HAMPTON, Va. – The last of six catches by Matt Costello ’15, following a 15-yard Hampton punt, put Princeton just nine yards away from a go-ahead touchdown.
The Tigers, who scored one touchdown in six previous red-zone opportunities, first put the ball in the hands of Chuck Dibilio ’15, who gained the last of three of his 147 yards straight into the line, leaving the Tigers too far away to run it three more times.
“Now, we’re in a passing situation,” said Coach Bob Surace ’90. “Hampton’s safeties are so good and play so close to the line, it’s very hard to run the ball in from there.”
It got harder when Matt Allen ’12 was called for holding, putting the Tigers in third-and-goal from the 16. Ultimately Hampton wrapped up its 28-23 win on fourth and long, when Tommy Wornham ’12’s pass for Dibilio was broken up the in the end zone by Delbert Tyler, dropping the Tigers to 1-3.
Coming oh-so-close to what would have been a remarkable win on the road against a team thought to be out of Princeton’s class only will begin to pay dividends if next week at Brown, the Tigers score more than one touchdown and don’t take two holding calls – including a previous drive-killing one by Kevin Mill ’13 – that nullify field position inside the 10.
The Tigers missed tackles, too, especially in the first half. Yet the most critical, by Matt Landry ’13 at the line of scrimmage on Jeremiah Schwartz’s 26-yard touchdown run that boosted Hampton to a 21-10 lead with 4:13 to go in the first half, probably was more about Hampton’s athleticism than Princeton’s sloppiness.
The Tiger defense did an amazing job thereafter, twice stuffing Hampton inside its own 10 leading to third-quarter safeties 2:03 apart. The first came on bad snap out of the end zone, the second on a Hampton holding penalty, forced by relentless defensive lineman Mike Catapano ’12 in the end zone.
Having crept back to 21-20, the Tigers seemed to have Hampton’s next drive all but stopped when, on third-and-10 at the Princeton 42, Steve Cody ’12 got his hand on David Legree’s pass, only to tip it into the hands of receiver Javaris Brown for a first down at the Princeton 27.
“That would have been great,” Surace said of the turnover opportunity. “It wasn’t good luck. But there were still other plays in the drive where we didn’t stop them.”
In fact, five plays followed, the final one when Dyrri McCain scored on a one-yard swing pass from Legree. The extra point left the Tigers a touchdown and two-point conversion away.
Yet with the help of a roughing-the-passer penalty, back they came on an Isaac Serwanga ’12 third-down catch and a successful Wornham run on third-and-two. A pass to Matt Costello ’15 put the ball on the nine. That time, the Tigers tried to run it in from the seven on third down, and Dibilio gained only two, setting up a 22-yard Patrick Jacob ’12 field goal.
The clock was under five minutes, but Surace decided to take the three points to keep his team alive.
With the help of a Hampton penalty for holding, Princeton kept its hopes alive. Harrison Daniels ’12 and Caraun Reid ’13 crashed down on Legree on third down, Jordan Stovall kicked an errant punt, and with 1:48 remaining Princeton only had 29 yards to go, which again turned out to be a few too many.
Afterward, Surace noted that Hampton is “not an average defense.” And Princeton’s is not either. The turnovers that were so absent last year are starting to flow now. Chance Cross ’12 had a diving interception, and a strip and recovery; Cody fell on another forced fumble.
While Surace echoed earlier remarks about “no moral victories,” he added that playing Hampton might have toughened the Tigers, who now face a string of six Ivy League opponents.
“We played better than we did [beating Columbia] last week,” Surace said. “So I think we got a lot out of this.
“Of course, I’ll know Sunday what the [injury] count is. I don’t think it’s bad, but if it is, I’ll wish we had played Wagner.”