At first look, the 2011 football Tigers bore too much resemblance to the 2010 version.
Four red-zone opportunities did not become touchdowns because of penalties, drops, and missed throws during a 34-22 loss to Lehigh (2-1) Saturday night on Powers Field at Princeton Stadium.
Two electrifying touchdowns – one a 92-yard kickoff return by Ivan Charbonneau ’12, the other a 26-yard catch and run by Chuck Dibilio ’15 following a successful onside kick – drew Princeton back within five points in the fourth quarter. But in the end the Tigers, who did not force a single turnover, were worn down on 61-yard clinching touchdown drive culminating in Keith Sherman’s two-yard run.
“I told them before the game and after the game there are no moral victories.” said coach Bob Surace ’90. “We had chances, a lot of energy in that first half and we didn’t get the jump on them.”
Moving the ball crisply until the final 20 yards, Princeton had chances. Its first drive, keyed by a Tommy Wornham ’12 shovel pass to Akil Sharp ’13 on a third-and-eight at the Lehigh 40 yard line, ended at the Mountain Hawks’ seven when Wornham threw high and wide for Matt Costello ’15 in the end zone. The Tigers had to settle for a 25-yard field goal by Patrick Jacob ’12.
A second drive, looking similarly promising, died at the Lehigh 37 when Wornham was chased down on a third-down rollout. Later in the half the quarterback threw another shovel pass to Sharp, this one behind-the-back, that went for 44 yards before a run by the quarterback on third-and-five gave the Tigers a first down at the five. But two holding penalties killed that drive too, and the Tigers settled for the second of three Jacob field goals.
A third-period drive highlighted by some hard running by Dibilio died at the three when the freshman running back was stuffed on first down and a rushed Wornham (23-for-41 for 232 yards and one touchdown) overthrew tight end Mark Hayes ’13 in the end zone before failing to spot a wide open Jason Ray ’14, in the end zone on third down.
“Tommy made some phenomenal plays and some I’m sure he wants back,” said Surace. “But I also don’t think we protected him as well as should have.”
What looked like a second Wornham touchdown pass failed to happen when Hayes dropped a Wornham pass with a clear path to the end zone in the final minute. With all of their successful trickery, the Tigers might have had a chance to try another onside kick.
Still, that was a longer shot than some of the shots that Lehigh’s excellent quarterback, Chris Lum (28-for-38, 384 yards, four touchdowns) took at his wideout Ryan Spadola. Spadola was too much for Princeton’s most experienced defensive back, corner Blake Clemons ‘12, who also didn’t get much help from the two inexperienced safeties on 49- and 46-yard touchdown receptions off slant patterns. On a third Spadola touchdown, from 12 yards out, he went square over the middle and turned the corner, eluding Clemons’s dive.
Matt Landry ’13 had a sack preceding that play, but the biggest defensive play made all night was a blocked field goal by Caraun Reid ’13.
“As long as we continue to get the effort, we can fix execution,” said Surace. “That’s as good a team as we will play all year. Spadola is a phenomenal player.”
Dibilio may turn out to be phenomenal as well: He ran 14 times for 87 yards, finishing 23 of them by cutting back and running away from two Lehigh defenders for his touchdown just as another drive seemed to be stalling because of penalties.
His run, and Charbonneau’s return, exhibiting uncommon speed for the Ivy League, provided hope that the Tigers can hit big plays and finish some drives. “Not to make excuses but Connor Kelly [’14] was a big part of our red-zone plans, and we didn’t have him,” said Surace.
Kelly, a starting wideout, suffered a leg injury, not believed to be season ending, in the second period. Meanwhile Jacob, after booting the extra point following Charbonneau’s return, turned around and suddenly grabbed at his quad and was helped off the field.
“He has had a problem [and] didn’t kick off all week,” said Surace.
Thus it was Brendan Sofen ’15 who perfectly executed the onside kick recovered by Jaiye Falusi ’12, and even though Falusi was penalized for excessive celebration, Princeton finished off that drive, thanks to Dibilio. Jacob returned to add the extra point.
A number of freshmen got playing time on both sides of the ball. But in the end, despite all the mistakes, the lack of a single defensive turnover was the killer simply because that was most feasible way to stop Spadola.
“He’s definitely a talented guy, one of the best we’ll see all year,” said Clemons. “But there are things we have to fix. There were a lot of defensive errors.”