The Plays and Players of 2016
BY JAY GREENBERG
Reliving the moments and their makers, shaping the Tigers’ second Ivy League title in four years:
Offensive Player of the Year (Or Any Year in Princeton football history) – Johnny Lovett ran for 20 touchdowns, passed for 10, and caught one more.
Best Single Game Offensive Performance – Lovett had seven of the above at Cornell.
Biggest Single Offensive Play of the Year – The Tigers had needed a pass interference call to set up their only touchdown, already had suffered two red zone failures, and were third-and-seven at the Dartmouth 20 trailing 14-10 when Chad Kanoff faked a handoff to Charlie Volker and hit Trevor Osborne on a crossing pattern. Osborne ran to the one and Lovett scored on the next play. With five minutes remaining in the third quarter, Princeton finally had a lead and the anvil came off the offense’s shoulders. Tigers scored three more touchdowns and won the game, plus the championship, going away.
Most Electrifying Play – Lovett to Isaiah Barnes for a 95-yard touchdown at Cornell.
Best Throw – So many good ones. But considering the length and circumstances, it was Kanoff’s toss to Jesper Horsted for 48 yards to set up a touchdown and a 17-3 lead at Yale just before the half. The ball was in the air for 47 yards. To that point, Tigers had managed only four first downs in the six series since A.J. Glass had broken a 46-yard touchdown run on the first possession.
Next Best Throw – By Lovett on the 95-yarder to Barnes. Was about to get buried on a blitz and delivered it to the receiver in full stride.
Next Best Throw after Those Two – By Lovett to Osborne, again without a break in stride, on a post pattern for a 35-yard touchdown at Cornell.
Best Play Call – From the Princeton 49, trailing 6-0 at Columbia, Kanoff handed off to an in-motion Lovett, who pitched back to Barnes, who tossed back to Kanoff, who led Lovett perfectly on a swing pass for a 31-yard gain setting up a tying touchdown. Even on a slow motion replay, it was hard to figure out what was going on. The execution was flawless.
Best Play Call in the Red Zone – The put away touchdown against Dartmouth. On third-and-goal following two Lovett runs totaling six yards, he perfectly sold a run to the right before pulling up and throwing back to Scott Carpenter in the end zone. There was not a defender within 10 yards.
Next Best Call in the Red Zone – On second-and-goal at the Georgetown three, Lovett faked Princeton’s fifth straight run and threw to an uncovered Graham Adomitis to build the lead to 21-7.
Best Run – On the first play after Georgetown had taken a 7-0 lead with a runback of a blocked field goal, Joe Rhattigan ran through perhaps the biggest hole of the year then dragged tacklers the last ten yards of a 42-yard gain to the Hoya 27.
Best Footwork on a Touchdown Run – Rhattigan, on a play designed to go off left tackle, cut back right and ran untouched for 12 yards to put away Penn.
Best Blocking on a Run Play – Forty-six yards for a touchdown by Glass on the seventh snap of the game at Yale. Mitchell Sweigart sealed the inside, Scott Carpenter the outside, and a finish on the middle linebacker by a pulling Erik Ramirez enabled Glass to score untouched.
Best Short Yardage Run – Dive by Lovett—over tall buildings in a single bound—for the second touchdown against Penn.
Best Drive – Eighty yards in 15 plays to start the second half against Penn. Ten rushes, five passes. Longest play was a Lovett 12-yarder to Jesper Horsted. The Tigers killed half the quarter and put the Quakers down three touchdowns, effectively ending the game.
Best Clutch Drive – Eleven grinding plays to run out the clock on Lafayette after it had closed to within 35-31 with five minutes remaining. Included a third-and-nine completion from Kanoff to Lovett.
Second Best Clutch Drive – Another one of 80 yards in 15 plays, enabled by a Kanoff scramble for 10 yards on a fourth-and-three, to cut the Harvard lead to 14-7 and begin a second half that Princeton controlled.
Best Catch – Leading 21-14 in the third quarter at Georgetown, on third–and-ten at the Hoya 45, Barnes went up, got drilled and still came down with the ball at the Georgetown 23.
Best Yards After the Catch – Very next play, Horsted broke two tackles after catching a slant to put Princeton on the one.
