October 9, 2002: Sports
Sports Web Exclusives! The Varsity Typewriter column
Photo: David Splithoff 04 throws to Chisom Opara 03 in the Tigers season-opening loss. (Beverly Schaefer)
For the first half of Princetons season opener at Lehigh on September 21, it was the Tigers who played like a nationally ranked team, racking up a 247 lead with 300 yards of offense and a defense that silenced a Lehigh unit responsible for 108 points in its first two games.
Still, memories of last years opener, which saw the Tigers give up 24 unanswered third-quarter points to Lehigh, could not have been far from the minds along the Princeton sideline. But surely this year was different: Princeton has more firepower, and displayed it early for the crowd of 12,176, as quarterback David Splithoff 04 connected with wide receivers B. J. Szymanski 05 (7 receptions, 111 yards) and Chisom Opara 03 (4, 88) for touchdown strikes and halfback Branden Benson 05 ran in a score set up by a 66-yard Splithoff-to-Szymanski bomb.
Sadly, the only difference in outcome was that Lehigh waited until the fourth quarter to snatch a 3124 win from a stunned Tiger squad.
The closing 15 minutes demonstrated why Lehigh (30) was the third-ranked team in Division I-AA entering the game. The Mountain Hawks scored 24 unanswered points, including a 12-yard touchdown pass with 13 seconds left that gave them their only lead of the game.
With some great performances on both sides of the ball, Princeton coach Roger Hughes focused on the positive. Like I told the team right after, While this one stings a lot, if its a sign of things to come if we only lose by a touchdown to the No. 3 ranked team in the country in their house, I think that sets the tone for the rest of the season and we should be able to build on it, said Hughes, who has not won a season opener since he took over the program in 2000.
As impressive as the Tigers were in the first half, signs of impending doom appeared in the scoreless third quarter, as a few players started cramping up in the heat and humidity, including fullback Joel Mancl 05, who was out for most of the second half.
The loss of Mancl, who also lined up as a second tight end in the first half, was magnified because of injuries to tight ends Randy Bly 04, who went down two days before the opener, and this years slated starter Mike Chiusano 03, whose season ended when he broke his clavicle in a preseason practice. Without Mancl, the Tigers couldnt use the two tight-end sets Hughes employed successfully in the first half. But Hughes would not use the heat, injuries, or first-game jitters as excuses. They hurt our game plan and what we wanted to do, said Hughes of the injuries. But we had other things we went to and we just didnt execute them.
The fateful fourth quarter opened with a Lehigh touchdown on a 1-yard run that Zak Keasey 04 and company appeared to stop short of the goal line. Keasey, who also recorded a sack and a tipped pass, got a little revenge by blocking the ensuing extra-point kick. That was it for Princetons fourth quarter highlights, though, as a fumble, an interception, and two penalties for 20 yards set up scoring drives and completely shifted the momentum to Lehigh.
Splithoffs lone interception was costly. Sitting at his own 17 and still leading 2416 with less than 10 minutes to play, Splithoff tried to connect with Opara, but Lehigh safety Scott Salvatera stepped in front of the pass and ran 26 yards into the end zone. The Tigers drove to Lehighs 48-yard line on their next chance, but a fumble by Jon Veach 05 gave Lehigh the ball. After a 10-yard holding penalty on a Lehigh punt pinned the Tigers at their own eight-yard line, Princeton went three and out. Joe Nardello 05s 34-yard punt put Lehigh within striking distance, and the Mountain Hawks completed their late-game surge on Chris Schwenks touchdown pass to Justin Barrasso.
Nobody gave up out there, said Keasey. I think the guys were feeling them gaining momentum a bit, but the defense definitely wasnt shying away from getting on the field and we thought we could stop them. We just needed to make more big plays.
With nine games still ahead of them, the Tigers will get their chance.
Two-time All-America fencer Lindsay Campbell 02 was named one of two Division I winners of the 200102 ECAC-Robbins Scholar Athlete award last month. The award honors the academic and athletic achievements of student-athletes representing ECAC schools. Campbell placed sixth at the NCAA championships in 2000 and 2002, earning All-America honors both seasons. During her senior year, she captured the NCAA regional championship in the epee competition. Away from the gym, Campbell won Princetons sportsmanship award and a ReachOut 56 Fellowship, a $25,000 grant to support a yearlong public service project after graduation. She also received the Guggenheim Fellowship in 2001. Mens basketballs tour of Spain in late August produced a 61 record, but more important it marked the return of Andre Logan 04, who missed much of last season because of a knee injury, and Spencer Gloger 04, who had not played for the Tigers since the 199900 season after transferring to UCLA and then back to Princeton. Gloger started strong, scoring 23 points in the second game of the tour, which the Tigers won 113102 against Rayet Guadalajara. Princeton has not scored more than 100 points in a regular season game since the 197071 season against Yale.
All eight Ivy League football teams will appear on the YES Network this fall beginning October 12 with the Cornell Harvard game. Princetons season finale against Dartmouth on November 23 will be aired from Princeton Stadium. The network is available in New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, and Pennsylvania, as well as nationally via DirecTV.