After an impressive 33-6 victory over Columbia last week, the football team built on that momentum during its final non-league matchup against Lafayette on Saturday. Princeton's 35-14 win marked its first victory over a team with a winning record since 2007 and the first time the Tigers have strung together back-to-back wins since 2009, when they won the final two games of the year.
The Tigers (2-2 overall, 1-0 Ivy League) got on the board first, thanks to a 10-yard rush by senior running back Akil Sharp late in the second quarter — his first of two touchdowns of the night — and proceeded to take a 29-0 lead by the end of the third quarter, thanks to runs by sophomore quarterback Quinn Epperly and junior receiver Roman Wilson and an interception taken back for a touchdown by junior safety Phillip Bhaya.
“[We] haven’t scored on defense for a while around here, so it’s nice to finally break through and hopefully keep this going,” Bhaya said in a post-game press conference.
The Princeton defense dominated Lafayette (3-2), keeping the Leopards off the scoreboard completely until the fourth quarter and forcing two interceptions and two fumbles. The hosts came back to score two touchdowns in the fourth quarter, but they could not come close to matching the enormous lead the Tigers had built.
“We knew it was going to be a battle, and we were going to have to be focused all game,” head coach Bob Surace ’90 said. “It was nice to make a couple plays early in that second half and get a little momentum and get a lead, and I thought we really were coming together.”
While the Tigers currently rank seventh in the Ivy League in total offense and last in the pass offense, they did not show it on Saturday. Sophomore quarterbacks Connor Michelsen and Quinn Epperly combined for 143 passing yards, 69 of which went to Wilson, who had five catches on the night. Wilson led the team in receiving yards for the fourth time this season and also had a 34-yard rushing touchdown. Sophomore receiver Connor Kelley and junior fullback Dan Freund added two catches apiece.
The reigning Ivy League Rookie of the Week, freshman cornerback Anthony Gaffney, who leads the Ivy League in kickoff returns, returned two kicks for a total of 56 yards, while Sharp led the Tigers' rushers with 16 carries for 60 yards and two touchdowns.
“Our goal on every drive is to score a touchdown,” Sharp said.
Epperly also added to the rushing attack with a 23-yard run on which he scampered into the end zone untouched, and sophomore running back Will Powers contributed 48 yards on seven rushes.
The Tigers also continued to play the shutdown defense they have showed so far this season. The Princeton defense leads the league in yards allowed and is second in points allowed, and its pass defense is currently the league's best second only to Penn, a vast improvement from its last-place finish last season.
“That front seven, they’re really playing good football and it’s really good to see,” Surace said.
Senior captains Andrew Starks and Mike Catapano led the defense with 11 and eight tackles, respectively. Starks also added an interception, his first of the season, and Catapano’s night included a forced fumble and two-and-a-half sacks. Senior lineman Brad Megay also came up with a sack on the night, one of five different Tigers to record tackles for loss.
“It definitely feels good,” Starks said. “You work hard every week, making corrections from the past week, and to see some of those corrections show up on game day the next week is just fantastic. That being said, the fourth quarter, we’ve got some room for improvement there.”
Although they allowed their first touchdown pass of the season in the fourth quarter, the Tigers also recorded their fifth interception after having only three picks in all of 2011.
With this win just four games into the season, the Tigers have matched their win total from the past two seasons combined. They will try to make it three straight when they return home to face Brown on Saturday.
Original URL: http://www.dailyprincetonian.com/2012/10/08/31402/