October 4, 2015

Producing Explosive Display on Both Sides of the Ball, Tiger Football Routs Lehigh, Girds for Ivy Opener


HIGH INTENSITY: Princeton University receiver Seth DeValve leaps up for a pass last Saturday against Lehigh. Senior star and co-captain DeValve made four receptions for 55 yards and a touchdown to help Princeton rout Lehigh 52-26. The Tigers, now 2-0, start Ivy League play when they host Columbia (0-2) on October 2. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

Despite falling behind Lehigh 13-10 in the second quarter last Saturday evening to trail for the first time in 2015, the Princeton University football team was unfazed.

“They were moving the ball a little bit, they were hitting us on the edges but it was no concern,” said Princeton junior safety Dorian Williams.

“The coaches have told us, they are going to hit a play here, a play there, and just stay to our game plan and keep doing what we are coached and everything is going to work out.”

With sophomore back-up quarterback and jack-of-all trades John Lovett making some big plays, the Tigers answered with 14 points in a span of 73 seconds.

In Princeton’s first possession after Lehigh went up, Lovett made an 11-yard run and hit Isaiah Barnes down the sideline with a pass for a 33-yard gain. Joe Rhattigan finished the drive with a 12-yard rumble for a touchdown.

On the Tigers’ next possession, Lovett snared a 33-yard reception to get Princeton to the Lehigh 31-yard line. Two plays later, starting QB Chad Kanoff found Seth DeValve with a 26-yard scoring strike as the Tigers took a 24-13 lead into halftime.

“I am doing everything I can do for the team to win,” said Lovett, who ended up rushing for 59 yards, passing for 33 yards, and getting 71 yards receiving on the evening.

“There are points in practice where we battle through adversity and that just showed on the field. We stayed within ourselves and got the job done.”

In the second half, the Tigers finished the job, pulling away to a 52-26 victory before 15,023 at Princeton Stadium, producing a spectacular show before the crowd was entertained by a post-game fireworks display.

Princeton head coach Bob Surace, whose team snapped a four-game losing streak to Lehigh and is 2-0 for the first time since 2006, was thrilled to see his team post a win over the Mountain Hawks.

“They had beaten us different ways, they kicked our butt, they held us off when we made comebacks and they have come back on us,” said Surace.

“We mentioned that at halftime. We said we have this lead and it doesn’t mean anything. We just got to stay focused, it is 2015, it is not 2012 or 1989 when I played. It is the 2015 team and let’s see how we respond.”

Princeton showed focus from the start on Saturday, taking the opening kickoff and marching 75 yards in eight plays, culminating with an 8-yard touchdown run by junior Rhattigan.

“You want to hit the ground running and going fast and I think that is what we did,” said Rhattigan, who rushed for 62 yards on eight carries.

“We came out and we were just very physical. Our coach stresses effort every play. Every play you are in there, give your maximum effort and good things will fall into place. I think this game is very indicative of that mentality.”

On defense, the mentality for Princeton was to swarm to the ball. “It is 11 people to the ball, pursue the ball,” said Williams, who made 12 tackles and forced two fumbles, returning one 39 yards on a spectacular play to set up a fourth quarter touchdown by DiAndre Atwater that gave Princeton a 45-19 lead. “It is all we have been doing, it is what we have been taught.”

Applying those lessons resulted in four caused turnovers as the Tigers added interceptions by R.J. Paige and Khamal Brown to go with the fumble recoveries by Williams and John Hill. Paige’s third quarter interception helped break the game open as he raced 36 yards down the sideline for a touchdown to give Princeton a 31-13 advantage.

“Last week got the win (a 40-7 victory over Lafayette) but coach stressed the turnover battle,” added Williams. “We didn’t win that, we lost 1-0 so this week, turnovers were a big stress for us. We got it done today.”

Surace beamed when asked about the defense’s opportunistic play.

“You have got to capitalize, we have had balls go through their hands and we dropped them,” said Surace. “For that to happen, for us to come up with them is huge.”

Over the first two weeks of the season, Princeton has come up huge offensively as the team has totaled 92 points, the most points in the first two games for the program since the 1950 squad scored 100 on the way to the national championship.

In the win over Lehigh, the Tigers displayed exquisite balance, rushing for 244 yards and passing for 235.

Surace, for his part, is not surprised by the team’s output so far. “We saw it at practice, we have a very good defense and they challenged us every day at camp to the point where there was frustration,” said Surace, who got 93 yards rushing from Atwater with Kanoff completing 13-of-24 passes for 195 yards and two touchdowns.

“And then I saw us turn the corner towards the end of camp. I thought we really started executing very well.”

As the Tigers start their Ivy League campaign by hosting Columbia (0-2) on October 2, Princeton needs to keep executing well in order to stay on the winning track.

“This is a different Columbia team, they have one of the best defensive lines in the league and we struggled to block them last year,” said Surace of the Lions who have lost 23 straight games and started 2015 by falling 44-24 to Fordham and 24-16 to Georgetown.

“They have a Florida transfer at quarterback, they have their running back back, who is really good, and obviously Al (legendary former Penn coach Al Bagnoli) is there. They played Fordham right there, they played Georgetown tough. They haven’t found a way yet but this is a different team. This is going to be a heck of a challenge and our guys have to understand that.”