Tigers Suffer Heartbreak in Overtime, 23-20

  • October 23, 2016

BY JAY GREENBERG

All day long Princeton kept Joe Viviano in the pocket and made the Harvard quarterback beat them with his arm rather than his legs.

Into overtime, he had yet to do it. A pass rush led by a relentless Kurt Holuba, backed up sure-handed tackling by Luke Catarius and interceptions by Rohan Hylton, Sam Huffman and James Gales had held mighty Harvard to one drive and three measly points in the second half, enabling the Tigers to rally from 14-0 and tie the game 17-17 on a Johnny Lovett four-yard run with 51 seconds remaining.

Now, on third-and-three at the Princeton 16 in the first overtime, the Tigers had to contain Viviano one more time. But he ducked a blitz by Mike Wagner, got outside, ran to the three yard line, and, two plays later, stretched the ball over from the one to break Princeton’s heart, 23-20 and drop it a game behind Harvard and Penn with four weeks to go.

The race is not over, any more than it was three years when the Tigers won in overtime at Harvard Stadium then lost in week 10 at Dartmouth, enabling the Crimson to get a share of the title. But of course Princeton was so close to sharing the driver’s seat with Penn, and has suffered so much pain–the last four losses in the Ivy League over two years have been by a touchdown or less–that the only consolation was what Bob Surace said in the locker room.

“I told them we have a group of guys who everybody can be proud of,” the coach said. “The rest of the year, if we come out and act the way we did [Saturday] there is not another group of guys I have ever coached that I would rather be around.”

The Tigers picked themselves up with a 15 play, 80 yard touchdown drive to start the second half, drove for a 32 yard Tavish Rice field goal and, with perfect uses of its time outs and a Harvard hit out of bounds, got the game to overtime.  If Isaiah Barnes, slammed by Luke Hutton at the goal line as Chad Kanoff’s third-down throw arrived, hangs on to put Princeton up six instead of three and Viviano doesn’t cleanly pick up a low snap on the final play, that’s at least two ways that Princeton might have won Saturday on Powers Field at Princeton Stadium.

But the Tigers second half effort had been so extraordinary to give them a chance that it would be totally myopic to blame the loss on anything that happened at the end. It was the bad beginnings that cost Princeton.

Huffman’s interception on the second play from scrimmage gave the Tigers a short field, but that possession died with the help of a false start penalty. So did the second possession on a false-start penalty, and a snap infraction helped kill a third.

“I was very disappointed that right before the nap there was a ‘Go! Go!’ call by the other team,” said Surace. “I am not making excuses, saying that cost us the game but that kind of crap doesn’t need to be in there.

“Some teams do that, so we practiced it, and we had gotten better at (ignoring) it. This week we didn’t and it cost us. The false starts were mostly by our centers. He had to lock into the quarterback’s voice. In the second half we did a better job.”

The penalties were not the only bullets the Tigers fired into their own feet in the first half. Their one drive before intermission was waylaid by a drop on a second-down bubble screen, and the Tigers ended up turning the ball over on downs.

The Tigers further squandered promising field position on a fumbled exchange between Lovett and Joe Rhattigan and a Kanoff interception (by Kolbi Brown) into too-tight coverage. The second Harvard touchdown was set up on a dropped snap, and was buried for a 14-yard loss at the Princeton nine, forcing Tyler Roth to punt from the end zone into the stiff wind.

As a result, Harvard started at the Princeton 30 and needed just two plays to extend its lead to 14-0.  Adam Scott slipped the tackle of James Gales after making a catch on a quick out and ran in untouched.

Nevertheless, Gales subsequently made a sparkling interception of a Viviano pass for Adams at the goal line, so, on defense and Harvard’s own share of miscues, the Tigers went to the half down only by the two scores.

“I had my win-one-for-the-Gipper speech but about a minute before I was about to start (student assistant) Durelle Napier was as emotional as can be,” said Surace. “I said to the guys, ‘He’s not playing anymore (because of injury) and look, he feels like that.’  When we came out of the tunnel, the 2006 championship team (honored at halftime) was also there firing us up.

“We took the field with the emotion, I was hoping to see.”

Kanoff hit Rhattigan on third-and-two to get the drive started, and then threw to Scott Carpenter at the one, and Lovett moved the pile to get the Tigers on the board. Princeton moved 69 yards in 11 plays to a Tavish Rice field goal to make it 14-10 in the final minute of the third period.

A leaping interception by Hylton on a pass over the middle set up Princeton at the Harvard 34, but Kanoff was chased and had to throw the ball away on third down and Rice missed a 38 yarder. Harvard responded with its only drive of the half, but, thanks to an Holuba sack, settled for a 26 yard Jake McIntyre field goal that left the Tigers within a score.

They still kept coming. With the help of an interference call on Sean Ahern against Horsted, Princeton got to the Harvard 12 with just over two minutes to go. When Lovett, taking a pass over the middle from Kanoff, was stopped a yard short at the Princeton six, three time outs remaining and still 2:05 on the clock, Princeton wasn’t yet done.

Harvard was able to use up only 14 seconds off the clock before having to punt, which Frusciante dropped, gathered in, and returned 19 yards to the Crimson 24. Rhattigan picked up one first down on third-and-one, and a personal foul penalty put the ball to the four.

Lovett made one cut and went in untouched and Rice tied the game. While nothing may ever beat a 24 point fourth quarter rally to beat Harvard four years ago, Princeton Stadium had enjoyed one of its best moments in its 18-year history.

If only it had been over. The Tigers lost the coin toss and had to go first in the overtime. They stayed on the ground until on third-and three at the seven, Kanoff went for Barnes on a look-in.  Hutton got a piece of the receiver and the ball fluttered to the ground, so Rice’s 25-yard field goal proved not enough.

The Tigers, who dropped to 2-1 in the league going to Cornell next week, will need help now, and charity begins at home. “We certainly didn’t execute as well as we could,” said Surace about that first half. That said, the defense played an inspired game against a dominant offense and looks plenty capable of keeping Princeton in the race to the end.

Easy as it is to say they are due to win a close one, it’s proving a lot harder to actually do so.