Town Topics — Princeton's Weekly Community Newspaper Since 1946.
Vol. LXI, No. 41
Wednesday, October 10, 2007
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BIG GUN: Princeton University sophomore running back Kenny Gunter races up the sideline as he picks up some of his 206 yards on seven kickoff returns last Saturday in Princeton’s 48-27 loss to Hampton. Gunter’s performance established a Princeton single-game record for kickoff return yardage, breaking the old mark of 185 set by Derek Wassink against Lehigh in 1986.

PU Football Squanders Lead Over Hampton as Turnovers Doom Tigers to 48-27 Loss

Bill Alden

The Hampton University football team rolled into town last Saturday for its first-ever meeting with Princeton, ranked No. 21 nationally and joined by its legendary band known as “The Force.”

But it was the Tigers who forced their will on Hampton in the first 30 minutes of the contest, utilizing some razzle-dazzle plays to build a 27-14 halftime lead.

After a rousing halftime performance by the Hampton band which drew several standing ovations, the Pirates started hitting the high notes on the field.

The Pirates narrowed the margin to 27-21 on an 80-yard interception return by Charles Robinson for a touchdown. Hampton then stopped Princeton on a fourth and one at the two and marched 96 yards for a score to tie the score at 27-27.

Hampton never looked back from there, adding 21 more unanswered points to pull away for a 48-27 win before an entertained throng of 15,329 on hand at Powers Field in Princeton Stadium.

While Princeton head coach Roger Hughes enjoyed the festive feeling surrounding the game, the bottom line result was painful.

“I thought it was an unbelievable college football atmosphere,” said a subdued Hughes in a raspy voice as he reflected on a day which saw Princeton fall to 2-2 on the season.

“It’s a disappointing loss. We had them on the ropes, I felt. We got a fourth and inches and I thought if we could get one more score there, it would take a lot out of them emotionally. They kind of clawed back.”

Going into the halftime intermission, Hughes thought his team had the upper hand emotionally and physically. “If you had told me that we were going to score 27 points against those guys in the first half, I’d have said did they not bring their team because they are a good defensive team,” said Hughes, who was using quarterback Bill Foran and Greg Mroz interchangeably and, at times, simultaneously.

“Our kids were excited about it. When you have the luxury of two quarterbacks who can play there are a lot of things you can do in the offense and you saw some of that today. I thought we had them physically gassed a little bit.”

After falling behind 14-7 in the first quarter, Princeton reeled off 20 unanswered points in the second quarter to apparently seize control of the contest. Fumble recoveries by Pat Gallagher, a former Hun School star, and Collin McCarthy, set up two Connor Louden field goals as Princeton narrowed the margin to 14-13.

The Tigers went into the lead as they marched 54 yards for a score as Foran ran seven yards for a touchdown to help Princeton go ahead 20-14.

After a heavy Tiger rush forced the Hampton punter to run out of bounds, the Tigers took over at the Pirate 29 and promptly drove in for a score. Once again, Foran rushed in for the touchdown, scoring on an eight-yard jaunt as the Tigers built their 27-14 halftime advantage.

While Hampton head coach Joe Taylor acknowledged that the Tigers had his club off balance during the second quarter onslaught, he was confident his club could rally.

“We shot ourselves in the foot a lot in the first half and gave the ball, of course Princeton had something to do with it,” said Taylor, who now has 195 victories in his coaching career, the third most among active FCS head coaches.

“We mainly just told them at half to play it hard and let the fundamentals work. I didn’t go in there jumping down anyone’s throat. I thought we just needed to clean up a few things. I thought we could run the football. Defensively we looked at it a little more, going to man versus zone because they were doing a lot of different things. You had to stay focused.”

Taylor pointed to his team’s goal line stand in the third quarter as a pivotal moment in the topsy turvy contest.

“That was a big play,” said Taylor, whose team improved to 4-1 with the win. “We always tell the guys empower your team with plays, not jumping up and down. When you make a play, it creates a sense of spirit for your teammates. Certainly that was an awesome play for us.”

Hughes, for his part, thought the Tigers ran the right play in that situation. “It’s an option play; we’ve run it 100 times for touchdowns,” said Hughes.

“Everything was set to execute but Bill couldn’t get out on the pitch guy; he had to make a bad pitch. They got a little momentum. They got a big play and then we panicked a bit defensively; we had a couple of missed alignments on that drive.”

That momentum saw the Pirates end the second half with five turnovers, including a 65-yard interception return for a touchdown by Sam Pope.

The Princeton head coach was infuriated by the turnovers. “I’ve told my wife to put away all sharp objects and string for a couple of days,” said Hughes, managing a slight grin at his gallows humor.

“It was very frustrating. You can’t turn the ball over and win against good teams. You don’t give your defense a chance to bend and make them work for it. Boomerangs do that; less than 10 percent of the teams who have an interception returned for a touchdown win games. We did that and we fall into that 90 percent category. In the two games we have lost, we have given the game away and that has to stop.”

Another disappointing aspect of the Tigers’ performance was its sloppiness in the red zone. Coming into Saturday, the Tigers had scored nine touchdowns and two field goals and had taken a knee to run off the clock in its 12 trips to the red zone this season.

“I don’t know how many penalties we had in the red zone, we need to get that straightened out,” asserted Hughes. “Our red zone production had been outstanding until this game. If we score in the red zone, we’re not having this conversation about what happened.”

With Princeton heading up to Brown this Saturday to begin an Ivy League stretch drive of six straight conference games, Hughes likes the spirit he is seeing from his team.

“We certainly feel like the character of this team is fully intact,” said Hughes, who certainly got a spirited effort from sophomore running back Kenny Gunter, who returned seven kickoffs for 206 yards to set a Tiger single-game record, breaking the old mark of 185 set by Derek Wassink against Lehigh in 1986.

“Clearly to play as hard as they did and continue to fight was good to see. That’s what you’re going to see from the Princeton football program; that’s what we stand for.”

If the Tigers can keep fighting, they still could stand tall as they get into the heart of their Ivy League campaign.

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