Most Clutch Scramble – Tigers began their first possession of the second half against Dartmouth from their own 10 and faced a third-and eight but Kanoff’s long legs ate up 10 yards to start the go-ahead drive. Play meant everything for field position and momentum.
Second Most Clutch Scramble – First possession of second half against Harvard, still struggling for first downs, facing fourth-and-three at the Harvard 40, Kanoff pulled the ball down and ran for 13. Tigers completed the drive on a Lovett rush and were back in the game at 14-7.
Most Underappreciated Offensive Performance – Volker ran for three touchdowns at Lehigh and all anybody noticed was the Mountain Hawks’ 464 yards passing.
Best Sideline Catches – Two textbook toe taps by Rhattigan at Columbia.
Low Moment – Lehigh had just missed a field goal, leaving the Tigers down only 21-14 in the third quarter. Opportunity knocked when Kanoff quickly hit Horsted for 18 yards to the Lehigh 35 but play was called back on an Osborne illegal block. On next play, Kanoff threw an interception, then a marginal personal foul call on Chance Melancon for a hit out of bounds set up the Mountain Hawks at the Princeton 17. They scored and Tigers, coming off a demonstration of self-destruction right out of the manual, never got closer than 14 points the rest of the way.
Worst Break – Mike Wagner clearly was held as rolling Joe Viviano made the edge on a third-and-three during the Harvard overtime. It went uncalled and the Crimson quarterback got to the three. Two plays later, he scored to win the game.
Worst Timing – Barnes only uncontested drop of the year was on the goal line during Princeton’s possession during the Harvard overtime. Wouldn’t necessarily have won the game, as it would have been matched by Viviano’s touchdown. But the two teams might still be playing.
Best Offensive Lineman – Mitchell Sweigart. Graded at the top week after week.
Best Newcomer on Offense – Tackle Reily Radosevich. His dominant final four weeks of the season were recognized with honorable mention All-Ivy, which doesn’t happen often for freshmen linemen.
Most Improved Player Over Four Years – Barnes had never played receiver in high school and missed freshman year with a gruesome ankle injury besides. By senior season he was arguably the top deep threat in the league.
Hardest Workers on Offense, According to the Coaches – Both quarterbacks, Kanoff and Lovett.
Defensive MVP – Kurt Holuba. Secondary’s improvement was a critical factor and Dorian Williams was its anchor. But the defense became more and more dominant as Holuba’s pass rush took off. He led the league in sacks in Ivy League play (seven) but for defensive players, stats never tell the story. You needed to watch the Dartmouth game a second time to realize just how inaccurate quarterback Jack Heneghan became after halftime as the Tigers, led by Holuba, ramped up the pressure despite very little blitzing.
Most Inspirational Defensive Player – Williams. Just by the nature of the safety position he had a chance to make more plays at safety. And the ones he did were huge.
Best Single Performance By a Princeton Defensive Player – Holuba had ten tackles, three for losses, against Harvard but Princeton lost. At Yale, Williams had six tackles, one quarterback hit, a forced fumble, and a pass breakup as Princeton’s defense carried the day in a game that was 17-3 going to the fourth quarter.
Defensive Play of the Year – On fourth-and-six at the Princeton 26 in the second quarter, Tigers leading Penn only 6-0, Williams fought through a block to grab the leg of Bushnell Cup finalist Justin Watson and Sam Huffman came up to knock the receiver back two feet short of a first down. Tigers took the ball 78 yards for a touchdown.
Hit of the Year – Williams set up the final score at Yale by coming late and untouched from practically Hartford to bury quarterback Kurt Rawlings and force a fumble recovered by Henry Schlossberg.
Interception of the Year – By James Gales to foil Penn’s Alek Torgersen at the Princeton 16 in the third quarter. Perfect hide in the weeds and break on the ball at the sideline. You can’t find a read this good even at Firestone Library.
Most Improved player on Defense This Season – Gales. Was easy prey by Lafayette and Lehigh. By the end of the season teams weren’t even trying him.
Most Improved Player on Defense over Four Years – Schlossberg. Went from clueless about conditioning to the nose anchor of a defense that gave up only 2.4 yards per rush.
Best Coaching Job – By Jim Salgado with the secondary: the best-coached teams always improve as a season goes along.
