2006 was the last time Princeton won its first two games of the season. It was also the last year the team had gotten off to a start like this one. Defending Powers Field in their first home game of the season, the Tigers (2-0) rocked the visiting Lehigh Mountain Hawks (2-2), rolling to a 52-26 victory. With the victory, they break a four-game losing streak against Lehigh, going back to 2010.
Princeton, however, was not totally dominant from the first whistle. They did manage to strike first, and in quick fashion — they moved down 75 yards in just under three minutes, and punctuated the drive with an eight-yard touchdown from junior running back Joe Rhattigan. Lehigh responded as they got their first touchdown on the Tigers in just under two minutes, spurred on by a 64-yard bomb from quarterback Nick Shafnisky to wide receiver Sasha Kelsey. The Tigers finished the first quarter up by three, thanks to senior kicker Nolan Bieck’s field goal from 38 yards. The field goal, moreover, puts Bieck at 3-3 on the season.
After forcing another stop, the Tigers seemed to be closing in on another score, making their way through the Lehigh defense with the end of the first closing in. However, choosing to go for it on fourth-and-three instead of a field goal, they failed to get the first down.
It was after this, it seemed, that the tide turned in Lehigh’s favor. The Hawks tied up the game with a field goal on the opening drive of the second quarter. Princeton responded not with a score, but with a three-and-out. This point was the critical juncture in the game. The energy that had permeated throughout the stadium in the beginning of the game had dissipated. The Tigers had to come back strong on their next play.
After Lehigh took their first lead of the game with another field goal (putting the score at 13-10), Princeton got the spark it needed. Sophomore quarterback John Lovett, having gotten his first action in NCAA football in the previous game, made two key plays for the Tigers on their first successful drive of the quarter — the first, an 11 yard rush, which gave Princeton a first down and the second, a gorgeous 33-yard completion to senior wide receiver Isaiah Barnes. Princeton finished the drive with another touchdown, again from Rhattigan, putting them up 17-13.
As the noise level from the Tiger faithful began to rise once more, Lovett prepared for his third impact play of the quarter. As the Tigers forced another three-and-out and took back the ball, Lovett made a play on the receiving side, reeling in a 33-yard pass from junior quarterback Chad Kanoff. Kanoff struck the Hawks once more to end the half, hitting senior wide receiver Seth DeValve for the 26-yard touchdown pass. With Lehigh unable to make headway at the end of the quarter, the Tigers went into the half up 24-13 at the end of the half.
Clearly, a strong offensive showing breathed life into Princeton at the end of the first half. In the beginning of the second, their success came on the backs of highlight-reel worthy defensive plays. The first Lehigh drive featured a forced fumble by junior defensive back Dorian Williams, which senior defensive back John Hill returned for 48 yards. The following drive for Lehigh, junior linebacker RJ Paige made arguably the most thrilling play of the game, picking off Lehigh’s Shafinsky and taking it 36 yards all the way to the endzone. It was the first interception for the Princeton defense this year.
The Princeton defense wouldn’t have to wait long to rattle Shafinsky again — the Lehigh quarterback was picked off once more, this time by senior defensive back Khamal Brown. The remaining drives in the quarter for each team were unsuccessful for each team. Thus, the Tigers walked into the final quarter ready for the kill, up 31-13.
While a cheery mood finally returned to the over 15,000 fans in Princeton Stadium, they received a slightly nasty jolt at the start of the fourth quarter — the Hawks forced a fumble on Kanoff and took it in for the touchdown. While Princeton blocked the extra point, Lehigh had narrowed the gap down to 31-19.
The Tigers, however, responded with vigor. They hit Lehigh on the following drive with a touchdown, behind strong running from Rhattigan and senior running back DiAndre Atwater, and topped off with a pass to junior tight end Scott Carpenter. On Lehigh’s next drive, Williams would make himself known once more, forcing another fumble and returning the ball for 39 yards.
The rest was clean business for the Tigers. Rushing touchdowns from Atwater and junior running back AJ Glass capped the game for Princeton on offense. Though Lehigh earned a garbage-time touchdown of their own, the Tigers walked away victorious, 52-26. It was their best offensive output in almost exactly a year, as they had beaten Davidson 56-17 in their 2014 season opener.
Looking to next week, the team hopes to keep its strong offensive and defensive production going as they prepare for their first Ivy League game this season against Columbia (0-2). The Tigers look to keep their streak going against the Lions — Princeton has come out on top in the last four matchups against Columbia.