On Fourth Down, Raider Football Goes Long For A Win



“I think that when we are at home, luck is on our side for one reason or another,” senior quarterback Chris Brown said after the football team’s come-from-behind win over Princeton on Saturday. “We just always have this lucky spirit that helps us win, especially in the close games.” Call it what you’d like – luck, home-field advantage, divine intervention, whatever. The fact remains that the Raider football team has not lost at home since its 2002 season. The Raiders extended their streak on Saturday by beating Princeton, 29-26, in front of a raucous Homecoming crowd at Andy Kerr Stadium.Senior wide receiver DeWayne Long caught a 19-yard touchdown pass with 1:38 left in the game to give Colgate the win. The Raiders had trailed for the entire second half up to that point.Princeton would not respond to Long’s touchdown, as junior Andrew Moore’s interception in the game’s final minute sealed the win for the Raiders. Princeton jumped out to an early lead on its first offensive play of the game, when Tiger quarterback Matt Verbit found a wide-open Brian Brigham for a 34-yard score. After a field goal put the Tigers up 10-0, senior tailback Jamaal Branch got Colgate on the board with a two-yard touchdown that capped an 80-yard Raider drive. After the Raider defense forced a Princeton punt, Branch again came up big, making a play that swung the momentum towards the home team.With the Raiders pinned deep in their own territory on a third down with under a minute left in the first half, Branch shot through the Princeton defense for a 78-yard run to the Tiger 8-yard line. “We were just trying to get the first down so they wouldn’t get the ball back,” head coach Dick Biddle said of the play. “But that’s Jamaal for you.” Branch’s big run set up senior wide reciever Luke Graham’s touchdown on the next play to give Colgate its first lead of the game, 14-10.Branch would finish the day with 178 yards and two touchdowns on 30 carries. Even with opposing defenses keying on him, last year’s Walter Payton Award winner remains the bread and butter of the Raider offensive attack.The start of the second half was alarmingly similar to that of the first, as Princeton again scored on its first offensive play, this time on an 84-yard run by tailback Branden Benson that reclaimed the lead for the Tigers.Raider junior linebacker Jared Nepa blamed the run on “a breakdown in our defensive scheme.”Nepa, a hard-hitting junior from Carbondale, PA, seemed to be everywhere on defense for Colgate, electrifying the crowd with jarring hits at the line of scrimmage. Nepa finished the game with a team-high 14 tackles. The linebacker has become one of the team’s emotional leaders of late.”Jared is very enthusiastic,” Biddle said. “He plays hard and enjoys himself, and it’s starting to carry over to the younger players.”One of those younger players, sophomore Geoff Bean, had 11 tackles from his safety position and leads the team with 43 on the year.Ultimately, the game would be decided by big plays. And none was bigger than senior Mike Chrystie’s 49-yard reception in the fourth quarter. With less than six minutes left in the fourth quarter and the Raiders trailing, 26-14, Brown found Chrystie on a slant route and the seldom-used wide receiver did the rest, taking the ball to the Princeton one-yard line to set up Branch’s second touchdown of the game.Brown called Chystie’s reception “the biggest play against Princeton.””It gave us that offensive confidence that we had been lacking,” he said.With their confidence restored and a reenergized crowd behind them, the Raiders forced Princeton to go three-and-out on its next possession. Brown then marched the offense down the field to set up the winning score. Despite throwing three intereceptions on the day, Brown characteristically came through in a pressure situation to find Long in the back of the end zone for the winning touchdown.Brown and Long connected again on the ensuing two-point conversion attempt to set the final score. Long, who played despite a pulled hamstring, caught a game-winning pass in a similar situation last year against Georgetown. “It was a great feeling [to make the catch],” Long said. “But on the other hand, Georgetown was a league game and those are always more important.” “Those games are the ones that take you to the playoffs and get you a ring.” The Raiders are 1-0 in the Patriot League and, with Saturday’s win, have improved to 3-2 overall on the season. The team travels to Ithaca tomorrow to take on Cornell at 1 p.m. in its third consecutive game against an Ivy League opponent. The Raiders have beaten the Big Red in each of their last eight meetings. Biddle is quick to point out that three of the last four meetings between the two central New York schools have been decided in the final minute. With that in mind, the Raiders will try to pack up their “lucky spirit” and take it on the road with them in hopes of winning consecutive games for the first this season.