“It Wasn’t Even Close; That’s What Makes It So Hard”
BY JAY GREENBERG
There is video to prove that Princeton really beat Penn on Saturday, even if the record will forever show otherwise, and even if, however many catches Stephen Carlson totals in his excellent career, the number will exclude the best one he ever made.
We risk that grand declaration because it is impossible to ever imagine one superior. Carlson, stride for stride with cornerback Jyron Walker as Chad Kanoff delivered a prefect throw, turned in quintessential time to reach over the defender, tip the ball with his left hand and then used it to pull the pigskin into his chest before falling over the back line with both feet in bounds, one more than required in college football.
Side Judge Chris Smith, watching from fewer than 10 feet away, put his hands up. Back judge George O’Brien, watching from at least a 20 foot distance, ran in to tell Smith that it was not a catch, never mind Carlson’s back was turned to O’Brien, making it impossible for him to tell whether the receiver was juggling the ball as alleged while his body took him over the end line with three seconds on the clock.
The officials followed procedure: The side judge looks at the catch and for interference while the back judge checks the location of the receiver’s feet. But the official who had no view at all ended up making a grievous mistake that could not be corrected because the Ivy League has no procedure for replay.
Thus a spectacular Princeton rally from 24-7 and 31-21 deficits, culminating in a magnificent winning catch, was for nothing. And when Tavish Rice missed an attempted game-tying field goal, the Tigers went down to a 38-35 defeat that will become possible to rationalize perhaps by the time these players’ kids are suiting up for the Tigers. But no sooner.
“It wasn’t even close, that’s what makes it so hard,” said Coach Bob Surace on Sunday morning. “It wasn’t one of those plays where, “Is his foot touching the white or not, did the ball come out when he landed?’
“Stephen’s back was to the back judge; he had no way of seeing it. The only person who could see that play was the official maybe two yards away. Yes, you have to have possession before you go out of bounds, but it wasn’t even close. I can’t understand how he could get involved in a call where the ball is pressed up against the receiver’s chest, a good distance in bounds.
“On replays, there are calls that are agony, like the ball moving a millimeter inside a receiver’s arms as he went out of bounds, all kind of minutia. This one, there was no minutia.
“You wake up in the morning and feel like somebody came into your house and stole something. Credit Penn–their quarterbacks were 17-for-20 and they rushed for  yards–so we did leave the door unlocked. But that doesn’t give somebody the right to steal something from your house. Something you earned was unjustly taken away.”
Surace submitted the video to Jim Maconaghy, the Ivy League’ coordinator of officials, just as the coach submits multiple perceived mistakes every week.
“Last week I sent in a dozen plays and it came back I was right on eight of them,” said Surace. “I send them so we can teach better and play better and so that they can teach the officials better. And there are times I just want to be clear on the ruling.
“Last week (against Cornell) there was a personal foul for roughing the passer called (on Joe Percival). I thought the quarterback was running and throwing so I didn’t think that constituted roughing the passer and it came back that it shouldn’t have been.
“Jim does a great job. But at the end we will get a phone call saying they are sorry. The only time [a protest] mattered was when they allowed Kurt (Holuba) to come back and play the next game after they had made an error on a targeting call (at Lafayette). But even then, an erroneous call that could have been reversed quickly on replay cost us Kurt for a lot of the third and all the fourth quarter.
“Other sports have ways of changing game-changing events. When conferences like the NEC are now using replay, this is not a good look for the Ivy League. It’s disappointing that we don’t look into things better than we do. It is something that I have been arguing for. And I think most of our coaches agree. Why it doesn’t happen is above me.
“There is so much on officials’ plates that I feel sorry for them. We keep adding more rules and the game has become so fast that officiating is very challenging. The call they missed at the end of the game wasn’t difficult, though: The guy who should have made the call made the correct one, that’s why this was so frustrating.
“These games are on TV. There were people watching who knew it was a catch. My blood pressure was at like 300 when I got to the press conference because I had everybody sending me comments and pictures that it was a catch.
“The calls in the second period–like was that a hold or was there pass interference?—tend to even out. One like that at the end of the game, it’s very hard to take.”
