Tigers Strike Fast, Bomb Brown 31-7 by Jay Greenberg
Tigers Strike Fast, Bomb Brown 31-7
BY JAY GREENBERG
There are no wins like late wins. The two signature victories of the Surace era against Harvard in 2012 and 2013 were among the most memorable and exhilarating in the 147-year history of Princeton football.
The reason for that, however, is there are no losses that hurt like late losses. Four of them by a touchdown or fewer in 2015 turned a 4-1 start into a 5-5 finish, a painful lesson that if you trust the games to the fourth quarter, fate has even more up its sleeve than James Perry. And not all of it is good.
If Princeton is to win the 2016 championship of a balanced Ivy League there is reason to believe the Tigers are going to have to win one or two of the remaining five games near their end. But the much safer alternative is to do it early. And having been sloppy enough a year ago in Providence to be beaten in the final 1:05, 38-31, by a Brown team that finished 3-4, it would appear that Princeton’s 31-7 revenge Saturday afternoon on Powers Field at Princeton Stadium was a sign of significant growth.
This year, the Bears hung around for all of 2:11. On the third play from scrimmage, Dorian Williams intercepted a pass that bounced off a Brown helmet. Two snaps later Chad Kanoff led Isaiah Barnes perfectly down the sideline on a 33-yard touchdown pass.
On the next possession, the Tigers went 80 yards on 11 plays to go ahead 14-0. They got the ball back and went seven plays in 53 yards to go up three touchdowns, remaining the utter bosses of their destiny.
“Jumping out to a lead just makes everything so much more comfortable,” said Barnes. “We were able to play loose and execute better and better as time went on.”
To say the 2015 Tigers could have beaten Yale, Dartmouth and Penn, is not to say they should have, but the Brown loss which turned on 11 penalties and a late interception was the one that never should have happened. And it was clear from the start Saturday that it was not going to again.
“Absolutely, that was . . . well, one of the worst losses,” said Dorian Williams, “They laid one on us last year and that hurt a lot, we wanted to get back at them.”
The Tigers’ memories proven longer than even the fields the Bears faced all day. Thanks to Princeton touchdowns and mammoth Tavish Rice kickoffs only three of 13 Brown drives started beyond its own 30. Even set up at the Princeton 42 by a muffed punt soon after the Barnes touchdown. Brown got nothing until a late 68-yard touchdown drive after Bob Surace had cleared a good portion of his bench.
The Bears were held to two yards per rush, 3.9 yards per attempted pass.
“I thought we really did well on defense all day,” said Surace. “Even the completions, other than the pass interference penalties that could have gone either way, we were really sharp.
“We didn’t get a lot of sacks (just one), but disruptions are more important than sacks. We forced their quarterback into some tight windows.”
The Tigers, who had five tackles for losses, were credited with only two quarterback hurries, but lies, damn lies and statistics. Just before the half, with Brown in the lengthening shadows of its goal posts, Mark Fossati came untouched on a blitz and hit quarterback Thomas Linta as he threw. Kurt Holuba had time to study for midterms while waiting for the ball to float down to him.
“Don’t drop it, don’t drop it,” Holuba said, good advice that he took for his first interception, even in Pop Warner. The Tigers were setup at the Brown 18. They lost yards on two runs, but Kanoff ran for nine to get them to a makeable fourth-and-two, which Lovett gained off left tackle. Next play, he went left again, bounced off his own guy, Graham Adomitis, and ran in to make the score 28-0 at the intermission.
You could say it already was over, even before the Tigers took the second half kickoff and used 5:44 to move to a Rice 32-yard field goal that made it 31-0. But actually this game looked well decided much sooner than the third quarter. The Bears chose single coverage for much of the day and the Tiger receivers easily achieved separation.
One exception to that was on the Barnes touchdown. Defender Sebastian Dovi was step for step with the Princeton wideout down the sideline but Kanoff’s throw was perfect. “Yeah, [Dovi] was there, but better ball beats better coverage every time,” said Barnes.
James Frusciante dodged Jordan Ferguson at the four to get into the end zone on the first of two Lovett touchdown throws and Frusciante was wide open on the second, a seven yarder.
Princeton spent the second half running the ball and not easily, what with starters Mason Darrow, Jack Knight and Zach Kuehm missing from the offensive line. Thanks to some hard fourth quarter running, reserve Ryan Quigley wound up the leading rusher with 43 yards.
Frusciante and Trevor Osborne each caught five balls and Barnes four, but the day really belonged to a defense that appears to be improving weekly, particularly against the pass. For a third straight game, the Tigers got a break in not having to face an adept read-option quarterback – Brown starter Kyle Moreno was a scratch – but the improvement in coverage is tangible.
“The loss to Lehigh was humbling,” said Williams. “That was a blessing in disguise because it really helped us focus on what we really need to focus on.”
And that, according to Surace, is to play to the situation.
“I think they are keying into the truth that every play does not have to be a negative one,” said the coach. “It’s learning to play football, rather than pounding your chest, and looking to make SportsCenter highlights.
“On third-and-nine give them five yards and get off the field. (Defensive coordinator) Jim Salgado and the coaches have been harping on that.”
With Tyler Desire back in the lineup and Holuba, Brannon Jones and Henry Schlossberg pushing hard, a veteran Brown offensive line had its hands full protecting Linta, who didn’t even try to go up top. A lot of Brown short stuff was gobbled up by Luke Catarius, (10 tackles), Rohan Hylton (seven tackles) and didn’t come close to moving the chains.
In an improving Princeton secondary, heads are on a swivel and eyes are right, although also open to Harvard being an entirely different animal than the ones that Princeton has dominated the last three weeks to go to 4-1 (2-0 Ivy).
“It doesn’t get any better than being undefeated going into Harvard,” said Williams. “But we’re not going to be too excited. Two years ago, they came in here and rocked us, something obviously we are going to use (for motivation).”
The Tigers shouldn’t need any more of that, playing for the Ivy League lead, with a chance to make each week more important than the last. “This is our playoffs,” said Williams. “After what happened last year, our motto this year is to finish and then finish again.”
You can win games from their start, too.