September 22, 2021

Blending High Emotions with Sharp Execution, PU Football Tops Lehigh 32-0 in Season Opener

STEADY EADDY: Princeton University football player Collin Eaddy carries the ball in a 2019 game. Last Saturday, senior running back and co-captain Eaddy rushed for 70 yards and a touchdown on 16 carries as Princeton defeated Lehigh 32-0 in the season opener as it played its first game since 2019 after the 2020 season was canceled due to COVID-19 concerns. The Tigers host Stetson (2-0) in their home opener on September 25. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

By Bill Alden

Having not played a game since beating Penn 28-7 on November 23, 2019 in Philadelphia, emotions were running high for the Princeton University football team as it finally returned to action by playing at Lehigh last Saturday in its season opener.

While Princeton head coach Bob Surace appreciated that enthusiasm, he cautioned his player to not get carried away.

“You could tell that as we went from camp mode to game week mode, their energy was just terrific,” said Surace.

“We have a leadership group, I talked to them and I talked to the team and said we want to be passionate and emotional. But if we are so emotional that we are not doing our responsibility, that defeats the purpose.”

The Tigers achieved their purpose, rolling to a 32-0 win over Lehigh before a crowd of 7,050 at Goodman Stadium.

“I thought we balanced the passion, energy, and emotion with doing our jobs, doing what we are supposed to do,” said Surace.

Princeton took care of business from the outset against the Mountain Hawks, going on a 10-play, 75-yard scoring march that ended with a 13-yard touchdown run by senior star and co-captain Collin Eaddy. After the defense stopped Lehigh on a three-and-out, Princeton put together another long drive of 63 yards on eight plays that culminated on a 34-yard touchdown pass from Cole Smith to Andrei Iosivas to go up 13-0 and never looked back on the way to the rout.

“I thought we executed really well in practice,” said Surace. “Until you do it against an opponent, you just don’t know. So to see us get those good plays going was a really good feeling. It is ‘hey we are back and we are executing the way we did in practice.’”

In reflecting on the sharp execution on both sides of the ball, Surace praised his players with showing a dogged resolve over the last 20 months.

“Our players since March 10, 2020 have not skipped a beat from a workout and learning perspective,” said Surace.

“A lot of it is due to each position has a fourth or fifth year senior who just took command of his position room. During that time, instead of feeling sorry for themselves, they knew eventually we would get chance to play. They did the best they could under those circumstances to get better. That is a credit to them.”

Senior quarterback and co-captain Cole Smith made the most of his chance to play Saturday as he got his first career start and proceeded to compete 30-of-41 passes for 412 yards and three touchdowns.

“When I told the guys on Thursday the direction we were going, I  said to Cole this is as good a camp all around as any quarterback we have had,” said Surace.

“The other guys have played so well that he needed to. They pushed each other in a friendly, competitive way. It was his entire body of work. We knew he was a good athlete. He has done a good job in some backup duties in previous years, running the ball and he had six or seven throws in his career and he has done that in practice. It is his ability to command the offense, he doesn’t make mistakes.”

That command was on display Saturday as Smith looked sharp despite having to deal with some different defensive schemes employed by the Mountain Hawks.

“Lehigh is not only a very challenging defense but they scrapped what they did the first two weeks and gave us a completely different look,” said Surace.

“A quarterback could easily have blown a few circuits. In Cole’s case, he just made the right protections, calls and reads. He handled that part of it, that adjustment like a four-year starting veteran. Our defense is pretty good and he threw the ball in tight windows all camp. Chad [Kanoff] and Quinn [Epperly] especially have had record-breaking completion percentages for us in the past. He has had higher completion percentages in this camp than anybody we have had.”

Smith also has some good receivers as targets in a trio of  seniors Jacob Birmelin, Andrei Iosivas, and Dylan Classi. Birmelin had eight catches for 139 yards and a touchdown against Lehigh while Iosivas had four receptions for 117 yards and two TDs and Classi made four catches for 40 yards.

“We took some shots, we hit some deep balls,” said Surace. “Birm had a couple of underneath throws where he made a number of guys miss and got yards after catch, Classi did that a couple of times. It was really good to see them finish and play as well as they did.”

The steady Eaddy led the ground attack as usual, gaining 70 yards with one touchdown on 16 carries. He also had two receptions for 18 yards.

“Collin has been doing it for a while, you see how well he ran,” said Surace.

“I thought his ability to catch the ball and make plays as a receiver and his pass protection stood out equally as much as his running. He did the little things that maybe if you are not a coach or a running back who is watching the game, you might not notice. He was incredible in those other areas that you hope a veteran running back is. They gave us some new looks and he was awesome.”

The Tiger defense was awesome, holding Lehigh to a net 0 yards rushing and 141 yards passing.

“They have some really strong backs that we have known about for a while and we recruited,” said Surace.

“Those guys are really good. I thought we clogged up the holes and we tackle very well. We got them into some adverse third downs where they had to throw the ball. I thought our pass rush when they were going to throw intermediate to deep, we were in their face every time.”

There were a number of standouts for the Tigers on that side of the ball.

“Sam Wright had a heckuva game; Cole Aubrey might be a surprise but he has practiced like that since day one of camp so it is not a surprise to us,” said Surace.

“JT [Jeremiah Tyler] had a pass breakup on the first play, he was his usual self. I thought for our corners [Matthew Winston, Delan Stallworth], that was the best we have tackled. We attacked screens and things like that. We were really physical at DB.”

While Princeton’s all-around performance against Lehigh was impressive, Surace know his team needs to be even sharper when it hosts Stetson (2-0) on September 25 in its home opener.

“Stetson played amazing through the first two games, they are winning by 45 points,” said Surace of the Hatters, who defeated Warner 54-14 and Ave Maria 49-16 to start their 2021 campaign.

“They are coming off a bye so they are going to have two weeks to prepare for us. The biggest challenge for us from week one to week two is that is the week we should make a jump on some things that might not show up in the box score but technically we weren’t as proficient as you would like to be. If we can show those improvements, that will be very pleasing to as coaches in terms of what we are doing.”

In any event, the Tigers will be pleased to finally be playing at Princeton Stadium for their first home game since hosting Yale on November 16, 2019.

“We didn’t go into the stadium to practice until midway through camp,” said Surace.

“Classi came over to me and said I just love this stadium, I am so glad you brought us in here today. The guys will be excited to be at home, to be in our stadium, run out of our tunnel, and be together on our home field.”