(Photo by Bill Allen/NJSportAction)
THREE'S A CHARM: Princeton University senior star Jay McCareins sprints into the end zone on a 99-yard touchdown return of an interception with 1:14 remaining in the fourth quarter to give Princeton the margin of victory in its 20-17 win over San Diego last Saturday. McCareins made three interceptions in the contest to tie the program's single-game record. He also returned four punts for 69 yards and three kickoffs for 47 yards as well as recovering a last-minute onside kick.nd of caption
Sparked by McCareins' Sensational Effort, Tiger Football Tops San Diego to Start 2-0
By Bill Alden
The University of San Diego football team came across the country to play Princeton last Saturday and dominated the Tigers statistically.
The Toreros had the ball for 38:50 and 83 offensive plays, piling up 415 yards of total offense. The Tigers, for their part, had the ball for 21:10 and 49 plays, accumulating just 226 yards.
But Princeton senior defensive back Jay McCareins touched the ball 11 times for less than two minutes and that proved to make all the difference as the Tigers edged San Diego 20-17 before 6,216 at Princeton Stadium to improve to 2-0.
Substituting for injured return man Greg Fields, McCareins returned four punts for 69 yards and three kickoffs for 47 yards.
On defense, though, All-Ivy League cornerback McCareins had his greatest impact, making three interceptions and returning them for 113 yards.
McCareins' last pick of the day may well go down as one of the pivotal plays of the year as he snared a Josh Johnson pass and raced 99 yards down the sideline to put Princeton ahead 20-10 with 1:14 remaining in the fourth quarter.
The 6'0, 195-pound McCareins had one more trick left in his bag as he cleanly fielded an onside kick to clinch the game after San Diego had scored a TD with 46 seconds left.
In reflecting on his last interception which tied a Princeton single-game record held by 13 others, McCareins said that he read the pass before it was delivered.
"I was ready for the corner route," said McCareins, who returned an interception 75 yards for a touchdown in Princeton's season-opening win over Lafayette.
"They ran that same play twice in a row. It seemed like he threw that toward the end zone. I got the ball and I was just hoping to get a lead block."
McCareins smiled when asked if he was surprised that San Diego kept challenging him. "I was thinking they would try to throw away from me because I had a touchdown against them last year and I had another last week," said McCareins who sat on a Cybex exercycle because he was too sore to stand up.
"But their guys practice everyday and they think they are the best players on the field. I appreciate the fact that they go against me to see if I have a weakness. Hopefully I can overcome that as the game goes on."
While McCareins' chiseled physique and speed reflect his physical gifts, he attributes his play to gaining a better grasp of the Tiger defense.
"In spring ball I sat out and got to really understand how our defense works," recalled McCareins, who was later named the Ivy league Defensive Player of the Week and the National 1-AA Co-Defensive Player of the Week for his heroics.
"A big part of defense is being in place and knowing the other team's offense. I know where the linebackers are going; I know where the coverages are going. I'm making sure I'm efficient in my movements, I'm not just bouncing around."
Princeton head coach Roger Hughes appreciated McCareins' efficiency on the field against San Diego. "I don't know if superlatives can explain it," said Hughes of the Naperville, Ill. native who is leading the nation with an average of 2.0 interceptions a game.
"He did a multiple role. Greg Fields was out with a hamstring pull and Jay came in and there was no drop off in special teams play. Jay elevated his defensive back play a couple of times. He's just remarkable, fabulous, whatever you can put in front of it, maybe two or three words."
San Diego quarterback Johnson won't soon forget McCareins. "We haven't seen a cornerback like that," said Johnson, who threw for 310 yards and two touchdowns on the afternoon.
"I thought we had him beat a couple of times but he recovered. He played that last one perfectly. I thought he had gone with the post route but then he came up at the last minute to break on the ball."
Hughes was heartened by the way his team recovered collectively from some sloppy offensive play. "What I told the team afterward is that good teams find a way to win," said Hughes. "Our last two weeks we have found multiple ways to win. Obviously, this week our defense played outstanding. Offensively, we sputtered. We had some miscues that we didn't have the previous week."
The Tigers' spotty play on offense was evident at the quarterback position where Hughes rotated Jeff Terrell and Bill Foran. Neither QB distinguished himself as Terrell hit on 7-of-16 passes with two interceptions while Foran went 5-for-8 for just 62 yards.
Princeton built a 13-0 lead at the half but its inconsistency on offense and Johnson's passing turned the game into a nailbiter. The Toreros trailed by 13-10 and had the ball at the Princeton 13 when McCareins struck with his third interception.
While Hughes was disappointed with the offensive execution, he did like the feeling he got from his players on the sidelines. "The nice thing is that I can sense that the guys are expecting to make the play to win the game," maintained Hughes. "We're not just hoping that we are going to make it. The attitude and the culture of this team is that we are going to make the plays."
Princeton senior linebacker and co-captain Justin Stull attributes that resolve to a special chemistry that has developed with this year's team.
"We've been together so long, even the freshmen and sophomores," said Stull. "It's like a puzzle where all the pieces fit together. It's like we're brothers, I know that's a cliche but it really feels that way. The commitment is a lot stronger with this team than what I've seen in the past."
With Princeton opening its Ivy campaign by hosting 2-0 Columbia this Saturday, McCareins knows the Tigers have to rachet up their commitment one step further.
"The first week of the Ivy season is way different than the first two games," said McCareins. "In the Ivy League every game is a championship game. We're going to be fighting hard. One loss and it's hard to win the league. That's our goal."
If McCareins can keep up his brilliant play, the Tigers could find themselves in the title chase.