Princeton tops Lafayette for first win

Atkinson’s three touchdowns help Tigers hold off Leopards

By: Bob Nuse
As the Princeton University football team watched Lafayette cut what was once a 24-0 second-quarter lead to 24-19, there was every reason to wonder if there minds were drifting back to a week earlier.
In the Tigers’ season opener a week earlier, Lehigh had rallied from a 24-7 halftime deficit to beat Princeton, 31-24. As Lafayette crept back into Saturday night’s home opener at Princeton Stadium, Princeton could have had that feeling of déjà vu. Instead, the Tigers regrouped and came away with a 34-19 win.
"We talked about keeping our composure and our confidence," said Princeton coach Roger Hughes, whose team evened its record at 1-1 with the win. "We talked at halftime about what our theme had been all week, which is that we had to draw a line in the sand. That’s what we talked about in the middle of the third quarter, drawing a line in the sand and saying now is the time to make big plays."
And Princeton did just that on both offense and defense all night long. On the offensive side of the ball there was quarterback David Splithoff, who completed 15 of 22 passes for 213 yards and a touchdown. Of his 15 completions, eight were to senior Chisom Opara, who finished with 138 yards receiving. The Tigers also got a big game out of senior tailback Cameron Atkinson, who carried the ball 21 times for 121 yards and a career-high three touchdowns.
On defense, the Tigers intercepted Lafayette quarterback Marko Glavic four times, including a pair of picks by Brandon Mueller. The Tigers also sacked Glavic twice, while keeping him on the run most of the night.
"In the third quarter, Coach talked about how we needed to have our playmakers make plays," Splithoff said. "And we did that tonight on offense and defense. We had some big plays offensively, but we also had some big plays on defense with the interceptions."
In the first quarter it didn’t look like the Tigers would need to worry about making big plays. After forcing the Leopards to punt on their first drive, the Tigers took the ball and drove 80 yards in eight plays, highlighted by a 30-yard pass from Splithoff to Opara. The Tigers got on the scoreboard when Splithoff connected with Tyler Peace on a 12-yard touchdown pass.
After forcing Lafayette to punt on its second drive, the Tigers came right back and marched the ball 72 yards in 13 plays, capping off the drive with a 32-yard field goal by freshman Derek Javarone to make it 10-0.
Neither team scored again until late in the second quarter, when Atkinson capped off a 70-yard drive with an 11-yard touchdown run to make it 17-0. After a Mueller interception, the Tigers went 12 yards in three plays, with Atkinson scoring on a four-yard run to increase the lead to 24-0 with 2:53 left in the half.
Lafayette got on the board just before halftime on a Joe McCourt touchdown run to make it 24-6. The Leopards then added touchdowns on each of their first two possessions of the third quarter to cut that 24-point lead to 24-19 with 5:06 left in the third quarter. That’s when the Tigers drew their line in the sand.
"You could sense something on the sidelines in the middle of the third quarter," Hughes said. "There was no panic. The kids were confident that we would do it."
And the Tigers did do it. Javarone’s second field goal of the game made it 27-19. After a Zac Keasey interception on a pass tipped by Mueller, the Tigers went 59 yards in 10 plays, the last of which was a one-yard touchdown run by Atkinson that put them ahead, 34-19.
On each of the Leopards’ next two possessions the Tigers came up with interceptions. Showing the defense could make as many big plays as the offense.
The Tigers now prepare for the start of Ivy League play, which begins Saturday at Columbia in a 1:30 p.m. start.
"The first win is always the toughest," Splithoff said. "You have to win to know that you can win. Now we’ve been there and made it happen. We faced a similar situation to the one we were in last week and we came out of it with a win. Columbia is the first league game and we’ll be jacked up for it. We’ve only played two games, so we’re anxious to get back out there."