Tigers Roll Bulldogs, Now Atop the Ivy League Standings
BY JAY GREENBERG
NEW HAVEN — Bob Surace is the boss and ultimately the adult in the room, so he could have pushed “Settings” and gone to “Parental Controls.”
After all, there are lots of things to watch on a Friday night in New Haven. At 8pm, opposite Penn vs Harvard, were choices that included Friday Night Lights (the autobiography for almost all these guys); Untold Stories of the ER (could be a documentary about the Tigers’ 2015 season), and Forest Gump (always an inspiration for underdogs, but when you are 6-2?).
Would Surace send his players to their room with “Okay, it’s The Real Housewives of Atlanta, then lights out at nine?”
What was wholesome viewing for a terrific football team suffering from one stubbed toe, whose virtual last chance at a share of a championship was in the hands of their sworn enemies, the Penn Quakers? What would be the effect on the Tigers if Harvard won, clearing the Crimson’s last hurdle for an undisputed title? Or, worse, Penn won, throwing the race into a virtual three-way tie, causing Princeton to celebrate, and then fall face-first against a struggling Yale team.
Don’t touch that dial. Would morbid curiosity kill these cats?
“I’m not naïve, they were going to watch the game regardless,” said Surace. “If I told them no, they probably wouldn’t have been able to sleep wondering what the score was.
“I just told them that whatever happens in that game, when we wake up the morning, the total focus has to be on Yale.”
Penn won in the final seconds. And the Tigers on Saturday earned their coach’s trust. A.J. Glass, starting in place of the injured Joe Rhattigan, burst off tackle for 46 yards and a touchdown with the game’s seventh play; the defense threw up a stand-off first quarter first-and-goal and Princeton grounded down Yale, 31-3, to move within one win–Saturday at home against 4-5 Dartmouth–of a share of a second Ivy League championship in four years.
“Had Harvard won we would have approached the game the same way,” said Dorian Williams. “But there is definitely motivation now that we have gotten a second chance.”
A tangible cut of the title certainly will beat any lament that this year Princeton was as good as anybody, but just happened to fall a win short. Had Harvard eked it out Friday night, the latter would have been true regardless but that still would have sold these Tigers short for what they have become as the season has moved along.
This one proved a grind not reflected in the 28-point differential. Injury-riddled Yale (2-7, 2-4 Ivy) which had been struggling terribly against the pass, held the high powered Princeton offense to just 175 yards through the air and forced its running backs to carry 42 times to accrue 170 yards. Yet the Tigers won comfortably in the end for a third straight week because of another oppressive, impressive, effort by the defense.
In the immediate aftermath of that second week 621-yard disaster at Lehigh, nobody could have foreseen just how dominant this D has become. It has given up one touchdown in three weeks–that one at Cornell, when the Tigers led by 35 points. Nobody who has been within 30 points of the Tigers have scored a second-half touchdown in a league game.
Other than the two first-half touchdowns by Harvard, Princeton has surrendered three field goals and two touchdowns in routs and that’s all. “Three points is all they gave up today, and that was off a start at the ten (following an interception thrown by Johnny Lovett),” said Surace. “I’m so proud of them.”
Leading just 7-0 at the time of Lovett’s underthrow, picked by Hayden Carlson, the Tigers got one break, a drop in the end zone by Kyle Marcinik on second down. On third down, Princeton repeated what it did all day, blitzing and chasing freshman quarterback Kurt Rawlings. The Tigers’ five sacks didn’t do justice to what Rawlings was put through.
Unable to slow the rush with any kind of a running game–Yale managed 36 yards rushing on 32 carries. All the kid could do was get up and try another seven-yard out, until, with Princeton leading 24-3 on a third-and-two midway through the fourth period, Williams came late and seemingly from as far away as Providence to cream Rawlings, who coughed up the only Yale turnover of its very long day.
Henry Schlossberg fell on the fumble and the Tigers pounded in their final score, Johnny Lovett’s third successful plunge of the day putting him within one TD of Elias’s school record 19 in a season.
As the Tigers, too, struggled to get uncoiled, Tyler Roth punted six times. Tavish Rice had to boom a 40-year field goal to save one drive that had been set up by James Frusciante’s punt return to the Yale 35. Following Glass’s run, Princeton went an almost entire half before hitting another big play.
When it came, it was a beauty, a diving catch by Jesper Horsted of a 48-yard Chad Kanoff heave on a third-and-13, putting the ball at the Yale two in the final minute of the half. Lovett punched that one in, and Princeton led 17-3 at intermission.
As Roth punted off consecutive three-and-outs in the third quarter, Yale remained one drive or one big play of making it a one-score game, but not only did it not happen, it never even came close as the Tigers swarmed to the ball. Rohan Hylton had two-and-a-half tackles for a loss and eight stops in all, as did Luke Catarius. Sam Huffman had seven and Kurt Holuba a sack and another tackle for a loss.
With Princeton’s running game almost totally shut down, Kanoff threw two first-down passes to Horsted to get off the goal line late in the third period and a 49-yard boomer by Roth finally changed the field position. Still, it took a pass interference call on a Kanoff bomb to Isaiah Barnes to get Princeton in scoring position again. From there, Scott Carpenter caught a throwback from Lovett on a fourth-and two and consecutive runs by Volker set up Lovett’s second touchdown and a 24-3 lead.
By then, Yale making up even one touchdown was problematic, never mind three. The discussion of where this Princeton defense rates with others of relatively recent vintage is for another day. For now these guys look like they never want to be scored on again.