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Vol. LXIII, No. 38
 
Wednesday, September 23, 2009
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BATTLE OF BRITTON: Princeton University linebacker Scott Britton bears down on a foe in 2008 action. Last Saturday, senior co-captain Britton had a team-high nine tackles but it wasn’t enough as Princeton fell 38-7 to The Citadel in its season opener.

Failing to Capitalize on Red Zone Chances, Tiger Football Gets Overrun by The Citadel

Bill Alden

Glancing quickly at the stat sheet, it would appear that the Princeton University football squad battled The Citadel to a standstill when the teams met last Saturday.

Princeton gained 347 yards of total offense, nearly matching the 381 accumulated by the Bulldogs.

The Tigers ran 74 offensive plays on the afternoon, six more than The Citadel.

In the crucial third down conversion category, the Tigers were 11-of-19 while their foes went 5-of-11.

But in the statistic that counts the most, the Tigers came up way short as they fell 38-7 to the Bulldogs before a sun-splashed crowd of 7,885 that made its way to Powers Field at Princeton Stadium.

In assessing the season opening setback, Princeton head coach Roger Hughes maintained that the final score wasn’t necessarily an accurate barometer of his team’s performance.

“I am not sure that they are 31 points better than we are; clearly we didn’t take advantage of the opportunities that we had,” said Hughes.

“I thought overall we moved the ball pretty effectively at times. I thought Scotty Britton and the defense did a great job in the red zone defending bad field position at times. They had a great goal line stand. You see glimpses of what I think this team can become.”

The Tigers’ most critical miscues came in the red zone where they were able to score points only once on four trips inside The Citadel’s 20-yard-line.

“We go down to the red zone and we have two stupid penalties that set us back,” lamented Hughes. “We missed two field goals.”

Princeton’s task was made harder by The Citadel’s success at shackling Tiger star running back Jordan Culbreath most of the day in order to put pressure on Princeton’s new starting quarterback, sophomore Tommy Wornham.

“Did you see how many guys they had in the box to stop Jordan, about 15,” said Hughes of Culbreath who managed 67 yards on 15 carries.

“They made it a situation where we are going to take Jordan out of the game and make Tommy win the game. I thought Tommy responded pretty well in that situation.”

While Wornham thought he held his own, he conceded that the Tigers squandered some scoring chances.

“I feel like I have an understanding of our offense,” said Wornham, who went 24-of-41 with 198 yards and a touchdown.

“I know what to do with the ball and how to get the ball out quick. I feel like we had shots there that I could have taken. We just need to get more reps in the red zone and put that ball in.”

Senior linebacker and co-captain Britton maintained that the defense will benefit from some more reps.

“I think the score of the game is not indicative of our defense,” said Britton, who had a team-high nine tackles on the game.

“I think that we are going to be able to see this tape and we are going to be able to fix a lot of the minor mistakes that I think really made a big difference. I think on the whole, it was a great learning experience for our defense. We are going to do some tune-ups. I felt we played hard.”

In the early going, the Tigers made things hard on The Citadel. After stopping the Bulldogs on their first possession of the game, Princeton marched 42 yards for a score. The drive culminated with a five-yard touchdown pass from Wornham to Jeb Heavenrich.

The Citadel responded with a march of their own, going 44 yards and coming up with a 40-yard field goal from Sam Keeler to narrow the gap to 7-3 with 2:23 left in the first quarter.

Midway through the second quarter, Princeton prevented the Bulldogs from taking the lead, producing a valiant goal line stand. The Citadel had a first and goal at the Princeton three but was unable to score. Britton helped snuff out the Bulldogs’ threat with a tackle for a loss on fourth and one.

The Tigers, though, couldn’t hold the fort on The Citadel’s next possession. Mixing the run and pass, the Bulldogs took advantage of good field possession, driving 46 yards and scoring on a 12-yard touchdown aerial from Bart Blanchard to Alex Sellars.

Trailing 10-7 as the third quarter started, the Tiger defense got off to a good start in the second half, forcing The Citadel to punt on its first possession.

Building on the momentum from that stand, the Princeton offense went on the march. With Culbreath breaking free for a 17-yard run and Wornham connecting on some big passes, the Tigers drove to The Citadel 13.

Princeton, though, stalled at that point and Ben Bologna came on for a 31-yard field goal attempt. With a chance to knot the game, Bologna’s kick hit the right upright and bounced back harmlessly to the field.

Buoyed by the miss, The Citadel offense went into high gear. With Blanchard hooking up with All-American Andre Roberts on a key 39-yard pass play on a third and 15 situation, the Bulldogs got into Princeton territory. The Citadel finished off the drive with a three-yard touchdown gallop by Van Dyke Jones to stretch its advantage to 17-7.

In the view of The Citadel head coach Kevin Higgins, the sequence of the missed field goal and the subsequent Bulldog touchdown changed the tone of the game.

“That was big,” said Higgins, whose team improved to 1-1 with the win. “You know what that does, it gives your team momentum. It gets the sideline juiced up a little bit and anytime you get those momentum-changing plays, it makes a difference.”

The Bulldogs maintained the momentum the rest of the way, scoring three unanswered touchdowns in the fourth quarter to turn the game into a 38-7 rout.

Hughes, for his part, is confident that his players will learn from the loss and build some momentum when they play at Lehigh (0-2) this Saturday.

“As I told the team afterwards, we face a little adversity right now and the only way to get out of it is to go right back to work tomorrow,” said Hughes.

“Look at the film and learn from it; that is going to be the crucial thing. The old cliche that you improve more from the first game to the second game; clearly I hope that it is the case here.”

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