both Princeton lines. The slick cutbacks by Volker and Lovett on their TD runs were made possible only because their offensive line held their blocks. We will figure out how good Butler, Monmouth, Columbia and Lehigh are at the end of the season. Don’t need that long to be enjoying something special. The 773 yards were the most in a game in 149 years of Princeton football. And this was the largest margin of victory by the Tigers since beating Williams in 1950.