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Vol. LXIII, No. 39
 
Wednesday, September 30, 2009
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OPPORTUNITY KNOCKS: Princeton University junior linebacker Steven Cody looks for an opening last Saturday in Princeton’s 17-14 win at Lehigh. Cody made one of the key plays in the victory, returning an interception 77 yards for a touchdown in the first quarter. Cody ended the day with a game-high 11 tackles.

Opportunistic Defense Paves Way to Victory as Princeton Football Edges Lehigh 17-14

Bill Alden

There is an oft-stated football theory claiming that a team can make its biggest improvement from its opener to its second game.

Getting one game under its belt can help a team fix glitches that occur in the heat of that first battle and sharpen execution in all phases of the game.

Princeton University football head coach Roger Hughes was hoping that his team could successfully apply that theory when the Tigers played at Lehigh last Saturday, looking to bounce back from a 38-7 opening day loss to the Citadel.

The Tiger offense, though, took a step back in week two. Hurt by the loss of star running back Jordan Culbreath to injury in the second quarter and the absence of offensive lineman J.P. Makrai who had flu, Princeton sputtered to six first downs and a paltry 47 yards of passing on the afternoon.

Its one moment of magic came on a 68-yard touchdown scamper by quarterback Tommy Wornham in the second quarter.

But on the other side of the ball, the Tiger defense earned its stripes, holding Lehigh to 108 yards rushing and coming up with two critical turnovers, a 77-yard interception return for a touchdown by Steven Cody in the first quarter and a key pick by Wilson Cates in the third quarter.

The improvement on the defensive side of the ball proved decisive as Princeton edged Lehigh 17-14 before 8,168 at Goodman Stadium in Bethlehem, Pa.

Hughes acknowledged that the game was a matter of winning ugly for the Tigers.

“Jack Nicklaus won a lot of tournaments with his ‘C’ game, and I told those guys, that’s the sign of a champion, to win a game and not bring your ‘A’ game,” said Hughes. “It’s something we can build on as we go forward.”

The opportunistic play by the Princeton defense could be a building block for some good things to come.

“We emphasize getting turnovers all the time and clearly that was the difference in the game,” asserted Hughes, reflecting on the interceptions by Cody and Cates.

“Steve’s play gave a lift to the whole team. It was big for us to have a play like that on the road; it was our first defensive touchdown in three years. That is an uplift for your team and it has the opposite effect on the other team. It was good to see the results of Wilson’s hard work. He has been one of our hardest workers. On the defensive side of the ball, I thought our kids flew around and played very well.”

Cody got the Tigers off to a flying start, picking off a J.B. Clark pass and sprinting 77 yards down the sideline as Princeton went ahead 7-0 with 8:27 remaining in the first quarter.

Junior linebacker Cody enjoyed giving the Tigers the early momentum as he scored Princeton’s first interception return for a touchdown since Jay McCareins’ 99-yard jaunt against San Diego in 2005.

“The tight end broke out and I saw the quarterback looking at him, and I broke on it and he threw it a little inside,” recalled Cody, who ended the day with a game-high 11 tackles.

“I got my hands on it and caught it and thought I’d take off. I took off down the sideline and the quarterback gave a good pursuit, but luckily he slipped off the tackle and I was able to get in the end zone. It got us going pretty good. Even Coach got a smile on his face.”

Coach Hughes was smiling again midway through the second quarter when sophomore quarterback Wornham made a great ball fake and raced 68 yards for a touchdown to put Princeton ahead 14-0.

“On the hand-off on the back side, Tommy has the option to pull it back,” said Hughes. “He did such a good fake, I thought he had handed it off.”

Lehigh gained some momentum of its own as it returned the ensuing Princeton kickoff 50 yards to get to the Tiger 44. The Mountain Hawks proceeded to drive for a touchdown with Clark finding Jake Drwal for a seven-yard scoring strike to narrow the Princeton lead to 14-7 going into halftime.

The teams exchanged punts for most of the third quarter as the defenses dominated.

Late in the quarter, the Tiger defense came up with a big play as Cates picked off a Clark pass, giving the Tigers possession at the Lehigh 40.

Wornham made a couple of good runs and hit passes to Harry Flaherty and Trey Peacock to get the Tigers down to the 14. The drive stalled and Ben Bologna came on and kicked a 31-yard field goal to put Princeton ahead 17-7.

Early in the fourth quarter, Lehigh threatened to narrow the gap as it drove to the Princeton 14. The Tigers, though, held at that point, stopping the Mountain Hawks on a fourth and two.

On its next possession, the Mountain Hawks broke through with a 60-yard scoring march that culminated with a 5-yard scoring run by Chris Lum with 5:01 remaining in regulation.

After another Princeton punt, the Mountain Hawks took possession at their 27 looking to build on the momentum from its last drive. The Princeton defense made one more valiant stand, stopping Lehigh on a fourth and 20 to end the threat and seal the win.

Princeton was happy with the win but certainly not satisfied with its performance.

“Everyone smiles more after a win,” said Hughes. “We clearly have a lot of work to do. We missed eight or nine tackles on defense. We need the offensive side of the ball to play to a higher level. We didn’t play with the intensity on offense that we had showed the week before.”

The Tigers will need to ratchet up their intensity as they host Columbia (1-1) this Saturday in the Ivy League opener for both teams.

“They are much improved; the kids believe in their program,” asserted Hughes in assessing the Lions.

“It is a league game, I am glad it is at home. We have to play much better. We don’t want the win to mask the things we did wrong. Just because you don’t have the sting of the loss, you still have to clean up things.”

Princeton will need to make better progress this week to keep things from going wrong against Columbia.

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