Football: Six turnovers doom Tigers in 34-9 defeat
“Obviously, you can’t turn it over six times and not get any turnovers by your defense and your special teams,” head coach Bob Surace ’90 said. “When you play a football game against a team that’s relatively similar to how you are, that’s the difference in the game.”
After the Bison pinned Princeton’s offense on its own four-yard line late in the first quarter with a good punt from Ryan Gutowski, defensive end Josh Eden tore through the left side of the offensive line, tackling freshman running back Chuck Dibilio in the Tigers’ own end zone for a safety. When Princeton got back on offense, senior quarterback Tommy Wornham missed the snap on the first play of the drive, losing the ball to the Bison defense at the Tigers’ nine-yard line. That series of mishaps was a harbinger of the Tigers’ fortunes for the rest of the game.
The start proved promising for Princeton, at least until the closing minutes of the first quarter. The defense, led by junior linebackers Andrew Starks and Tim Kingsbury — who each finished with nine tackles — yielded little to Bucknell dual-threat quarterback Brandon Wesley and his offense, forcing a three-and-out on the Bison’s first drive.
On the Tigers’ first series, Wornham led his team down the field, but the offense stalled in the red zone, evoking memories of goal-line struggles last week against Lehigh. A penalty and two losses of yardage gave the Tigers 27 yards to go on third down, but Wornham completed a 15-yard pass to junior tailback Akil Sharp to bring the Tigers back into field-goal range. Senior kicker Patrick Jacob tied his career long with a 43-yard kick through the uprights, putting the Tigers up 3-0.
But Princeton did not score again until the fourth quarter, as drives were cut short by misplays. After Wornham’s bad play on the snap, Wesley took the ball into the end zone himself to cap a 9-yard drive and give the Bison the lead for good. Bucknell went for two points, a fruitful decision as Wesley completed a short pass to tailback Tyler Smith, who slipped in past the right pylon for a 10-3 lead.
Like many times before, Wornham drove Princeton down the field on the next possession. The Tigers got as far as the visitors’ 15-yard line, but another mental mistake proved costly as a holding penalty in the red zone, a familiar sight for Princeton, pushed the Tigers back. Unable to convert third-and-17, Jacob lined up to kick a 39-yard field goal but missed, leaving Bucknell up by a touchdown.
“We moved the ball, at times, relatively well,” Surace said. “We just had too many penalties at key times.”
Princeton started another drive at its own 20-yard line with less than two minutes in the half. After gaining seven yards on a successful rush, Wornham was picked off for the first time, as Eden made a difficult interception at the line and returned it for a touchdown.
“Eden made a heck of a pick. I’ve seen that ball knocked down by many players often,” Surace said. ”He’s a really good football player. Those plays were big changers early in the game.”
After a successful extra point, Wornham and company set up again, this time with good field possession following a 21-yard kickoff return from senior defensive back Ivan Charbonneau and a personal foul penalty at the end. The Tigers reached Bucknell’s 27-yard line before Wornham threw another interception that ended the half with Bucknell holding a two-touchdown lead.
“My wife’s a psychologist — I felt like I was a psychologist talking to them [during halftime],” Surace said. “[I was telling them] that you’re not going to score two touchdowns in one play. And then, for whatever reason, whether it was the interceptions, or the fumble — guys are trying to do too much.”
The Tigers’ offense showed some life during its first two drives of the second half. A 34-yard drive from another short field ended with Wornham’s third interception, another toss-up into a gaggle of defenders.
“I was thinking too much,” Wornham said. “I let the ball go. I didn’t throw good balls on them.”
Another long drive ended when Bucknell linebacker Sean Rafferty poked the ball loose from sophomore tailback Brian Mills. After picking up his own forced fumble, Rafferty returned the ball 46 yards into Princeton territory, setting up a 35-yard field goal from Bison kicker Drew Orth.
Early in the fourth quarter, Bucknell completed its first long scoring drive when Wesley scored from the four-yard line, extending the lead to 27-3. On the next drive, Princeton’s offense finally delivered. After a long 18-yard run from Mills and several successful throws to freshman receiver Matt Costello and junior receiver Shane Wilkinson, Wornham completed a short shovel pass to Mills, who broke a tackle and found the goal line. Wornham’s rush attempt for a two-point conversion failed, and the Tigers trailed 27-9.
The defense was again unable to hold back Wesley and the Bucknell offense, whose running game had geared up. After a failed onside kick, Bucknell marched down the field, capping its victory with Wesley’s third touchdown run.
“I thought we did a good job stopping the run until midway through the fourth quarter,” senior linebacker Steve Cody said. “Then, at the end, they just started running the ball way too much on us. We’ve got to fix that.”
Princeton will look to rebound next week at home against Columbia in its league opener and its last night game of the season.