Sports

Football’s fast start quelled by painful second half

Bruno committed 15 penalties, allowing Princeton to rattle off 39 consecutive points in the blowout

By
Senior Staff Writer
Monday, October 21, 2013

John Spooney ’14 scored a 71-yard touchdown at Saturday’s game.

Things were looking good for the football team early in the second quarter Saturday against Princeton. The offense and special teams had each contributed touchdowns, while the defense held the Tigers scoreless in the first period. But — just as it did against Harvard three weeks ago — momentum swung away from the Bears and snowballed into a second demoralizing conference loss. It was a game of special teams, penalties and a detrimental injury.

 

What’s strong

This season has featured impressive feats on both sides of football for the Bears, but big plays on special teams were the key that allowed Bruno to amass its early lead this week. The first points of the day, from an Alexander Norocea ’14 field goal, were a product of the punting game as a Bruno punt bounced off a Princeton player and Courtland Clavette ’15 readily fell on the loose ball deep in Tiger territory.

The night’s highlight came on the opening play of the second quarter when defensive back Jacob Supron ’15 blocked a punt. The ball ricocheted toward the home sideline where Michael Walsh ’16 scooped it up and ran into the end zone to open Bruno’s largest lead of the night.

The consistent player for special teams has been Norocea, who is perfect on field goal and extra point attempts this season and earned Ivy League Special Teams Player of the Week last week. Norocea may be the most valuable weapon on the Brown roster and will have the chance to

prove his worth in close games this season.

Impactful plays from special teams early in the game were negated by Bruno’s lack of offensive production in the second half, but if the Bears can continue to win the punting and kicking battles, they will have the edge in close conference games.

 

What’s wrong

No surprise here: the biggest Bruno detriment was the flurry of yellow flags. The 15 penalties committed by the Bears accounted for much of the collapse in momentum from the strong first 20 minutes to the ugly final 40 minutes.

Head Coach Phil Estes hit the nail on the head in his opening remarks after the loss.

“Fifteen penalties to their three — that makes a big deal,” he said. “We shot ourselves in the foot too many times.”

Any team that racks up 136 yards in penalties will have a tough time scoring points, and the infractions were particularly crucial at a turning point in the second quarter. The Brown offense was marching inside the Princeton 25 yard-line, threatening to add to its 17-0 lead. But the Bears picked up a false start and holding penalties on consecutive plays, followed by a delay of game two plays later. The penalties pushed the offense all the way out of field goal range and bailed out a Princeton defense that was on its heels. It was the following Tiger drive that gave way to Princeton’s first score, from which the Bears never recovered.

 

What’s new

A highflying Bruno offense — which averaged 439.5 yards and 35 points per game prior to Saturday — struggled mightily against the Tigers, managing just 319 yards and 17 points. The numbers are more drastic without a 71-yard touchdown run by running back John Spooney ’14 halfway through the first quarter. After Spooney’s run, the Bears had four three-and-outs and punted in every possession except one — when they lost the ball on a fumble. Facing 12 third downs in the game, the Bears converted only two.

A primary reason behind the sputtering offense was the injury to Spooney, who came out of the game in the first half with concussion-like symptoms. Princeton had little trouble bottling up back-up running backs Andrew Coke ’16 and Jordan Reisner ’14, so Donnelly was forced to rely heavily on the passing game, making the offense one-dimensional. It’s unclear how much Spooney will miss, but without him, the offense will face serious trouble trying to score points in a stingy Ivy League.

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