The Proof Will Be After Four More Weeks
BY JAY GREENBERG
Bob Surace won’t say his Tigers should have beaten Harvard Saturday. Nevertheless, he tossed and turned into Sunday morning pondering the multitude of ways that they could have.
“I don’t feel like we screwed up,” said the coach after looking at the video. “But there is disappointment when you see the opportunities we had in different situations.
“Our first possession, fourth-and-three (at the Harvard 39 following Sam Huffman’s interception) do you go for it? I didn’t, had Chad (Kanoff) pooch it. When things are going well, we own that one inside the five. In this case [the punt] hits on the three and goes right in.
“I didn’t sleep very well because I look at me first. And I know everybody who played in that game will see a small moment like that about himself. Guys like Luke Catarius (12 tackles) played some of the best defense of their lives, but I know Luke will look at one or two plays and say ‘I can’t believe I did that.’
“We’re all going to feel like that because we’re all in this together. If the overtime goes the other way, we still find all those things. But the difference would be we sleep a lot better.”
If . . . .
Princeton converts on that fourth down in the game’s infancy and gains rhythm and confidence, perhaps the first half doesn’t turn into a horror show of false starts, fumbles, drops and an interception than killed drive after drive and sent Harvard to the locker room up 14- 0?
If. . . .
An arguable hold on Mike Wagner gets called and Harvard quarterback Joe Viviano doesn’t escape containment for probably only the second time in the game to reach the three and set up his winning touchdown run, then the game probably at least goes to second overtime and who knows what happens?
When you lose excruciatingly 23-20 in overtime, spoiling a stirring second-half rally, then almost from the frustrating beginning to the bitter end you can find one more play that might have changed everything.
For the Tigers, it hurts too much to find much consolation in having played dead even–the stats were uncannily similar–a team that outscored Princeton 91-14 the last two seasons. Surace, one championship in the books, has improved the program to a point where it expects to play with a perennial Ivy contender and did. But however the breaks went on Saturday–and Princeton got some too–there still are four more weeks left for the Tigers to prove they are as good as anybody in the league.
And that starts Saturday at Cornell with some obvious kinds of mistakes to be cleaned up over 60 minutes, not just 30.
“We hurt ourselves primarily in the first half with (four) false starts,” said Surace. “And sometimes we didn’t either throw it, catch it, or protect well enough in our passing game; plays that would have helped us keep drives going. We left the defense on the field way too much.
“With the wind, there weren’t going to be too many down-the-field throws. You have to adapt and I thought our coaches did a good job. But we kept starting first-and-15 and then when you drop a ball, you only have two downs left. It’s really hard to get 15 yards on a defense like Harvard’s.
“Since the Lafayette game we have been so good (with the underneath game). We have to get back to doing that again. And our guys will.”
In the meantime a Princeton defense that did heroic work to keep the game within reach during the first half and held Harvard to just one scoring drive–resulting in a field goal–after the intermission, appears on the verge of becoming dominant. Defensive Kurt Holuba is playing at a Caraun Reid-Mike Catapano level.
“Kurt’s motor is running,” said Surace. “They have a really good offensive line; he was going up against a left tackle (Max Rich) that probably will play in the pros. Kurt and (Henry) Schlossberg did a tremendous job, along with the other guys, but those two stood out with their energy and it allowed our linebackers to do real well.
“Luke and Rohan Hylton weren’t perfect but boy they played really well for the majority of the game. Our (three) interceptions (by Sam Huffman, James Gales and Hylton) were great effort plays. And Dorian (Williams) caused a fumble with a helmet right on the ball.”
AND THE O(THER) LINE?
It’s banged up but did a creditable job against a formidable Harvard front.
“Mitchell Sweigart was ill, didn’t practice Thursday or Friday, we sent him to his room,” said Surace. “But he had to play every snap. He’s a tough kid; that’s the way these guys are.”
“I wouldn’t say [the line] played great by any stretch of the imagination but we competed,” said Surace “There are few things we have to get better at but, as a whole, our guys really fought.”
GOTTA STILL SEE RED DEPT:
Cornell’s league title hopes almost surely disappeared with Saturday’s overtime loss at Brown. But the Big Red, obviously an improving program, will be treated as such all week by Surace and his assistants.
“They played Harvard a competitive game and beat Colgate,” said Surace. “You can’t overlook anybody at any point and certainly not a team that beat Colgate (a defending FCS second-round playoff team).”