Dyrri McCain has special reason to remember Hampton University's first game against Princeton.
McCain, now a senior wide receiver whose 220 yards and 55 yards per game rank second on the team, was a little-used freshman on Oct. 6, 2007, on kickoff duty in New Jersey.
"He had nowhere to go, so I just made the tackle, and I was happy about it," McCain said. "That was actually my first stat.
"It was just exciting. It was loud, a lot of people, two different type of bands. It was just fun."
The Pirates beat the Tigers 48-27 — despite being outgained 484 yards to 353. On Saturday, the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference and Ivy League teams meet again in the delayed return game from that 2007 contest, which filled an unexpected hole in HU's schedule.
"It was good to play an Ivy League school," said third-year Pirates head coach Donovan Rose, an HU assistant in 2007. "We were excited about it, just to have that type of competitive spirit.
"They had a nice stadium. It was just a great experience to be there. ... Now you kind of bring it back down. They're an opponent that's on our schedule, and we're going to treat them just like anybody else."
The Tigers (1-2), led by second-year head coach Bob Surace, are coming off their first win, a 24-21 victory against Columbia. The Pirates (2-2) had a bye week to digest their heartbreaking 35-31 loss at Bethune-Cookman, when an apparent HU touchdown on the game's last play was overturned after a replay ruling that Isiah Thomas did not maintain possession of the ball.
"We looked at it, just like we do at all film," Rose said. "That last particular play … that's something I don't control. What it did for me is made me realize how much more we have to do all the little things, to make sure we don't put ourselves in position where we have to depend on a last-second call or someone else to decide our fate."
McCain said the Pirates, far from feeling demoralized, are even more motivated after the last-second loss.
"We can't control what call they made or what happened," McCain said. "We just all have the same common goal in mind now — to just dominate every opponent that we face."
Rose said his team spent its bye week focusing on fundamentals, such as tackling and technique, to prepare for a Princeton team that features a multi-faceted arsenal.
"They do a lot of different things to try to keep you honest," Rose said. "They do a lot of tricky-type things, reverses and half-back passes. .. They want to go fast-paced. They want to hit the perimeter and try to get outside and hope you're not disciplined. If you're honest and just play disciplined, everything's going to come to you."
Playing with discipline will require the Pirates to cut down on the 106 penalty yards they're averaging per game. Through four games, HU has committed 53 penalties for 424 yards — an average of 13.25 flags per game that ranks 120th out of 120 FCS teams.
Rose said the Pirates adjusted some positioning on the offensive line to address false starts and holding calls, and worked on hard counts to cut down on offsides penalties.
"If you look at some of the games, if the penalties were decreased by half, we wouldn't put ourselves in a tight situation," Rose said.
The Pirates, who lost 45-42 at Old Dominion on Sept. 17, have had enough of those.
"I don't think we were so upset about the call (at Bethune-Cookman) — I mean, obviously we were upset about it — but we were more so disappointed in how we let the game get to that point," HU senior cornerback Micah Pellerin said. "Now the focus has just been finishing and to keep on pushing throughout the course of the game, so we don't have to put ourselves in a position where we're relying on one play."