Monday, September 19, 2016

Opening With A Win

The captains came out first. The team bounced in the tunnel, straining to get out on the field and finally kick of the 2016 football season.

The head coach? Well, he walked out after his captains but before the rest of his team. He didn't bounce or bound or anything like that, though he did stop to high-five a few of the band members, who stood in formation just outside the tunnel to welcome the players from the locker room.

Or maybe he just was excusing himself for having to get through their line. That's how Bob Surace is.

And with that, another season of Princeton football was ready to begin.

Princeton opened its season with a 35-31 win over Lafayette Saturday night on Powers Field at Princeton Stadium. Before TigerBlog says anything else about the game, he will say that the stadium continues to look great for night games.

It's always good to win the opener, especially when you're playing a team that is playing its third game. The big question, though, is what does the opener tell you about the rest of the year. TB will get back to that.

When TigerBlog first started covering Princeton football, the season-opener meant an Ivy League game, either Dartmouth or Cornell. In an effort to keep Princeton and Penn from having to go to Hanover and Ithaca in November, the teams alternated year-by-year, opening at either Dartmouth or Cornell and then ending the season at home against the other.

Actually, from 1954 through 1975, the first game of every Princeton football season was against Rutgers. The Dartmouth/Cornell thing lasted from then until 1990, when Princeton simply started opening the year against Cornell and finishing it against Dartmouth.

It was in 1991 that Princeton finally played at Dartmouth to end the season. The weather that day? Cloudy, some rain, temperature in the 50s.

By 2000, the idea of opening the season with an Ivy League game vanished. Since then, the first game has almost always been against either Lafayette or Lehigh.

It's probably the best way to do it. You don't want to be 0-1 in the league three hours into the season and then have to climb out the whole way.

For TigerBlog, the 2016 season is his 12th as the public address announcer for Princeton football. This time, the PA booth has an addition - a guy named Jordan, whose job it is to play music.

In the past, it's almost always been just TB, without a spotter. He'd look at the play, figure out who carried it, who made the tackle and announce it - and hope he got the numbers right. With Jordan there to do the music, he was also able to help TB with identifying numbers.

Of course, there's a lot of down time, which leads to plenty of time to talk.

Among other topics of conversation, Jordan asked TB if Triumph is a good place to eat, and TB replied in the affirmative, suggesting it is his favorite place in Princeton for lunch. Oh, and Jordan will be going with his wife to Australia soon.

What else? The best subject had to do with Lafayette wide receiver Rocco Palumbo. The question was this: If Jordan was going to write a movie with a main character named Rocco Palumbo, would he be a good guy or a bad guy and what would his profession be? Jordan said "good guy, probably detective." TB agreed, but said maybe one of those financial geniuses who figures out the bad guy's evil plot.

So yeah, that's what goes on in the PA booth.

As for the game and where Princeton is after Week 1?

There were a lot of positives. First and foremost, there was the win. Princeton has now won back-to-back openers, the first time it has done so since 2005 and 2006. Between then and last year? Princeton was 0-8 in openers.

And Princeton had to come from behind to do so. Lafayette had three leads in the game (14-7 21-14, 24-21), and Princeton erased all of them. When you're in Week 1 and the other team is in Week 3, that's not always easy to do, especially on a warm night.

Among Princeton's standouts were Joe Rhattigan, who had a career-high 137 yards rushing while scoring three touchdowns. Rhattigan was incredibly consistent, with a long run of 23 yards. He also paired well with Charlie Volker, the Ivy League sprint champion, who carried eight times for 38 yards (Volker will break a long one at some point this year).

Princeton rushed for 182 yards and five touchdowns, with three from Rhattigan and two from John Lovett. If you're looking for a player who's just fun to watch, it's Lovett, the first-team All-Ivy League selection a year ago who does a little of everything.

His line against Lafayette? How about: nine carries, 26 yards, two touchdowns rushing; four receptions for 23 yards; 1 for 3 passing. Whatever Princeton needs, Lovett can do.

Chad Kanoff made some excellent throws. Isiah Barnes caught five passes for 102 yards. And Princeton had great balance, with those 182 rushing yards joined by 178 passing yards.

Defensively, Rohan Hylton put up 11 tackles on the night he was on the cover of the game program, second-best on the team behind Luke Catarius. There were eight players who had at least five tackles, though, as Princeton showed great depth on defense.

Added up, it came to 35-31, and a record of 1-0. And then a really good fireworks show.

The Ivy League went 5-3 in its first week of non-league games. Are there any big takeaways? Not really. There's no way to tell what will come next.

Princeton is at Lehigh Saturday (12:30 kickoff). Lehigh topped Penn 49-28 Saturday night. TigerBlog would say that comparative scores in the first two weeks won't mean much either.

For now, it's about figuring out what's what, where improvement is needed, what is looking good.

The next nine weeks will sort themselves out. The goals? Win the Ivy opener and play meaningful games as deep into November as possible.

Week 1? It won't matter much at that point.

But, hey, it went pretty well for the Tigers.

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