PRINCETON: Brown delivers in PU win

By Justin Feil, Assistant Sports Editor
Khamal Brown admits that he’s not too fond of the combination of rain and cold, but the Princeton University senior still found a way to have fun in those conditions last Friday.
Brown intercepted one pass and almost had another to help the Tigers defense dominate in a 10-5 win over Columbia in both teams’ Ivy League opener.
“You want to win them all,” Brown said. “It feels good. Obviously we didn’t play perfectly. We would have liked to have won by 50 points, but a win is a win at the end of the day. Hopefully we can keep the ball rolling. It’s always fun playing Ivy opponents. You see some of the same guys on the opposite sides of the ball. It’s fun.”
Princeton improved to 3-0 on the young season, and will host Colgate 1 p.m. Saturday at Princeton Stadium in their final non-conference game of the season.
“We continue to improve our execution at times,” said PU head coach Bob Surace, who has his team off to its best start since 2006. “Each week, you hope you get better in terms of responsibilities and alignments. The first game, you don’t have knowledge of your opponent. And even your guys, you want to put them in the best position. We have to keep getting better.
“Colgate, they dominated the majority of the Yale game and Yale beat Lehigh similarly to us. This is a typical Colgate team. They’re big and physical. They run the football. They can run it and pass it. They’re one of the strongest teams we’ll play.”
Princeton goes in feeling good about the grit it showed in its third win of the year. Conditions were tough on the offensive side, but the Tigers did enough in the first half to stake themselves to a 10-0 lead. Trevor Osborne took a shuffle pass from John Lovett and scooted around the right end for the game’s only touchdown midway through the first quarter. Nolan Bieck remained perfect on the season with an impressive 45-yard field goal with 2:45 left in the first quarter. Princeton wouldn’t score again, but the Tigers defense remained stingy all game.
“It was great,” Brown said. “Watching film (Sunday), we have guys flying to the ball and have guys doing what Coach is asking us to do. Conditions weren’t great, but they were the same for both teams. Luckily we were able to get some stops and get some three-and-outs and win the field positon battle.”
Columbia netted a field goal just before the half and scored on a safety that was close to being a tying touchdown. What helped Princeton’s defense the most was generating four turnovers, three of them on interceptions.
“The turnovers, winning 4-0 in the turnover battle on a day like this, it’s really worth it,” Surace said. “It makes a huge difference in terms of field position.
“I thought we had a lot of grit. We weren’t that good offensively, but at the end of the game, when we needed first downs and you really don’t want to punt, we got the first downs to run the clock out.”
Joe Rhattigan sealed the win with one final carry for a first down to end it. Rhattigan led Princeton with 85 yards on 25 carries, a bigger workload than usual after DiAndre Atwater was injured after four carries for 59 yards. Also injured were receiver Seth DeValve and lineman Britt Colcolough.
“It happens over the course of the game,” Surace said. “Our trainer Charlie Thompson has come over to us way too many times. We’re confident in the next guy. We have confidence in Joe Rhattigan and A.J. Glass and Trevor Osborne. We’d love to have Seth out there, but we have guys developing and working and we’re confident they’ll keep doing good things. Now it’s their time to do well.”
Brown enjoys every chance he has to play. Today is three years to the day when Brown suffered a scary injury in his brain. He ruptured his arteriovenous malformation and had to undergo emergency surgery. He sat out a year before returning last year to play cornerback. This year, he moved to safety.
“I love it,” Brown said. “Every day is a learning experience. Anywhere I can help the team is where I want to be. Safety is fun, not that corner wasn’t. It’s new and different. I’m still learning. I’ve only been playing there since spring ball. I have a lot of learning to do.”
Brown hasn’t played safety in five years, but he’s looked comfortable in his role.
“I played safety my junior year of high school,” Brown said. “I went back and forth. It was a lot easier in high school. We had like three coverages. It’s not totally new.”
Brown was in perfect position for a field position changing pick. Columbia quarterback Skylar Mornhinweg tried to throw back across his body and across the field, and Brown was there waiting for the ball.
“I was in the deep middle so I didn’t have a guy,” Brown explained. “The guys got good pressure so I could get it. We left some out there, but you have to catch the ones that are thrown to you.”
Brown’s overall experience in the defensive backfield has been a plus to the Tigers. He has helped to strengthen the defense by seamlessly making the move.
“Khamal started as a freshman at corner,” Surace said. “He was starting before he had his AVM. We played him at corner last year with John Hill and Anthony Gaffney. We thought, why don’t we put Khamal at safety? He gets better and better. We had trouble with some deep things. He was around the ball. He had one and almost had his hands on another. He’s playing at a high level.
“Communication is the biggest thing when you move to safety. We’ve had Phil Bhaya and Matt Arends, and (moving Brown) allowed us to move Matt to Sam (strong-side) backer. Khamal has to be the guy calling out the defenses, really the quarterback of the defense. He’s a really good leader that way.”
Brown is going to improve with more game experience at safety. He’s part of a defense that is hoping it will stay opportunistic. Andrew Frisby had an interception on a pass tipped by Cameron Dunn and Hill also recorded an interception.
“When you get one, they usually come in bunches,” Brown said. “That’s a characteristic. Having it constantly in your mind to punch the ball out helps create them. Interceptions are a lot less on you, but making sure you’re in the right spot and making a play when the ball comes to you are important.”
The Tigers are looking to continue to build momentum this Saturday against Colgate. Princeton may be down a few of their regular starters, but will be ready to push forward.
“We have a really good group,” Brown said. “There are guys that have played a lot of football. When someone does go down, it’s an opportunity for someone else to step up. It’s next man up mentality. Just get the job done, no matter who it is.”
For Brown, doing his job is helping to organize and lead a defense that can make things tough on opponents by getting the ball back to the Tigers’ potentially high-scoring offense. The wind, rain and cold factored against the offense last week, but Princeton’s defense came through and is striving to be even better.
“We played a decent game,” Brown said. “It wasn’t complete. No game is perfect. We still had corrections on Sunday. We still had calls that we didn’t execute. We’re fortunate it didn’t hurt us as bad as it could have. It’s all about perfecting our technique and making sure we’re in the right spots and hopefully the rest will take care of itself.” 