Tigers outlast Columbia in a wild Ivy opener

With three minutes remaining in the first half of its Sept. 29 football game against Columbia, Princeton seemed poised for a blowout, leading 21–3. But the Lions, as Princeton head coach Roger Hughes later would say, had energy and fight, and the Tigers were plagued by inconsistencies. Princeton would lose its lead before rallying for a 42–32 win in a game that was not decided until the final minutes.

“We certainly find ways to keep games close,” Hughes joked afterward.

The Tigers saw their early advantage — built on touchdowns by the scrambling feet of quarterback Bill Foran ’08 and the diving heroics of running backs R.C. Lagomarsino ’09 and Rob Toresco ’08 — quickly shrink before halftime.

With 2:14 remaining in the second quarter, Columbia wide receiver Austin Knowlin caught a long pass from quarterback Craig Hormann down the right sideline. Dan Kopolovich ’10 had his arms around Knowlin, but the receiver pulled free en route to a 69-yard touchdown. Three plays later, Andy Shalbrack intercepted a Foran pass and returned it for an uncontested touchdown, cutting the Princeton advantage to 21–17.

Columbia started the second half with another Hormann-to-Knowlin touchdown pass, giving the Lions their first lead since the game’s opening minutes.

Toward the end of a fruitless third quarter, Greg Mroz ’08 replaced Foran at quarterback. Mroz helped Princeton advance to Columbia’s 8-yard line, where he turned over the show to the capable hands of Lagomarsino. Diving into a mass of blue shirts, the junior tailback rolled right and slipped under the hands of would-be-tacklers for the go-ahead touchdown.

In Columbia’s ensuing possession, defensive end Tom Methvin ’09 forced a fumble on the first play, and Princeton’s offense took advantage of the turnover with a quick strike. Mroz found Jake Staser ’08 deep in the end zone for the only Tiger touchdown pass of the day.

“I don’t feel like we lost a beat when Greg came in,” Toresco said after the game. “He just came in and took control.”

But Columbia was not quite finished. The Lions responded with a touchdown pass and a two-point conversion, trimming Princeton’s lead to 35–32.

Mroz was taken out after an injury to his throwing hand (X-rays later showed no broken bones), and Foran returned to seal the win for Princeton. With 1:29 remaining, he faked a handoff to Kenny Gunter ’10 and dodged his way to the end zone for an eight-yard touchdown run.

Early in the game, Foran showed his ability to escape trouble, eluding the defense by running or completing passes while in the grasp of Columbia tacklers. Though Hughes complimented Foran on improved decision-making, there were still times when his desperation attempts ended in lost yards or turnovers for Princeton.

The pressure of a tight game did not seem to faze Foran, Mroz, or the rest of the Tigers, perhaps because of familiarity. Last year, when Princeton was 9–1, it never held a lead of more than 14 points and won four games by a field goal or less.

“[Close games are] all we’ve really known the last few years,” Toresco said. “It’s kind of second nature.”