Vol. LXII, No. 40
Wednesday, October 1, 2008
(Photo by Bill Allen/NJ SportAction)
TEST OF WILL: Princeton University senior wide receiver Will Thanheiser gathers in a 46-yard bomb from Brian Anderson in the last minute of the fourth quarter, setting up the winning field goal as Princeton edged visiting Lehigh 10-7. Thanheiser ended the evening with a career-high 9 receptions for 120 yards in helping the Tigers improve to 1-1.
There were 55 seconds left in the fourth quarter last Saturday night when the Princeton University football team took possession at its own 33-yard line.
Locked in a 7-7 tie with visiting Lehigh before a crowd of 8,836 at Princeton Stadium, the Tigers couldve played it conservative, running the ball to play for overtime.
Instead, senior quarterback Brian Anderson asked Princeton head coach Roger Hughes for the chance to ad lib and take a gamble.
Brian says lets run a stutter and go to [Will] Thanheiser because they will come up and cover that, recalled Hughes. We had never practiced it.
Hughes gave the go-ahead and Anderson proceeded to loft a 46-yard bomb which Thanheiser gathered in on the far sideline at the Lehigh 21.
Thanheiser was as surprised as anyone when the Tigers decided to air it out in that situation.
I wasnt expecting that play to be called; we usually dont run deep routes, said Thanheiser.
I think they werent expecting it either; teams usually try to go short and go out of bounds. Brian just put it up there and trusted me to catch it and I did.
A few plays later with two seconds left in regulation, Princeton put its trust in senior kicker Connor Louden and he delivered, booting a 32-yard field goal to give the Tigers a 10-7 win over the Mountain Hawks.
For Thanheiser, the pass from Anderson was the culmination of hours of working together.
I roomed with Brian this summer; hes one of my best friends, said the 62, 210-pound Thanheiser, who ended the evening with a career-high nine receptions for 120 yards as the Tigers improved to 1-1 on the season.
We worked a lot the last two years waiting for Brian to get the chance to be the quarterback. Its working out so far.
Things werent working so well for Princeton in the red zone during the first half. Although the Tigers piled up 238 yards of total offense in the first half, they only had a one-yard touchdown run by Jordan Culbreath to show for all that yardage.
Princetons first drive ended at the Lehigh one when it was stopped short of the end zone on fourth down. On their next possession, the Tigers drove to the Lehigh two only to see that march end with a blocked field goal.
Thanheiser, for his part, was concerned that the squandered opportunities would come back to haunt Princeton.
Obviously, you cant go the two-yard line on consecutive drives and have no points, said Thanheiser, a native of Houston, Texas.
Thats not good football; thats something weve got to work on. We have to punch those in because sometimes the game is going to turn out where that is going to cost us.
After a 37-24 opening day loss at The Citadel a week earlier which saw Princeton blow a 17-7 halftime lead, Thanheiser and his teammates were determined to close the deal.
Coach Hughes said its a four-quarter game, not a half, said Thanheiser. Last week, we had a great first half and tonight he said we have to keep it going. We didnt turn the ball over this week so thats key for us.
Hughes, for his part, was confident that the Tigers would ultimately come through.
While we were frustrated, we were still relaxed, recalled Hughes. We werent pointing fingers at anybody; we said hey we just have to execute. Lets just keep this thing going and good things are going to happen.
For most of the second half, there werent a lot of good things happening offensively for Princeton as it was stopped on downs on its first drive and then punted on its next three possessions.
Fortunately, the Tiger defense found its stride, stifling the Mountain Hawks over the course of the second half. The Tigers held Lehigh to 115 yards of total offense and forced punts on the Mountain Hawks first four possessions.
The signature moment for the Princeton defense came with a minute left in the fourth when senior nose tackle and tri-captain Matt Koch led the charge as the Tigers stopped Lehigh on a fourth and one at the 33.
In Hughes view, the Tiger defense played a critical role in the victory.
I thought our defensive confidence grew as the game went on, asserted Hughes, whose defensive standouts included linebacker Steven Cody with a team-high 10 tackles and linebacker Jeff Jackson, who contributed nine tackles, a sack, and an interception.
As the fourth quarter started, I really felt like they came up with some big stops and got our offense the ball a number of times and we didnt move the ball well enough on offense to capitalize on that. The big stop on fourth and inches will be a huge confidence builder for us.
The manner in which Princeton pulled out the win last Saturday should build confidence collectively as the Tigers head up Columbia (0-2) this Saturday to open their Ivy League campaign.
Any time you can win and win like that, you get confidence, said Hughes, who got 126 yards rushing from junior tailback Culbreath with Anderson ending the evening hitting 20-of-29 passes for 244 yards.
Confidence is a big thing. I think the league race is wide open with Harvard and Yale both getting beat today, they were the league favorites. Its a one game at a time thing and I am sure this team will look at it that way. But going into the league with a win and the way we won hopefully will give us more confidence to increase our level of play.
After a 2007 season which saw Princeton suffer several near misses in going 4-6, Hughes is hoping that the program can put that frustration behind it.
Last year I felt like we let some of these type of games get away and frankly, I kind of harbored that all spring and all summer, said Hughes. Now we have this first one and that kind of wipes it out. To see the look on these guys faces in the locker room afterwards, that memory is pretty much erased.
For Thanheiser, the win over Lehigh helped erased the sour taste left by the opening day loss at The Citadel.
I think after last week some of us were getting mad at each other for putting our heads down in the second half, said Thanheiser.
I guess we showed tonight that even when things got down, we kept it going. We kept our heads up and kept playing hard. This team is great, we have great leadership. Everyone is responding; no one gives up on each other. We really believe in the team concept so its going great.
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