Princeton Finally Beats Dartmouth in the End, 38-21, Finish a Championship Season
BY JAY GREENBERG
Even if the Tigers and Penn Quakers want to stuff flags in their pockets and play it off in a parking lot somewhere, these two teams will forever and officially be the 2016 Ivy Co-Champions. But Dorian Williams will know better.
“Not to be arrogant, but absolutely I do feel we are the best team in the league and the way we performed on both sides of the ball and special teams kind of proved it,” said the senior safety.
These bragging rights extend beyond Princeton’s 28-0 victory over the Quakers three weeks ago. On Saturday the belief in the Tigers’ superiority became rooted as deep as they were forced to dig down after a tight and troublesome first half to blow away a dangerous Dartmouth team, 38-21 on Powers Field.
Ten minutes into the third quarter the Tigers were down, 14-10, and less than eight minutes later they led 31-14, the relief blasting through Princeton Stadium pretty much like this team blew away the final four teams on its schedule. At 1-6, Dartmouth played Princeton better than anyone, but in the end was no match either, the Tigers not only putting the finish to six consecutive season-ending losses to the Big Green but just plain finishing to everyone’s complete and wonderful satisfaction.
The Tigers (8-2, 7-1 Ivy) just kept coming on both sides of the ball, like they did from game three on. Considering how hard all the yards were for the offense in the first half, how flummoxed had seemed the defense by Dartmouth’s quick throws, the turnaround seemed stunning, but, in the big picture, not really. As long as Princeton could keep itself in the game, eventually, this team was going to make plays.
“We didn’t panic,” said Kurt Holuba, between picture posings and puffs of a big fat, cigar. “[Dartmouth] used a lot of quick game to get our pass rush out of the way, but we started to get breaks on the ball and got after the quarterback in the second half.”
Dartmouth quarterback Jack Heneghan pulled the ball down to run 20 yards for the first Big Green score and threw eight yards to a wide-open Cameron Skaff for a second. Princeton, which had needed a pass interference call on Jesper Horsted to set up its lone first half touchdown, had suffered an untypical stop on a fourth-and-four at the Dartmouth 36 midway through the second quarter, then a rare red zone stumble, to force the Tigers to settle for a 23-yard Tavish Rice field goal and a 14-10 deficit at the half.
They looked sluggish at best, tight at worst, like their whole season was passing before their eyes.
“You give [the visitors] seven points on Senior Day,” said Coach Bob Surace. “You don’t play the Super Bowl after crying and hugging your parents then go out and cover a kickoff.”
Crying that would extend well into the night–and winter–would be forthcoming an hour later if the Tigers didn’t shed some baggage in a hurry. There was finger pointing in the locker room.
“There was a feeling of doubt,” said Williams. “It was very petty, the conflict inside was tearing us apart. We had to get rid of it.
“I just said, ”Trust in each other had gotten us where we are,” said Surace. “So we have to keep trusting.
“We were in this emotional state and we were kind of fighting each other just a little bit. Just focus on the now and we’ll be fine.
“Coach (James) Perry challenged our receivers, told them to start playing faster. We had all these great senior receivers and they were a little bit in a fog in the first half. They came out in the second half and were phenomenal.”
First, the defense had to get a momentum-changing stop. It did twice on the same opening series of the half.
Princeton was called for roughing Dartmouth punter Ben Kepley, the ball was advanced to the Princeton 43 and the defense had to go on the field again. “Been our mentality all season, keep fighting, keep playing,” said Holuba.
Dartmouth’s Miles Smith was run down on first down by Thomas Johnson, then on second down by Rohan Hylton and Williams. On third-and-seven, Heneghan threw to Drew Hunnicutt crossing over the middle on one of the patterns that had helped make Dartmouth five-for-eight on first downs through the first half. Luke Catarius got a hand in to knock the ball down and the Big Green had to punt again.
“I had gone out there and said, ‘We’re going to stop them again,” said Williams. “Our defense has been doing it all year.
“Pedal to the metal. That was a turning point.”
Princeton got the ball back at its 15. On third-and-eight, Kanoff hoofed it for a first down that kept alive the same kind of halting drive that Princeton had cobbled together in the first half. On third-and-nine from the Dartmouth 25, it looked like it was grinding to another close, when Kanoff, whose first option was to handoff, read the linebacker and hit Trevor Osborne on a crossing pattern. Osborne made big yards after the catch to the one, setting up Johnny Lovett’s Princeton record-breaking 20th rushing touchdown of the season.
The Tigers led, finally, 17-14. Nobody knew it yet, but Dartmouth was done.
The defense forced two more three-and-outs. Lovett ran for 17 yards on a second-and-eight to get another drive started and a sideline tiptoe catch of a 15-yarder by Isaiah Barnes put Princeton on the Dartmouth 26. From the 14, Kanoff flipped it to Horsted crossing behind the line of scrimmage and the big sophomore playmaker turned the corner and beat two tacklers to dive in and make it 24-14.
On the kickoff Mark Fossati stripped the ball from Rashaad Cooper and Ryan Quigley fell on it at the Dartmouth nine. The Princeton bench was a madhouse. On third-and-three, Perry ran a play that he had been setting up all season: Lovett rolling and Dartmouth chasing until the quarterback pulled up and lobbed the ball back to a wide-open Scott Carpenter in the end zone.
A game that had every feel of going to the wire stunningly was 31-14.
“It felt good,” Surace understated. “Dartmouth has dominated its fourth quarters (71-9). You don’t want to be in that kind of game.”
Brannon Jones hurried Heneghan, Chance Melancon intercepted, and Charlie Volker broke a 39-yard touchdown amidst the delirium. The 11th Princeton title since the formation of the league in 1956 was put away by a tour de force by the most focused and efficient team Surace says he ever has been a part of, including his time coaching in the NFL.
“I’m just so happy,” said Holuba. “I never won a championship at any level.”
With 26 victories, the seniors added a second title, better than the first. A title is a title is a title, but that was a long ride home from Dartmouth three years ago.
“We lost our last game when we had the chance to win it outright so it was kind of bittersweet,” said Williams. “To win it by winning the last one, especially at home, is something we are going to remember forever.”
The Ivy League says this championship is a two-way street, but on The Street Saturday night, they weren’t toasting a partnership with Penn, that’s for sure.
“We’re all smart here,” said Surace. “From the time we are three years old, we know that head-to-head, that’s the tiebreaker.
“I was fortunate as a player, I lost head-to-head (to Yale in the 1989 co-title) and got a ring, and I’m not taking it back.
“But it is a little better feeling to get it this way.”