(Photo by Bill Allen/NJSportAction)
CENTURY CLUB: Princeton University junior running back Cleo Kirkland fights through a Columbia defender last Saturday in Princeton's 43-3 romp over the Lions. Kirkland rushed for 130 yards and two touchdowns as he went over the 100-yard mark for the first time in his Tiger career. Princeton, now 3-0 overall and 1-0 in Ivy League play, hosts Colgate this Saturday.nd of caption
Princeton Football Clicks on All Cylinders As it Routs Columbia 43-3 in Ivy Opener
By Bill Alden
Prior to the Columbia University football team's game at Princeton last Saturday, the squads appeared to be mirror images of each
After all, the teams brought identical 2-0 records into the contest with both relying on strong defensive play and utilizing a two-quarterback rotation.
The feeling that this Ivy League opener was destined to be a tightly-contested battle of equals was supported by the fact that the last two games between the schools had been decided on the last play.
Last season, Princeton prevailed in overtime as the Tigers blocked a Lions' extra point attempt in the extra session before scoring a touchdown and then winning on a Derek Javarone PAT.
In 2003, Columbia won for the first time ever in Princeton, prevailing on a shocking 49-yard Hail Mary pass with no time remaining in the fourth quarter.
On Saturday, the crowd of 8,835 on the sun-splashed afternoon at Princeton Stadium was barely settled in its seats when it became clear that this showdown was a total mismatch.
By the end of the first quarter, Princeton led 10-0, having produced drives that ended in a Javarone field goal and a Cleo Kirkland touchdown plunge.
At halftime, the Tiger cushion had increased to 23-3 with Javarone adding two more field goals and quarterback Jeff Terrell scoring on a one-yard touchdown run.
The avalanche continued after the intermission as Terrell scored on a 16-yard scamper and Javarone added another field goal to push the lead to 30-3. When it was all over, Princeton exulted after running the final total to 43-3.
The margin of victory was the largest in the six-year tenure of Princeton head coach Roger Hughes and marked the program's biggest romp since a 41-0 thrashing of Lafayette in 1995.
In reflecting on the rout, Hughes saw it in boxing terms. "I'm very pleased with the effort, we threw a knockout punch," said Hughes. “We played well in all phases of the game-offense, defense, and special teams."
Princeton also showed a killer instinct that had been lacking in its first two games when it had to hang on for dear life after building a 20-0 lead against Lafayette and a 13-0 edge against San Diego.
"At half, we told them not to be satisfied," recalled Hughes. "We didn't really do anything different at half than we had the first two weeks. We told them they were playing before a home and to feed off its energy."
The lopsided victory was sparked by Princeton's line play on both sides of the ball. "Our offensive line pretty much dominated the game," said Hughes, whose club rolled up 536 yards in total offense compared to Columbia's paltry 152.
"They set up our running game. The defensive line kept the Columbia offensive line in place and opened things up for the linebackers to make plays.”
Princeton may have found a star playmaker on offense in junior running back Cleo Kirkland, who broke out for the first 100-yard
game of his career, rushing for 130 yards and two touchdowns on 21 carries.
"He's been improving every week," said Hughes, whose ground attack clicked for 324 yards. "He's going to have some good games if the line blocks like it did on Saturday."
Another standout performer for Princeton was Terrell, whose sharp play rendered the quarterback rotation unnecessary.
"Jeff played extremely well," asserted Hughes, who did give Bill Foran some snaps late in the game.
"He had just about an error-free game. He was 14-for-25 passing and five passes were dropped. He ran the ball well and he did a great job of controlling the tempo of the game."
An unsung hero for Princeton, kicker Javarone, also forced his way into the limelight. The 5'8, 185-pound native of Imperial, Pa. set an Ivy record for points by a kicker in a game with 19 and matched his league single-game mark of five field goals.
"He has performed very well to this point; he's 8-for-8 on field goals,” said Hughes, noting that Javarone's effort Saturday included a career-best 43-yard field goal.
"He's the reason we're 100 percent in the red zone. It's nice to know that when we are inside the 20 that we are going to come away with points. As his confidence grows, he should get better and better. We're going to need him to be confident in the games we have coming up."
While Princeton's lopsided win could be viewed as a statement to its upcoming opponents, Hughes declined to make that interpretation.
"I don't look at it that way," said Hughes. "It was just one game and sometimes things get out of hand. I do think the win sent two messages to our team. One, that we can play hard for a full 60 minutes, and two, that we have to play well for 60 minutes."
With Princeton hosting 2-2 Colgate this Saturday and then facing some stern Ivy tests against such foes as Brown, Harvard, and Penn in upcoming weeks, Hughes knows his team can't be satisfied by their performance against Columbia.
"Our teams in the past haven't been the best at handling prosperity," acknowledged Hughes, who now has a 22-30 mark in his tenure guiding the Tigers. "Our kids play their best when they are hungry. We left points on the field against Columbia. We made a lot of penalties. We can't do that against the competition we'll be facing the rest of the season."
But if Princeton's dominance Saturday is a harbinger of things to come, it may end up ahead of that competition.