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Vol. LXV, No. 38
Wednesday, September 21, 2011
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GROUND CHUCK: Princeton University freshman running back Chuck Dibilio eludes a Lehigh tackler last Saturday evening in the Tigers’ season opener. Dibilio made quite a college debut, rushing for 86 yards on 14 carries and making a 26-yard touchdown reception. Dibilio’s heroics, though, weren’t enough as Princeton fell 34-22 to the Mountain Hawks. The Tigers will look to get into the win column when they host Bucknell (2-1) on September 24.

PU Football Falls to Lehigh in Season Opener But Sees Cause for Optimism Going Forward

Bill Alden

Last year, the Princeton University football team opened the season with a 35-22 loss at Lehigh.

The defeat was a harbinger of a tough fall to follow as the Tigers lost eight of their next nine games, including all seven of its Ivy League contests.

This past Saturday, Princeton opened its 2011 season with a loss to Lehigh by the nearly identical score of 34-22 before a crowd of 6,704 at Princeton Stadium.

But there was a different feeling around the Tigers this time, an optimism that the positives displayed on Saturday can translate into a successful campaign.

One positive was the fact that star linebacker Steve Cody made it through the game unscathed, returning to action after suffering a broken tibia in the 2010 opener.

Cody, who had eight tackles on the evening, second most for Princeton behind Mandela Scheaffer’s 12 stops, enjoyed being back in the fray.

“I felt great; I feel like I really didn’t miss a beat,” said senior tri-captain Cody.

“I was a step away from making a couple of plays I should have made but other than that I felt good.”

Another bright spot on the evening was freshman running back Chuck Dibilio, who burst on the scene with 86 yards rushing on 14 carries and a 26-yard touchdown reception.

Dibilio, a 5’11, 200-pound native of Nazareth, Pa. who wasn’t even listed on the Tigers’ depth chart, surprised himself with his sparkling performance.

“I knew coming in that I had a shot of getting into the game and I was really looking forward to that,” said Dibilio, who was later named the Ivy League Rookie of the Week for his effort.

“I just wanted to get in the game and get playing time but as the game went on, I got more and more carries and I got more and more into the game.”

While Tiger head coach Bob Surace wasn’t happy with the result, he was proud of the way his team played the game.

“I told them after the game that there are no moral victories and I expect our effort to be good,” said Surace, whose team piled up 398 yards of total offense and 26 first downs in falling to defending Patriot League champion Lehigh, now 2-1.

“When we watch that film, we will make a big jump and I told them that. We have got to execute better; I expect us to make those plays in the future. I really like our guys and the way we played. We just have to go in and take one more step and make plays. That is a really strong opponent. I do like the fact that we played as hard as we did.”

In Surace’s view, it could be strong season for Princeton if the Tigers can bottle the intensity displayed last Saturday.

“If we keep playing hard and hustling, we will be a good team,” asserted Surace.

“We’ll have a chance because that is as good a team as we will play all year. I told their coach, that is a fun team to watch from the sideline but you don’t want to play them. They are a playoff team.”

The Tigers had some fun in the early going Saturday as they jumped off to a 3-0 lead on a Patrick Jacob field goal of 25 yards with 8:47 left in the first quarter. Jacob’s boot culminated a 13-play, 59-yard drive.

Early in the second quarter, Lehigh answered back as quarterback Chris Lum hit star receiver Ryan Spadola with a 49-yard touchdown pass to put the Mountain Hawks up 7-3.

Princeton narrowed the gap to 7-6 on a 28-yard field goal by Jacob with 3:04 left in the period.

The Mountain Hawks took some momentum into intermission as the passing combination of Lum and Spadola struck again on a 12-yard scoring strike with 23 seconds left in the quarter. The point after attempt failed and the Mountain Hawks led 13-6 at halftime.

In the second half, the Lum-Spadola duo didn’t waste any time tormenting Princeton, hooking up for a 46-yard touchdown pass 1:04 into the third quarter as Lehigh increased its cushion to 20-6.

The Tigers could only manage a 20-yard field goal from Jacob in the quarter and went into the final period trailing 20-9.

Lehigh went up 27-9 on a two-yard pass from Lum to Sean Farrell with 11:11 left in regulation and it looked like a romp was on.

But Princeton struck quickly as senior defensive back and track star Ivan Charbonneau returned the ensuing Mountain Hawk kickoff 92 yards for a touchdown to make it 27-16.

With placekicker Jacob suffering from what later appeared to be a phantom injury, Princeton brought in back-up kicker Brendan Sofen for an onside kick. Surprising the Mountain Hawks, the Tigers recovered the kick and started at their 30-yard line after incurring an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty.

Princeton proceeded to march down the field, scoring when quarterback Tommy Wornham hit Dibilio with a pass that the freshman turned into a 26-yard touchdown. The Tigers failed on a two-point conversion attempt so the score stood at 27-22 with 6:49 left in the quarter.

Turning to its ground attack, Lehigh marched 61 yards in 10 plays over the next 4:47 to take a 34-22 lead and leave Princeton with just 1:44 to complete its rally. The Tigers got to the Lehigh 11 but could get no further as the Mountain Hawks held on for the victory.

Surace acknowledged that the combination of Lum and Spadola made the difference in the contest.

“The QB-receiver connection was great,” said Surace, whose defense surrendered 384 yards passing with Spadola making nine catches for 214 yards.

“Spadola is a phenomenal player and he just hurt us all game long. We got really good penetration up front, the front seven played better. Now we have to stop the explosive plays.”

The presence of Cody made the whole defense better. “The big thing about him is his presence there,” asserted Surace, whose team will look to get into the win column when it hosts Bucknell (2-1) on September 24.

“Last year when we gave up a score, we gave up one after another in a few games. Steve and [Mike] Catapano just did a great job of settling that group down.”

Cody, for his part, noticed a more positive group mentality. “The attitude adjustment from last year to this year was phenomenal,” said Cody.

“There was never a time where I felt the energy was down. When they scored that touchdown to go up by 18, I felt like we were in it the whole time. Nobody gave up, everybody kept playing.”

Freshman Dibilio believes the team’s work ethic will help the Tigers play better and better as the season goes on.

“We never stopped fighting, we made a couple of mistakes that we can fix,” said Dibilio.

“You can’t fix effort and we had a good effort tonight. We were going hard the entire time. I was here half the summer, getting up at 5:30 in the morning to work out. It just all shows up, everyone is putting in a lot of work. We have to keep it up, that’s all we have to do.”

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