December 4, 2002: Sports

Football title hopes dashed
A .500 season within reach

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Football title hopes dashed
A .500 season within reach

By Sophia Hollander ’02

Photo: Branden Benson ’05 en route to his first career touchdown against Penn. (Beverly Schaefer)

Jay McCareins ’05 stood alone in the center of the field and watched the football spiral into his hands. It was the first quarter, and Princeton trailed Penn by two points after the Quakers had sacked quarterback Matt Verbit ’02 in the endzone for a safety.

But here was a chance to snatch back some momentum. The errant pass from Penn quarterback Mike Mitchell slammed squarely into McCareins’s body — and then bounced away.

The play was not unlike Princeton’s season. The 2002 Tigers (5—4 overall, 3—3 Ivy League) specialized in fourth quarter rallies, but when it counted most they could not come back. A team with a legitimate shot at a championship in September was left striving for a winning season.

Penn (8—1, 6—0) capitalized on the second chance McCareins gave them as Mitchell connected on a 30-yard pass, putting Penn on the one-yard line, and setting up a touchdown run. Penn eventually led 23—0 at halftime en route to a 44—13 thrashing, which all but eliminated the Tigers from Ivy contention. (Penn crushed Harvard 44—9 on November 16 to clinch the Ivy Championship.)

The demoralized Tigers stumbled into Yale (6—3, 4—2) the following week and lost 7—3 as the defense delivered and the offense sputtered. Throughout the downturn, quarterback David Splithoff ’04 stood along the Princeton sidelines and fidgeted. Against Penn, Splithoff, who was sidelined three straight games after dislocating his shoulder against Harvard in October, watched his replacement throw a pass into the arms of a cutting Quaker, Fred Plaza, who dashed 30-yards for a score. He saw Chisom Opara ’03 drop three straight passes and several other Tigers juggle balls like inept circus performers.

He watched Verbit fumble the ball on the Tigers’ two yard line with 3:13 left in the game and Penn’s resulting touchdown. He watched, because there was nothing else he could do.

“We were a little bit lucky that Splithoff wasn’t able to play,” Penn head coach Al Bagnoli said. “It put a young quarterback [Verbit] in a difficult situation.”

Before the injury, Splithoff was ranked first in the league in passing efficiency, with a 146.3 rating. The Tigers could also have used Splithoff’s penchant for big scoring plays against Yale. The Elis held Princeton to only three plays that gained more than 20 yards.

But despite the disappointing ending, Princeton still produced its most successful season under head coach Roger Hughes as the Tigers assured themselves of at least a .500 record heading into their final home game against Dartmouth November 23.

Also of note this season, Cameron Atkinson ’03 became the sixth Princetonian to rush for more than 2,000 yards in a career, passing Dick Kazmaier ’52 and Cosmo Iacavazzi ’65 on the way to fifth-place on the all-time list. Opara also entered the record books as Princeton’s third all-time leader in career receptions.

In terms of the future, Splithoff returns for one more season, while sophomores such as McCareins, Verbit, and wide receiver B. J. Szymanski showed flashes of strong play and demonstrated that Hughes and his staff have brought quality football players to Princeton during the past three years. Nevertheless, it’s wait ’til next year time once again at Old Nassau.

Sophia Hollander ’02 writes regularly for The New York Times sports section.


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Photo: Emily Kroshus ’04 (109) (David Zinman)

It was tournament time again for the women’s soccer team. Coach Julie Shackford and her 13—2—1 Tigers lost to Penn State in Maryland in the first round of the NCAA Division I tournament on November 15. Princeton fell 2—0 to the Nittany Lions. This was the fourth straight year that the team was invited to the annual, 64-team tourney. After opening with 12 straight wins, the Tigers finished the season one win shy of the team record for victories. The team won 14 games in 2001 and 1980, its first year as a varsity sport.

The field hockey team defeated defending national champion Michigan in the opening round of the Division I NCAA tournament. But Princeton lost to Penn State 3—2 in the next round. The Tigers made their third straight NCAA tournament appearance and seventh all-time. Princeton earned the Ivy League championship for the eighth consecutive season and advanced to the 16-team tournament with the league’s automatic bid. Members of the Class of 2003 finished their careers with a 27—1 mark in Ivy League play.

The men’s and women’s cross-country teams made strong showings at the 2002 Heptagonal Championships in New York City November 1. Emily Kroshus ’04 paced the women’s team, which finished fourth, with a time of 17:38.6, good for sixth place overall. Columbia’s women’s team won the Heps title. Tristan Colangelo ’04 crossed the finish line on the five-mile course in 24:55.1, placing fourth and helping the men’s team to a third place finish. Jon Bell ’03 finished in ninth place for the Tigers, and Austin Smith ’05 placed 10th. Dartmouth won the men’s Heps championship for the third straight year.

The men’s squash team’s freshman sensation and new No. 1 Yasser el-Halaby marched through the Ivy League preseason tournament November 10 without a loss in his three matches. Princeton defeated Cornell (9—0), Columbia (9—0), and Yale (5—4) to take the tourney title. Princeton cycling’s Tyler Wren ’03 won his second straight Division II title at October’s national Collegiate Mountain Bike cross-country championships. Wren completed the 11.5-mile course at the Angel Fire Ski Resort in New Mexico in just over 2 hours and 22 minutes. The win gave him four national titles in the last two years. He is Princeton’s first national cycling champion since the 1960s. Wren, an economics major, will join the pro ranks next year, riding for the New Jersey based Bolla-Colavita squad.

At the 2002 NYC Marathon on November 3, Michael Danahy, a graduate student in the chemistry department, finished 47th overall and 38th among men. The 23-year-old runner was the top finisher from New Jersey and completed his third marathon in 2:29:53. Danahy wants to qualify for the U.S. Olympic trials in the marathon. He says he needs to break 2:22 to get there and hopes to qualify at the Boston Marathon in April.

By A.D.


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