Fake News Dept:
All it will forever read on the play-by-play sheet is: 2-5, Penn 13, Kanoff, C. pass incomplete to Carlson, S. But as Paul Harvey used to say on the radio: Now, you’ll know the rest of the story:
“During training camp, Chad wasn’t happy with the performance of that play,” said Surace. “So after practice, he, Stephen, Jesper (Horsted), Jordan (Argue) and I think Alex Parkinson were out there for must have been a half-an-hour working on it.
“We probably had grinding practices for six or seven days in a row and here they were working extra on the tight red zone throw into the end zone. I had to kick them off the field because I was worried about their legs.
“Chad and Steve probably have done this throw 500 times to get it right like they did at the most crucial time. They come up with an unbelievable throw and catch and they go into the locker room in tears. There are not words you can express as a coach to pick these guys up, other than thanking them for everything they do.”
Gaping and Gapping Dept:
As the Tigers have, in stages, lost their best pass rushers, superior run defense regardless had remained a constant until Saturday. There was equal opportunity for Penn to take advantage of Princeton’s inexperience both up the middle and on the edge.
“Penn had a tremendous plan,” said Surace. “It has been a very good rushing team the whole year and they complimented their inside runs with some speed option on the outside.
“We struggled to stop both. We didn’t tackle well and we were out of our gaps way, way too much.
“I had gone back and watched our game with them two years ago, and said, ‘Be careful, this could be a speed option game’ So we worked on it in practice, disproportionately to the amount they had showed in games this season and Penn still was way too successful with it.
“We struggled with our execution. The two times we took our eyes off the quarterback, they had ten-yard gains. On some of the [defensive calls], an end has the quarterback and the outside guy has the pitch. Some of them, a linebacker has the quarterback and the safety may have the pitch.
“We are doing some different things up front, trying to get our guys in the best position possible. But we are in a quandary: How much do you put in for these (young) guys?
“They went too far with where their momentum took them out of their lane. We have to be stricter with our responsibilities. Our tackling has been so good, and this time it wasn’t, but part of that is that Penn has tremendous backs who did a great job breaking tackles.”
Both the still-standing starters and underclassmen forced into the fray before their time, made some good plays, just not enough of them.
“Tom Johnson played a tremendous game again,” said Surace. “Eddie Rudinski had some really good moments. Nico Bayless is a walk on playing defense for the first time, and he had two tackles for a loss. [Penn] had a problem with the exchange on their second fumble, but Mike Perloski did a great job getting free into his gap; I think that caused that fumble that allowed us to take the lead.
“We had our moments where we got them for two-yard losses and then the next play we would have a bust. We have to look at the number of missed assignments and see what we can do.
“We’re in a tough spot. If we are putting a little too much in (the plan) we’re tending to make mistakes. When we are not doing enough, I want to do more because I just don’t want to see us bleed to death. I think they had five drives of nine plays or more.”
PLAYERS OF THE GAME
Again, no game balls are awarded after losses, so we are on our own this week.
Offense: Carlson. See above. He won another 50-50 ball in the end zone on the game’s first drive. Honorable mention to Kanoff. Dropped passes on four straight non-scoring possessions spanning halftime helped make his 32-for-45 look like an off week, at least for him. But he had five straight completions on the winning drive that wasn’t.
Defense: Johnson had eight solo tackles.
Special Teams: Ryan Quigley’s tackle of returner Isaiah Malcome at the 14-yard line in the third quarter forced bad Penn field position that the Tigers quickly converted after Khalil Bryant recovered a fumble on the next play.
LAST SHOT DEPT:
Had Carlson drawn a pass interference call, moving the Tigers inside the 10 with time for one play, Surace was going to go for the win, not the tying field goal.
“The defense had been on the field too long,” said the coach, who said the proposed decision did not reflect a distrust of Rice.
”He has been in a tough spot, unable to practice,” said Surace. “I though Tavish kicked off brilliantly (four touchbacks out of six) and hit really well the last [FGA] like he did all the extra points. For whatever reason, this one looked like he missed by a few feet.”
Freshman long snapper Ryan McNeil is injured, his duties on field goals being taken over by reserve guard Andre Guest. On the fateful miss, the snap was a little to the right but Zach Kelly flawlessly got the ball down. “The first extra point, too, was a difficult snap to get down,” said Surace. “I thought Zach did a tremendous job on a couple of them.”
Freshman Antonio Ferrer’s progress in practice earned him two punts, one of them hurried in the face of a severe rush, and he got bounces on both line drives that yielded a 35.5 average.