Town Topics — Princeton's Weekly Community Newspaper Since 1946.
Vol. LXII, No. 39
 
Wednesday, September 24, 2008
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OPENING FEATURE: Princeton University running back Jordan Culbreath picks up yardage in a game last season. Last Saturday, junior Culbreath led the Tigers with 74 yards rushing but it wasn’t enough as Princeton fell 37-24 at The Citadel in its season opener. The Tigers will look to get in the win column when they host Lehigh on September 27.

PU Football Starts Opener With Superb First Half, but Can’t Match Citadel’s Intensity in 37-24 Loss

Bill Alden

Last October, the Princeton University football team went out of its league to take on Hampton University, a power in the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference (MEAC).

Buoyed by a large home crowd of 15,329, Princeton jumped out to a 27-14 lead by halftime. After Hampton’s legendary band entertained the crowd with a rousing show at intermission, the Pirates ran the Tigers out of the building as they reeled off 34 straight points on the way to a 48-27 win.

Last Saturday, Princeton opened its 2008 season by exploring more untested waters. This time, the Tigers headed down to South Carolina to play The Citadel in its first-ever meeting with a Southern Conference school.

Once again, Princeton got off to a hot start, building a 17-7 lead over the 22nd-ranked Bulldogs by intermission before the crowd of 13,120 on hand at Johnson Hagood Stadium.

For Tiger head coach Roger Hughes, everything was going according to plan.

“I was really pleased with the way we started,” said Hughes, who is in his ninth season guiding the Tigers.

“We played a flawless first half, we created one turnover and we had none. We really executed well.”

But in a discouraging case of déjà vu, The Citadel produced a nearly flawless second half to overcome the Tigers. Starting with the return of a blocked punt for a touchdown early in the third quarter, the Bulldogs scored 30 unanswered points to turn the game into a rout.

The Tigers kept fighting with a late touchdown but it was just window dressing as The Citadel won 37-24 to improve to 2-1.

Hughes acknowledged that his team got frazzled as it absorbed the second half onslaught.

“You sensed that things were going on,” recalled Hughes.

“People were pressing; thinking that they had to do something big individually. I think the lesson is that if everyone does what they are supposed to do and keep playing, we will be fine.”

Things certainly started off fine for Princeton last Saturday. After forcing Citadel to a three and out on its first possession, the Tigers proceeded to march down the field. Senior quarterback Brian Anderson coolly guided the Tigers on a 58-yard drive that culminated in a 31-yard field goal by Connor Louden.

In the second quarter, Princeton was on the move again as Anderson and junior tailback Jordan Culbreath ripped off some large gains as the Tigers marched 78 yards. Culbreath ended the drive with a two-yard touchdown run as Princeton increased its lead to 10-0.

After Citadel answered back with an 11-yard touchdown pass to All-American receiver Andre Roberts, the Tigers didn’t wilt. Peter Ploszek took the ensuing kickoff 15 yards and then handed off to Meko McCray who raced 36 yards to midfield.

Sparked by the big special teams play, Anderson ran and passed the Tigers down the field. The lefty hit Matt Zimmerman for a six-yard scoring strike with 18 seconds remaining in the half to give underdog Princeton a 17-7 lead at the break.

It didn’t take long for The Citadel to seize momentum in the third quarter and change the course of the contest. Just over two minutes into the second half, Reggie Rice scooped up a blocked Ryan Coyle punt and raced 25 yards to narrow the gap to 17-14.

The Bulldogs took their first lead of the game midway through the quarter. With Citadel quarterback Bart Blanchard hitting some big passes, the Bulldogs marched down the field. The drive ended with a four-yard touchdown pass from Blanchard to Taylor Corbett as The Citadel grabbed a 21-17 lead.

The Bulldogs tacked on a field goal in the last minute of the quarter to take a 24-17 lead into the fourth quarter. All-American Roberts then struck again, returning a punt 54 yards to the Princeton 11. The Bulldogs wasted no time cashing in, taking three plays to get into the end zone and increase their advantage to 30-17.

The Citadel added another touchdown as Roberts gathered in a six-yard pass from Blanchard with 5:51 remaining to make the score 37-17.

Princeton didn’t give up the fight as it put together one more scoring drive on the afternoon. Sparked by long Anderson completions to Adam Berry and Will Thanheiser, the Tigers marched inside the Citadel 10. After getting sacked, Anderson found Berry in the end zone for a 13-yard scoring strike as Princeton drew to within 37-24.

The Tigers recovered an onside kick on the ensuing kickoff but their last-gasp comeback attempt was ended by a DeAndre Smith interception.

While the loss to Hampton last fall left Princeton emotionally and physically spent as the Tigers proceeded to lose four of their last six games, Hughes doesn’t see the Citadel setback as having the same impact.

“I don’t think this is going to be like the Hampton game,” asserted Hughes.

“I think we will bounce back emotionally from this, we also came out much healthier.”

The Tigers come out of the Citadel game knowing that they have solid performers in two key offensive players, Anderson and Culbreath.

On the afternoon, Anderson went 20-for-41 passing with 206 yards and two touchdowns while rushing for 56 yards. The 5’11, 195 pound Culbreath rushed for 74 yards and a touchdown on 17 carries.

“I was really pleased with Brian; he was sharp,” said Hughes. “For the most part, he played very well. In that eight-minute stretch in the second half, he did press a little bit. Jordan made some great cuts even on four or five yard runs. Jordan is our workhorse.”

There were other bright spots on a day which saw Princeton outgain The Citadel 358 yards to 307.

“The offensive line played well overall,” added Hughes. “Steven Cody and Scott Britton were good at inside linebacker. Weston Palmer and Meko McCray did a good job on special teams; there were a lot of positives.”

Importantly, Princeton achieved some collective team goals in terms of turnovers, third down efficiency, and play in the red zone.

“We had only one turnover, we had a good third down conversion rate (8 of 17), and we scored four out of five times in the red zone,” said Hughes. “These are things that we worked on in the spring and in the fall camp.”

Hughes acknowledged that the Tigers need to be sharper on special teams after a day which saw them get a punt blocked and give up a long punt return.

“We do have to renew our focus on special teams,” said Hughes. “We always work a lot on that. We have to keep up the intensity, you can’t let being tired keep you from playing on special teams. We can show the guys how some breakdowns in that area cost us momentum.”

Notwithstanding the final score, Hughes believes his team is bringing some momentum into its home opener with Lehigh (1-1) this Saturday evening.

“I think the way we played in the first half and the way we finished the game gives us a lot of confidence that we can play with anyone,” said Hughes.

“I think we also saw that when the other team raises its intensity level, we have to raise ours. I hope we can bring this into the home opener and keep momentum through the swings of the game.”

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