Despite glimmers of rhythm reminiscent of last season, the Tigers showed rust from a summer apart in their season opener on Saturday when they headed to California to take on the University of San Diego. The Tigers dropped their eighth consecutive season opener 39-29.
The day started with three first-half punts and an interception, giving San Diego a 21-15 lead going into halftime. A four-yard touchdown pass to senior wideout Matt Costello just over a minute into the second half seemed to give the Tigers a chance at leaving their West Coast trip with a win, but a subsequent string of offensive possessions ending in six punts and an interception erased such hopes. While senior quarterback and co-captain Quinn Epperly completed a 22-yard touchdown pass to senior wideout Seth DeValve with 2:25 left in the game, it was too little and too late to make up for the offensive roller coaster that had been the rest of the game for the Tigers.
Epperly completed 25 of 53 attempts for 237 yards but also had two interceptions. He threw for two touchdowns on the day and ran for one on his own. Junior running back DiAndre Atwater led the Tigers in rushing yards with 82 yards on 10 attempts, and sophomore running back Joe Rhattigan, the Tigers’ second-leading rusher with 16 yards, added Princeton’s second rushing touchdown of the day.
DeValve led the Tigers' receiving corps with nine receptions for 123 yards, including a game-high 26-yard connection with Epperly in the first quarter and one of Princeton’s two touchdowns. Senior wideout Connor Kelley added 42 yards on four catches.
While the offense struggled through ups and downs, big plays hurt an experienced Tiger backfield. Despite losing an experienced defensive line at the end of last season, the run defense allowed only 2.2 yards per rush in 37 minutes on the field. However, an 82-yard reception on San Diego’s second possession of the game exemplified the type of plays that were crucial to the Toreros' offensive success against Princeton’s secondary. The Princeton defensive backfield allowed four passes for 20 yards or greater.
Senior linebacker and co-captain Mike Zeuli led the Tigers with nine tackles on the day, including 4.5 tackles for loss and two sacks for 13 yards. Sophomore linebacker Rohan Hylton added 2.5 tackles for loss, while senior linebacker Luke Merrell and junior defensive back Matt Arends had five tackles apiece.
The Tigers return to Powers Field for their home opener against Davidson on Saturday at 6:00 pm, looking for their first win of the season.