Tigers Fade in Second Half, Fall 42-7 to Unbeaten Harvard
BY JAY GFEENBERG
BOSTON – Even with one arm tied behind its back, Princeton still jabbed the ball loose four times, recovering twice. Despite three squandered first-half opportunities, the Tigers were making this a fair fight.
Without their All-Ivy candidate defensive ends, dynamic middle linebacker and top running back, at least Princeton finally had Seth DeValve, a game plan changer for sure. Then, he was gone again, after one first-down catch called back by a penalty, with an injury unrelated to the one that had left him out since week two.
Nevertheless, limited as the Tigers were without top running back DiAndre Atwater and James Frusciante, their second most accomplished returning receiver, Isaiah Barnes was not to be outfought by Scott Peters on a 32-yard jump ball that keyed a pretty, 11-play, 70-yard second-quarter drive that John Lovett finished off with an across-the-body throwback to Nick Peabody on a read-option.
At 7-7 the depleted Tigers were giving mighty Harvard all it could handle. And when on the next series, Sam Huffman stepped up to tackle Justice Shelton-Moseley and force a three-and-out, the Tigers were getting the ball back with the opportunity to, at the very worst, run the clock down toward a stalemate at the half.
But that was only until a missed assignment in the backfield left Chad Kanoff with no one to hand the ball to on second down, just before a false start by Scott Carpenter was the coup de grace of a poor possession that allowed Princeton to use up just 1:50.
The Tigers downed Tyler Roth’s punt at the six, but Harvard had 3:23 to operate, which, after suffering one more of its own first half blunders – Paul Stanton had to fall on his own fumble at the Harvard 15 after Khamal Brown knocked the ball loose — the Crimson began to function up to reputation.
With the help of a 38-yard completion over Anthony Gaffney from quarterback Scott Hosch to Justice Shelton-Mosley, the Crimson moved quickly into Princeton territory. On second and goal at the five, Ben Braunecker was so wide open to catch a five-yard touchdown pass that he was able to haul in the ball even after slipping to his backside.
Harvard led only 14-7 at that point. The Crimson won 42-7, so it would be absurd to nitpick about any number of ways the Tigers could have, probably should have, enjoyed a buoying halftime lead. After the break, Harvard (6-0) marched for four touchdowns on four possessions faster than even all that tea went into the harbor 242 years ago, which was seemingly the last time the Crimson football team lost a game.
But watching James Perry’s vaunted attack being limited to nits, picks, and five- yard outs, it was clear that, against these guys, a Tiger offense that has put up 30 points on a bad day had limited options and zero margin for error.
“We knew going in they’re really good and we aren’t at full speed,” said Coach Bob Surace. “We had to find every way possible to get the ball to some guys who hadn’t travelled and hardly played and they did a good job.
“But as our game plan shrunk, we could feel that we just weren’t getting any rhythm. Your game plan becomes so constricted.”
Almost as limited are the Tigers’ coverages without the pass rush they thought they would be getting this year. Hosch threw for 437 yards Saturday so, sure, there were some receivers left too wide open. But without pressure, inevitably there are going to be some big plays.
“Our plan was to do some different things blitz-wise,” said Surace. “Nobody has really gotten any pressure on them because their offensive line is really good.”
The Harvard defensive line isn’t really any worse, either. “One of the better ones I have seen in my six years,” said Surace. “They are just so deep, keep rotating guys.”
As usual, the Tigers did that, too with their offensive line members, who committed five penalties, one of them to nullify that first-down catch by DeValve at the Harvard 26 on the game’s first possession.
The O-line did not allow a sack, a good day’s work at least in that regard, but it was going to take a running game to give the Tigers any semblance of a balanced offense. Joe Rhattigan returned Saturday, but not in any form as yet to be the workhorse Princeton needed to give its attack some desperately needed balance.
Where, oh where, have all those weapons gone? The Tigers averaged 2.2 yards per rush, all the information you need to explain their five-for-17 third-down conversion rate.
“[Harvard] really is so good up front that you have to be so good with your run blocking, fits and everything else,” said Surace. “We came out with a lot of energy, in the first 27-28 minutes we played very good football but after that we weren’t detailed enough and Harvard is a deep team in so many positions.
“They got that swarm of points on and it made for a long second half.”
Two missed tackles on Paul Stanton’s 26-yard run to start the Crimson’s first drive of the second half enabled an 11-play 74 yard drive, climaxed by Stanton sliding too easily off the right side of the line for the final two yards.
A short Tyler Roth punt was returned by Andrew Fischer for 29 yards to the Tiger 30 and, within four plays, Andrew Fischer was wide open behind Brown in the corner of the end zone. The next two Harvard drives were almost perfectly balanced between run and pass, just like Surace and Perry once drew it up, too, before so many of their very best players were lost. The Tigers wouldn’t be 4-2 (1-2 Ivy) without some depth, but this week they just didn’t match up.
After giving up a big special teams play – a touchdown on the opening kickoff – in the upset loss at Brown a week ago, Princeton appeared to make a huge one Saturday, when Gaffney picked up an extra point blocked by Matt Arends in the second quarter and ran it back for a touchdown and an apparent lead. But the officials called the Tigers for lining up directly over center, one more first half could-have-been that wasn’t.
“I’m not going to get into all the ‘ifs’ until I look at the film,” said Surace but he already knew the deal. His team had little margin for errors and in the end made too many of them.