Big plays on special teams and strong defense proved too much to overcome for the Lions football team (1-2) as they fell to the Princeton Tigers, 33-6, in its first Ivy League contest of the season. The Tigers were the only team picked to finish behind Columbia in the preseason media poll, making the Lions' start to the conference season that much harder to stomach.
New head coach Pete Mangurian thought special teams would play a big role in today’s game, and it did from the opening kickoff. Princeton’s Anthony Gaffney put his team up 7-0 after taking the opening kickoff back 94 yards for the touchdown.
Gaffney almost made another big play at cornerback midway through the first quarter. On a third down play, Sean Brackett’s pass was tipped up by intended receiver Scooter Hollis, but Gaffney was unable control the ball as he hit the ground.
Neither offense could break through the opposing defense for the rest of the first quarter.
Princeton’s offense started off the second quarter with a nice drive into the red zone, but the Lions defense forced the Tigers offense off the field. On the field goal attempt, the snap was high and the holder Tom Moak decided to roll out and found tight end Des Smith for a 14-yard touchdown pass to put Princeton up 14-0.
Columbia’s offense responded with a field goal to bring Princeton’s lead down to 14-3. The Lions nine-play, 61-yard drive was capped by a 26-yard field goal by Luke Eddy. But with 3:38 left in the quarter, Princeton earned a field goal of their own, a 34-yarder by Nolan Bieck to put the Tigers up 17-3.
The Lions looked to be driving down for a score in the final minutes of the half, but on third down at midfield, Princeton’s Greg Sotereanos sacked Brackett for a loss of 10 yards and forced the Lions to punt with less than a minute to play.
Princeton, content with its two-touchdown lead, ran out the clock into halftime.
On Princeton’s first possession of the second half, the Lions front seven forced the Tigers off the field with another big play. Defensive end Josh Martin bull-rushed the left tackle and pulled quarterback Conner Michelson down for the sack with one arm.
Columbia’s offense received the punt and drove down into Princeton territory. Luke Eddy capped off the drive with a beautiful 41-yard field goal with 7:56 left in the third quarter to cut Princeton’s led to 17-6.
Princeton’s up-tempo offense drove down into Columbia’s 30 yard line, but Columbia strong safety Marquel Carter jumped an out route, intercepted Michelson’s pass and returned it for nine yards.
But the Lions gave the Tigers the ball right back when punter Paul Delaney fumbled the snap and was tackled at the Lions own 20-yard line on fourth down.
The Lions defense held strong inside its own 10 and held the Tigers to a 20-yard field goal, which extended Princeton’s lead to 20-6 with 2:34 left in the third quarter.
But it was during the final quarter that the Tigers broke the game wide open and the Columbia fans watching began to lose interest.
Two minutes into the fourth quarter, Princeton’s quick-snapping offense caught the Lions defense sleeping as Princeton wide receiver Roman Wilson ran unmarked down the field, caught quarterback Quinn Epperly’s pass, and ran for the 44-yard touchdown. The score put Princeton up 27-6.
On the ensuing possession, Brackett tried to scramble out of the pocket and find Jake Wanamaker, but Princeton’s Anthony Gaffney continued his strong game by undercutting the route and intercepting the pass and returning two yards to Columbia’s 35-yard line.
A few plays later, Columbia’s Will Patterson stripped the ball away from the running back and Mike Waller recovered the fumble.
Princeton padded its lead to 30-6 after Bieck hit a 29-yard field goal with 7:31 remaining in the game. Less than a minute later, Brackett’s third down pass was high to tight end Hamilton Garner, who tipped it up, and Gaffney made a diving catch to make the interception—his second of the day.
Princeton took advantage of the field position and Bieck hit his fourth field goal of the game to extend the team’s lead to 33-6.
With just over two minutes left in the game, the Tigers sacked Brackett on fourth down for another turnover on downs. Princeton went into victory formation and watched the clock wind down on its first victory of the year.