Town Topics — Princeton's Weekly Community Newspaper Since 1946.
Vol. LXIV, No. 39
 
Wednesday, September 29, 2010
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TOMMY GUN: Princeton University quarterback Tommy Wornham unloads a pass in a game last fall. Junior quarterback Wornham had one of the best games of his career last Saturday as he passed for 214 yards and rushed for 49 to rally Princeton to a 36-33 win over Lafayette in double overtime. Wornham was later named the Ivy League Offensive Player of the Week for his performance.

Culbreath TD Run Provides Storybook Ending As Tiger Football Edges Lafayette in OT Epic

Bill Alden

After the tortuous journey Jordan Culbreath has endured over the last year, he wasn’t about to be stopped when the Princeton University football team needed two yards to win an overtime battle against Lafayette last Saturday night.

With Princeton trailing 33-30 in double overtime and facing a third down and one at the Lafayette two-yard-line, the senior running back was thrilled to hear his number called.

“I knew when the play was called that I was getting the ball and I had to come through for the whole team,” said Culbreath, who missed most of the 2009 season while battling aplastic anemia, a life-threatening blood condition.

Displaying the grit and tenacity that helped pave the way to his miraculous comeback to the gridiron, Culbreath bulled through the middle of the line for the game-winning touchdown to clinch an emotional 36-33 win before 9,327 at Princeton Stadium.

“It felt great to get that score; I had to break the ice and get my first touchdown of the year,” said Culbreath, who finished the night with 61 yards on 11 carries as the Tigers improved to 1-1.

“It was a good time to get it but it shows how far we have all come even though we still have a long way to go. It is definitely a good win for our team.”

Culbreath’s touchdown triggered a heartfelt celebration as his teammates sprinted en masse to the end zone and tumbled all over him in glee.

“I didn’t even know they were coming; I turned around and I see a mob of people in my face,” said a grinning Culbreath. “It really was a great experience to share with all those guys.”

It was a great experience for Bob Surace to get his first win as the new head coach at his alma mater. “I told the guys it is our first win; it is special to be with this group of guys,” said Surace, a 1990 Princeton alum who was a star center for the Tigers.

“I know it goes on my record; I was an offensive lineman and offensive linemen don’t say ‘me’ a lot. It is special seeing the guys play together and seeing them hug each other. It was fun. You compete all day and hopefully at the end of the day, you make the last play.”

Surace was especially happy to see Culbreath make that last play. “If you want an ambassador for Princeton, it is Jordan with everything he has overcome,” said Surace. “For him to be out there and smiling is great. He plays hard. He is very consistent; his stats are the same two games in a row. He does so many things well.”

The Tigers had to overcome a lot to pull out the win over Lafayette. Coming into halftime, Princeton found itself trailing 14-10 after being jolted by a 78-yard scoring pass from Ryan O’Neill to Kyle Hayes.

Early in the second half, Lafayette extended its lead to 21-10 after it cashed in on a muff by Princeton on a punt return.

Princeton started clawing back as junior quarterback Tommy Wornham hit senior fullback Matt Zimmerman with a three-yard touchdown pass to narrow the gap to 21-16. The Tigers went for a two-point conversion but the attempt failed as a Wornham aerial was intercepted.

In the waning moments of the quarter, Lafayette went ahead 24-16 on a 27-yard field goal by Davis Rodriguez.

Early in the fourth quarter, Wornham used his arm and feet to help Princeton knot the contest. Connecting on two passes to Trey Peacock and rushing for 30 yards, Wornham got Princeton to the Lafayette five. Wornham culminated the 72-yard march by dashing into the end zone. The Tigers went for two again and this time, Wornham completed a pass to Peacock to make it 24-24 with 13:03 remaining in regulation.

Lafayette responded with a 68-yard drive of its own, as Rodriguez kicked another field goal to give the Leopards a 27-24 lead with 5:22 remaining.

With Wornham hitting on 6-of-8 passes for 45 yards, the Tigers drove 60 yard to the Lafayette seven. Princeton kicker Patrick Jacob booted a 24-yard field goal with 45 seconds remaining to knot the game at 27-27 and force overtime.

In the first overtime period, the teams traded field goals. The Leopards started the second period with another field goal to forge ahead 33-30.

Wornham responded with a 12-yard scramble to the 13. A Lafayette personal foul at the end of the run gave Princeton a first and goal at the Lafayette seven. Culbreath then rushed for five yards to get the Tigers down to the two. After a Wornham run for no gain, Culbreath sealed the deal with his plunge up the middle.

Minutes later, a sweating and grinning Surace lauded his team’s fight. “I think their attitude has been terrific since the day I got the job,” asserted Surace, whose team was outgained 421 yards to 363 on the evening.

“The guys just kept fighting and playing hard. I said all week that this Lafayette team is a good team. It was a battle.”

Surace was happy to have Wornham on his side in the fight. “The guy does so many things well,” said Surace of his quarterback who passed 214 yards and rushed for 49 and was later named the Ivy League Offensive Player of the Week for his performance. “You want him on your side; you can win with him.”

The Tigers also got a winning effort from a short-handed defense that had already lost linebacker Steve Cody to a season-ending injury and was without star tackle Caraun Reid for the game.

Senior linebacker Jon Olofsson moved into Cody’s spot and produced a game-high 16 tackles while junior end Mike Catapano was a force with six tackles, a sack, and a pass break-up.

“Catapano is as a tough and hard-nosed a guy as you will find; those are effort plays that he made,” said Surace, who also got 13 tackles from Andrew Starks and 10 from Tim Kingsbury.

“It seemed like Olofsson was in on every tackle. He is not the greatest athlete but he just does everything right. He’s not going to make the sideline plays that Steve makes but he will play team defense. Obviously you miss Steve but Jon did a good job of stepping up.”

Olofsson, for his part, was ready to assume a leading role for the Princeton defense.

“Nobody wants a player like Steve Cody to go down; he has been a great friend to me and obviously he is a great player,” said the 6’1, 235-pound Olofsson, a native of Frankfort, Ill.

“But when something like this happens, you have to pick it up and run with it. I knew that I needed to step up and be a leader on the defense but I also knew my teammates were going to be behind me and help me every step of the way.”

With Princeton opening its Ivy League campaign with a game at Columbia (1-1) on October 2, Culbreath is confident the Tigers can take another step forward.

“This is just one step; we have a lot of stuff to clean up because we still made a lot of mistakes,” said Culbreath.

“Everybody kept their heads. Everybody has been moving in the same direction. Nobody gets down when things go wrong; it is really going to help us out the rest of the season.”

And Culbreath has certainly shown the Tigers what it means to not get down when things go wrong.

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