Town Topics — Princeton's Weekly Community Newspaper Since 1946.
Vol. LXI, No. 38
 
Wednesday, September 19, 2007
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POSING A THREAT: Princeton University junior defensive lineman Pat Gallagher chases Lehigh quarterback Sedale Threatt last Saturday in Princeton's season-opening 32-21 loss to the Mountain Hawks. Gallagher, a former Hun School star, and his teammates will look to get in the win column when they play at undefeated Lafayette (3-0).

Digging Big Early Hole With Sloppy Play, PU Football Opens With Loss to Lehigh

Bill Alden

Last fall, the Princeton University football team started its season by digging a 10-0 hole at Lehigh.

The Tigers rebounded with a 14-point second half on the way to a 14-10 victory, setting the tone for a magical fall that saw Princeton go 9-1 in posting the program's most wins in a season since 1964.

Last Saturday, Princeton got off to another Murphy's Law start in its opener against visiting Lehigh, committing five turnovers in the first half to help the Mountain Hawks build a 23-0 lead at intermission.

As the Tigers trudged into the locker room, they drew confidence from last year's opening day rally.

"I remember Adam Berry coming up to me and saying we've been here before, don't worry about it," said Princeton head coach Roger Hughes.

"The attitude of the kids was great. The first half was almost comical, for lack of a better word. It seemed like everything that could go wrong, did go wrong. We just told the kids to just play as hard as you can. We can't do anything about the first half."

The Tigers responded with 21 points in the second half but this time it wasn't enough as Princeton suffered a 32-21 defeat to the Mountain Hawks before a crowd of 8,640 at Powers Field at Princeton Stadium.

In assessing the defeat, Hughes acknowledged that his team's sloppiness made a second straight comeback win over Lehigh a remote possibility.

"It's hard to start a game with five turnovers in the first quarter," said Hughes in a raspy voice.

"We probably should have been behind 35-0 at that point. We never seemed to get into a rhythm offensively. I credit Lehigh's defense and special teams. You can't spot a team like Lehigh 23 points and expect to stay within the game plan."

It didn't take long for Hughes and Princeton to realize that it was going to be one of those nights.

"On the first play of the game, R.C. [Lagomarsino] had an 11-yard gain and the ball gets ripped out," lamented Hughes. "What could have been a great momentum start turned into something that wasn't."

To make matters worse, the Tigers mede several miscues on special teams, including a muffed kickoff and punt. "Our special teams played poorly and we have to straighten that out, "said Hughes with his voice rising.

"Our kickoff coverage was awful and our punt coverage needs to improve. We just can't continue to give good teams short fields and put our defense in that position."

New starting quarterback Bill Foran put the Tigers in a tough position in the first half as he went 2-for-11 passing with two interceptions and just 17 yards.

"I think it was inconsistent," said Hughes in assessing Foran's performance which saw the senior lead the Tigers on two second half scoring drives and ending the game hitting on 7-of-23 passes for 156 yards and two touchdowns.

"I don't think he got into a rhythm early and then later on he was able to take the team for two drives and create some of the things he had been creating earlier in the preseason."

While Foran acknowledged that the Tigers showed some opening night jitters, he believes the offense will get into synch.

"I don't have a reason for it, it's the first game," said Foran, who may face a challenge for his starting job as backup Greg Mroz showed some promise in going 7-for-17 passing with 83 yards and a touchdown as he came on in the fourth quarter.

"As the season goes on, the offense should get better and better, you work on timing and start to see the blitzes better. Offense is timing based and we should improve week-to-week."

In Hughes' view, Princeton's second half rally bodes well for the weeks ahead. "I was pleased with how we played in the second half," said Hughes, whose team ended up getting outgained by just 325-322 on the evening.

"The kids kept fighting to the end, especially our defense. They had some stands in the third and fourth quarter that gave us a shot to get the ball."

The defense tired, though, and couldn't hold the fort as Lehigh put together a 13-play, 48-yard drive in the fourth quarter that chewed up 7:28 and put the game out of reach.

"I thought we were clawing our way back into the game," said Hughes. "That drive killed us. If you look at the stats, they ran 92 plays. That's not an excuse for the defense not to stop them but they got worn out a little bit."

Princeton can't turn to any reinforcements as they face a tough test this Saturday when they play at undefeated Lafayette (3-0). "As I told the kids, it's not acceptable to lose and don't misunderstand me when I say that," said Hughes.

"But the sun will come up tomorrow and we've got nine games left. We're not out of anything. We're not going to the waiver wire to find anybody else. I wouldn't want anyone else in the locker room than the team I have. We've just got to play better than we did tonight."

And Princeton better hope that this year's Lehigh game doesn't set a tone for the season.

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