Fruit Lines the Sides of This Bottomless Pit

  • October 23, 2017

BY JAY GREENBERG

Chad Kanoff has an unreal 76.3 per cent completion average. Still, the best arms on the 5-1 Tigers might belong to the coaches, who, as the injuries on defense mount, keep reaching down an Abraham Lincoln-deep hat to pull out one more good player.

Linebacker Mark Fossati was playing at a Bushnell Cup candidate level when he was lost in the Columbia game.  His replacement, sophomore John Orr, had ten tackles in Princeton’s 52-17 victory in Boston on Friday night.

Since nose tackle Jake Strain went out in Week Two, Simeon Lane and Joe Percival have combined for 12 tackles. Rush linebacker Mike Wagner had six sacks for the season when he went down a week ago at Brown, yielding to sophomore backup Eddie Rudinski, who had six tackles at Harvard, including a first-down-saving effort on a third down.

“Eddie gave us some tremendous effort on the pass rush,” said Coach Bob Surace on Sunday.  “But the edge he set was especially key.  Harvard has a very good run-based offense. Charlie Booker is one of the better backs I have seen.

“Eddie was playing well before he got hurt at Lafayette. We are fortunate to get him back.”

With the exception of Chance Melancon, an All-Ivy candidate, and SAM linebacker Quincy Wolff, the rest of the defensive starters could return next season, the experience being gained this year producing one of the most loaded units Princeton has ever known.  But that’s 2018. With four games to go and Tiger Ivy title hopes alive, the goal is to continue to find inspiration from these precocious replacements, plus leadership from still-standing initial starters, that will provide the Tigers enough stops to supplement their powerful offense.

The first-year starters who have remained on the job since Game One are improving week-to-week, too, a reflection not only of their talent, but also on the coaching they are receiving.

Unnoticed to the naked eye is the role junior safety Ben Ellis plays as a defensive quarterback. Seven tackles at Harvard, including two sure-handed grabs in an almost-open field, marked his increasing emergence as a playmaker.

“Ben has been so steady all year long, both in the run and pass game,” said Surace. “He is a real physical tackler and knock on wood, a very sure one.

“The last three games he has been really sharp with his eye discipline, he continues to communicate well back there, really important with a group that is gaining experience. I think the communication has gone much more smoothly in recent weeks. You don’t feel like they are young anymore.”

Collin Eaddy turns 19 next week.  In his case, the freshman is not stepping up because of injuries to more senior running backs, rather just plain stepping up.

Eaddy played enough early in the game, and dazzled enough on a final drive with a 19-yard run and a 32-yard dash for a touchdown, to be Princeton’s leading rusher at Harvard with 83 yards.

“He is improving every day,” said Surace. “We saw the flashes of his talent in training camp and as he is getting more comfortable with the game plans he is earning a larger role.

“It hasn’t been just the long runs, but his ability to gain yards in traffic has been really nice to see. He also had a nice catch, not an easy one, either, that he made in the flat, for a key first down.”

GAME BALLS

So many offensive heroes for the Tigers who inflicted Harvard’s worst margin of defeat in a home game since 1967 (45-6 by Princeton).  So hard to choose.  Good thing Princeton has a $27.2 billion endowment and can afford games balls for both Jesper Horsted who caught 13 pass for 246 yards, and Chad Kanoff who went 31-for-35 for 421 yards.

The defensive ball went to cornerback Chance Melancon, who punched loose a fumble, recovered by Orr, that Princeton converted for a touchdown; won a test of wills in the end zone with a yanked-down interception; and had two pass breakups.

Special team honors were won by Tavish Rice, who nailed a no-doubt 40-yard field goal in his only attempt, and proved indefatigable kicking off nine times, achieving seven touchbacks.

THE W(HOLE)  STORY

Had the Tiger offense blown out the scoreboard before halftime, one still could have made a good guess at the intermission score by watching the fired up Princeton players race for the locker room while most of the Harvard players walked.

The coup de grace to a demoralizing 31-10 deficit was Charlie Volker’s 14-yard touchdown run to climax an 80-yard drive in just 57 seconds, an emphatic immediate answer to a Harvard touchdown drive that just restored the Crimson’s equilibrium, at least conceivably.

“Sean (offensive coordinator Gleeson) does such a good job that we still had two time outs left,” recalls Surace. “So I told him if he wanted to run the ball (on first-and-ten at the 14 with 39 seconds remaining) to go ahead.”

“Right after I say that into the headset, I hear a player, don’t know who, standing behind me saying ‘We don’t need a timeout.’”

Volker ran through an enormous hole up the middle, meeting no resistance until running over a defender at the two.

HE REMAINS UNRILED DEPT:

Another Bushnell defensive candidate across the line.  Another week’s work to sophomore right tackle Reily Radosevich.  Brown’s Dewey Jarvis had just four tackles last week and Harvard’s DJ Bailey merely four (one for a loss) on Friday night, mostly working against Radosevich.

”We have high expectations for Reily,” said Surace.  “But that’s really good work.”

UP THE GUT BUT NOT ENTIRELY ON GUT DEPT:

Ahead three touchdowns with still a quarter-and-a-half to play, Princeton had used a spectacular one-handed catch by Horsted to put the ball at the Harvard three.  But on the only occasion the offense struggled all night, the Crimson had stiffened against a Kanoff keeper, then two wedge attempts by Volker, forcing a kick-or-go decision on fourth down.

Surace, with a chance to make it a four-score game (unless three two-point conversions clicked) with a field goal, risked giving the bedraggled Crimson a boost.  He passed up the field goal and, after a timeout, gave the ball to Volker again.  This time, he got in.

“We needed two feet and Charlie has really been running hard,” said the coach.

“Worst case scenario, they need touchdowns and are going to have to drive 99 yards.

“[The decision] is a little what the analytics people tell us. And a little bit of gut. “

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