Town Topics — Princeton's Weekly Community Newspaper Since 1946.
Vol. LXI, No. 44
Wednesday, October 31, 2007
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BREATH OF LIFE: Princeton University sophomore running back Jordan Culbreath streaks down the field on his 58-yard fourth quarter touchdown run that gave Princeton the margin of victory in its 34-31 win over Cornell last Friday. Culbreath rushed for 145 yards and two touchdowns. He had entered the evening with just nine carries and 62 yards in Princeton’s first six games.

Sparked by Culbreath’s Highlight-Reel Effort, PU Football Outlasts Cornell in 34-31 Thriller

Bill Alden

He started Friday evening as a little-used running back for the Princeton University football team, having carried the ball just nine times in the Tigers’ first six games.

By midnight, sophomore Jordan Culbreath’s heroics had landed him the No. 1 spot in ESPN SportsCenter’s Top Plays of the Day.

In between, Culbreath rushed for 145 yards on 11 carries with two scintillating touchdown runs to help spark Princeton to a 34-31 win over Cornell before a rain-soaked crowd of 5,773 at Princeton Stadium.

The win snapped Princeton’s three-game losing streak, lifting the Tigers to 3-4 overall and 2-2 in Ivy League play.

Afterward, Culbreath was more focused on the team’s success than his accomplishments.

“It was nice to get out there and contribute to the win,” said Culbreath, a 5’11, 200-pound native of Falls Church, Va. “I’m just glad we actually won; that makes everything better.”

Culbreath came into the evening ready to seize the opportunity that he sensed was coming his way.

“The last few weeks, either Kenny [Gunter] or R.C. [Lagomarsino] hadn’t been playing well so I would get in some,” said Culbreath, who had gained 62 yards on the season before Friday’s contest.

“Then this week, Kenny found out that he did something to his foot. I knew I was going to get some time and I had to make the best of what I was given. I’ve been working hard.”

Culbreath had to utilize some patience to go with his hard work.

“Against Hampton, I got my first carry,” recalled Culbreath, who gained 53 yards on four carries in that debut effort.

“R.C. had just gotten out and Kenny was winded so he let me go in for a player. Then the next week, R.C. didn’t play and I got four carries. Last week, I only got one.”

Princeton head coach Roger Hughes was happy to see Culbreath break through.

“I can’t say enough about what Jordan Culbreath did tonight,” said Hughes. “He kind of had his coming out party.”

In Hughes’ view, the success Culbreath had against Cornell was well-deserved.

“I couldn’t be more proud of the kid because of how hard he works in practice,” added Hughes, who had his team break out orange jerseys for the first time ever to give it a little boost on a week which saw the players deal with the pressure of mid-terms and a short week as they prepared for the Big Red.

“He’s one of those kids that it’s all about the team; it’s all about doing everything right. I’m so pleased with how he responded.”

Hughes was proud with how his team responded collectively as it came through in a topsy-turvy contest that went back and forth all night.

“It’s huge,” said Hughes. “Going into the stretch run of our season, we needed this for our confidence.”

The Tigers got a shot of confidence early on Friday when they turned a Cornell turnover on its first drive into a 7-0 lead as quarterback Greg Mroz scored on a 12-yard touchdown run.

After Cornell tied the game at 7-7 on a Zac Canty touchdown reception, Culbreath went to work. The hard-running junior darted for a 49-yard touchdown run to give Princeton a 14-7 lead.

The Big Red knotted the game at 14-14 as Canty scored his second touchdown of the contest.

The Tigers fought back as Cart Kelly picked up a Nathan Ford pass and returned it to the Cornell 13-yard line. Rob Toresco scored on a seven-yard pass from Mroz as Princeton forged ahead 20-14. The Tigers failed to convert the extra point as a high snap went through the holders’ hands.

Cornell regained the lead with 1:21 left in the half as Randy Barbour scored on a five-yard run and the Big Red converted the extra point attempt.

With time waning in the half, Culbreath came up big again, ripping off runs for 22 and 7 yards to get Princeton deep in Cornell territory. The drive, though, stalled and Princeton lined up for an apparent field goal attempt.

But showing some trickery to go with their pumpkin orange jerseys, holder Brendan Circle took the snap and raced for a 22-yard touchdown to give Princeton a 27-21 lead at the half. Circle joined Culbreath on ESPN as his scoring jaunt was chosen as SportsCenter’s third top play of the day.

Getting outscored 10-0 in the third quarter, Princeton entered the final 15 minutes down 31-27 and facing the prospect of its first four-game losing streak since 2004.

Midway through the fourth quarter, Culbreath produced the most brilliant moment of his coming out party. Taking a pitch from Mroz, Culbreath streaked down the sideline to break free. He then cut back across the middle and ended the run by heading to the sideline to avoid one last Cornell pursuer and find the end zone as Princeton went ahead 34-31.

The drama, though, was far from over. As the clock ticked down to final seconds of regulation, Cornell marched down the field to the Princeton 30.

With nine seconds left, Cornell kicker Peter Zell split the uprights with a 55-yard kick to apparently send the game to overtime. But Hughes called a timeout before the kick, negating the score. Iced by Princeton’s move, Zell missed his second attempt, giving Princeton the win as the clock hit 10:21 p.m.

Hughes, for his part, was relieved to see the bounces go his team’s way for the first time in weeks.

“Our kids just hung in there, hung in there, and finally got a break to go our way,” said Hughes, whose team was outgained 418 yards to 373 on the evening.

The coach credited the Tiger defense with making things happen down the stretch.

“I was glad to see our defense get up and make some stops at the end of the game when they had to,” said Hughes, whose team will look to keep its slim Ivy title hopes alive this Saturday when it plays at Penn.

“I thought we started executing the stunts we were calling and the blitzes we were calling. I thought our defensive line kicked it into gear; they really started coming off the ball and making plays.”

On Cornell’s last kick, Culbreath was a nervous wreck as he hoped his teammates could make one more big play on the evening.

“I was pacing back and forth,” recalled Culbreath. “There was nothing you can do at that point-just hope that it doesn’t go in. I’m glad we were able to win it in regulation.”

No matter what happened at that point, Culbreath had done more than he could have dreamed of to help put Princeton in position to win the game.

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