Sprint Football: With new talent, hosts scare Mansfield
After the final whistle sounded on the sprint football team’s 2012 opener against Mansfield on Friday, the Tigers had a reason to be optimistic. Sure, they had come out on the wrong side of a 23-16 score, extending a 13-year losing streak against varsity teams. But the hosts had led briefly in the first quarter, which they hadn’t done in a game since 2009, and finished with more total yards than their opponent, which they hadn’t accomplished since 2004. All in all, they looked like a different team than in years past.
“The team itself has a different focus for sure, there’s a different energy,” senior defensive lineman Zack Sobel said. “It’s the same guys who’ve been working their tails off for the last three years ... and with additions of talent that decided to buy into what we were doing, we were almost able to take it to a team that did quite well in the league last year.”
Some of that added talent was on display in the Tigers’ opening drive, which consisted of three rushes by senior running back Sean Conrad — the third of which went 56 yards for a touchdown, answering a Mansfield field goal to give the hosts a 7-3 lead. Conrad finished the game with 127 rushing yards, more than any Princeton back gained in any game last season.
Conrad was a running back for the varsity football team as a freshman, but he left the squad after one season and spent two years off of the gridiron. This fall, however, he caught the football bug again and joined the sprint team — as did receiver Ross Cadman and running back Pete Perdue, two other members of former football coach Roger Hughes’ 2013 recruiting class.
“Everybody here — they want to win — and I think they just needed a bit of a boost and a different mentality in the locker room,” said Cadman, who finished with a team-high 58 receiving yards, including a touchdown catch as time expired. “We’re not just here to give good effort; we’re here to win football games. That’s what we’re trying to bring to the team.”
Mansfield responded to Princeton’s touchdown with one of its own, succeeding on a two-point conversion to make the score 11-7. But the Tigers marched down the field again on their next possession with an 11-play series, which was capped by freshman kicker Darek Johnson’s 27-yard field goal. Senior Jaison Zachariah, a fourth-year starter, and freshman Joe Bush combined to complete 15 of 24 passes for 141 yards in the game.
Princeton’s new skill position players were impressive, but it was a vastly improved defense that kept the hosts within striking distance. Led by a mix of players old and new — Cadman made a team-high seven tackles, while Sobel, a second-team all-league selection in 2011, added five — the Tigers held Mansfield to 145 rushing yards, nearly 200 fewer than in last year’s meeting.
“We had a new coach come in, Coach [Chuck] Ferrera, who really did a good job of making sure our line knew its job, ensuring we did what we needed to do in order to allow our linebackers to make the tackles,” Sobel said. “I think everyone saw today, based on how we held Mansfield, that’s been very effective.”
Princeton’s defense effectively shut the visitors down after the first quarter, as both second-half scores were the result of offensive miscues. To open a drive midway through the third period, a Bush pass was intercepted in his own territory by Anthony Mazzone, who returned it to the 2-yard line; the Mountaineers punched it in from there.
And with fewer than two minutes in the game, Princeton trailed by seven points and faced fourth-and-8 from Mansfield’s 32-yard line, after having driven nearly 40 yards to reach that point. But Zachariah was forced out of the pocket to his weak side, and his desperate pass was picked off by Jake Myers, who took it all the way back for six points.
“Penalties and turnovers were what killed us today,” Cadman said. “We hurt ourselves in too many ways — this is a game we should’ve won.”
Princeton still faces the burden of its long losing streak — as well as more tangible disadvantages, such as its 30-man roster, which was dwarfed in numbers by Mansfield’s manpower. But after suffering years on the wrong end of lopsided scores, these Tigers could be competitive.
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