Unsung Hero of the Defense – Chance Melancon. Another way to date the secondary’s improvement was Game Three, when he became a starter on the corner opposite Gales. Melancon did not surrender a touchdown pass all season.
Best Defensive Play Call – On third-and-12 at the Brown nine, Holuba dropped into coverage, read quarterback Thomas Linta’s eyes and intercepted at the 21 to set up the Tigers’ fourth touchdown.
Best Defensive Game Plan – Salgado called fewer and fewer blitzes as the D-line became more and more dominant. But Yale’s Rawlings, a freshman, was blood in the water and the Tigers confused him with guys coming early, late, and from everywhere. It was another example of this defense making a quarterback less accurate as a game went along.
Most Clutch Turnover – When Harvard, leading by seven, got the ball back with 4:34 to go, Quincy Wolf forced a fumble by Lavance Northington and Birk Olson fell on it on the Crimson 35. On the resultant possession, Lovett got stopped a yard short at the 12 on fourth down but the defense held again and the field position proved critical for Princeton’s short touchdown drive that forced overtime.
Clutch Tackle of the Year Not on Third Down – Tigers, trailing 14-10, had given Dartmouth a second opportunity early in the second half thanks to a roughing the kicker call. But on second-and-eight, Williams pushed through a block and ran down Miles Smith from behind. Rohan Hylton finished the play and, when a hurried Heneghan missed Drew Hunnicutt over the middle on third down, Tigers had held again. They scored on their next possession to go ahead.
Best Goal Line Stand – Lovett’s rollout underthrow for Barnes resulted in an interception that set up Yale, trailing 7-0, at the Princeton 10. But thanks to a first-down tackle by Hylton, a second-down drop in the end zone, and dogged coverage by Luke Catarius on a third-down throw for the corner end zone, Tigers held Bulldogs to their only three points of the game.
Best Newcomer on Defense – Freshman T.J. Floyd proved a prodigy at nickel back. Freshman Jeremiah Tyler had a sack at the Harvard five, looking like the next great force at D-Lineman U.
Biggest Waste of Anxiety – Cheering on Penn’s last seconds win over Harvard, which apparently opened up the door for a piece of the title. Turned out that Harvard’s loss at Yale a week later would have accomplished the same shared championship, only with the Crimson, not Quakers. Ya never know.
Best Special Teams Play – Jesper Horsted came off the edge and, with the help of Penn’s Hunter Kelly’s drop of a low snap, blocked his punt. Tyler picked up the ball and spun off Kelly into the end zone to give Tigers a 6-0 lead even before they had gotten the ball for the first time.
Second Best Special Teams Play – Princeton had just extended its lead to 21-14 when Connor Grogan held up Dartmouth’s Rashaad Cooper who was then stripped by Mark Fossati. Ryan Quigley won an elongated scramble for the ball at the nine and, three plays later, the Tigers had an insurmountable 31-14 lead.
Best Return – James Frusciante broke multiple tackles on a 19-yarder that set up Princeton at the Harvard 24 for the touchdown drive that tied the game with 51 seconds remaining.
Best Open Field Rundown by a Special Teamer – On kickoff following first Princeton touchdown at Cornell, Brett Stewart ran right through a futile block attempt to ride down speedy Ryan Weigel at the 14-yard line.
Best Tackle by a Special Teamer – At the end for regulation, Tyler took down Alex Lapolice at the Harvard five despite being blocked in the back.
Special Team Player of the Year – Tavish Rice. Only 15 of his 45 kickoffs were returned.
Hardest worker on special teams – Grogan. Tremendous determination and toughness.
Best Newcomer on Special Teams – Quigley. Freshman worked his way onto them midway through the season and became a coverage standout.
Most Reliable Special Teamers – Tyler Roth averaged 40 yards per punt, in part because Pat Hall’s snaps were so true. Same for the field goal snaps. There never was an adventure.
Seminal Moment of Season – Quigley’s fumble recovery. After two-and-a half quarters of struggle, Tigers had driven for touchdowns on consecutive possessions to take a 10-point lead with 12 minutes to play. Suddenly, they were nine yards from scoring again. All the anxiety blew out of Princeton Stadium. The Tigers were going to be champions.