There is No Catch to What Makes These Wide Outs So Good
BY JAY GREENBERG
Stephen Carlson has watched the catch-that-wasn’t enough times to confirm what was in his heart and in his hands from the time he rolled over clutching the ball with three seconds remaining.
It was a sensational grab–tipped by Carlson over the Penn defender to himself and grasped firmly against his chest–that won the game for a few of the happiest seconds of his life. So that’s the way his children someday will know about it.
“I think I’m going to want to show it to them regardless,” Carlson smiled. “Maybe I will make up a story that it counted and they will never know the difference.
“It’s upsetting, but there is nothing you can do about it. We have to move on. It doesn’t change anything about how we practice.”
As the Tigers went back to work Tuesday, they seemed not annoyed by anything– not a driving rain, stiff wind gusts, or bone-chilling 40 degree temperatures that turned practice for the quarterbacks and receivers into a greased pig contest at the county fair.
“Days like this, there is only one way to get through it,” said Carlson. “Have fun with it.”
And they did, with animated reactions to the catches and drops and breakups that indicated, yes, they had moved on from the 38-35 defeat Saturday at Penn. “They’re a resilient bunch,” smiled Bob Surace. “And they know they won the game.”
The presence of about five guys on crutches was not required, but they were out there regardless as the rain came down, rolling off the Tigers backs, just like the injustice. It’s always sunny in Princeton for these guys, who remain a creditable 5-3, even if they are really 6-2.
Cold hands are not going to give cold feet to one guy from the Twin Cities (Jesper Horsted) and another from Jamestown, NY, near Buffalo (Carlson). Slick fingers?
Their smiles are their umbrellas. Besides, on Saturday the forecast calls for a dry track, and, more importantly, very little wind that can keep from appointed rounds Chad Kanoff and a receiving corps challenging all-time Princeton numbers.
A battered and thin defense will again force a few breaks and a still-standing–and outstanding–offense will take advantage of them, just like at Penn. Yale, emergent as the best team in the league, leading Cornell and Columbia by one game and Princeton by two with two weeks to go, is healthy like the Tigers were a year ago, when they routed the Bulldogs in New Haven. Yale will not likely win this one similarly going away. That’s because Kanoff, Carlson, Jesper Horsted, Tiger Bech and Jordan Argue will not go away.
A total of 599 passing yards by Kanoff–300 per game basically–will make him the leading career passer in Princeton history, ahead of Doug Butler ’83. Horsted needs just 71 yards to become the fourth Tiger receiver (Derek Graham and Kevin Guthrie twice) to have a 1000-yard receiving season, plus can break the season record for touchdown catches–11 by Graham and Roman Wilson–with two more. Carlson can do that, too, with three TDs.
After Week Ten, statistics may argue this is the greatest one-two receiving punch for Princeton of all time, or at least since Graham and Guthrie with Butler. Surace, not one to compare, didn’t want to go there, unlike Kanoff, who will go to these two relentlessly, not only when they are consistently open by five yards on post patterns, but on jump balls in the end zone.
At Franklin Field, Kanoff even put one up for Horsted into double coverage, and good double coverage, too, making a 50-50 ball a 33 1/3 to 66 2/3 ball. Horsted may have interfered to save an interception.
Never mind the odds, Kanoff is willing to risk the odd turnover, so great is his confidence that two 6-4 wide receivers with wonderful body control, arms almost as long as it will take for a devout alum to get over that incomprehensible call, and hands softer than coverage as they line up on third-and-long, are going to come down with the ball. Eventually, even when the back judge correctly sees it.
And there are two of them. You want the hemlock or the strychnine? Good as they are, they make each other that much better because doubling Horsted, who has 74 catches for 116 yards per game, necessarily leaves Carlson, who has 57 receptions for 90 yards per game, in single coverage. Most opponents–Yale on Saturday likely to be included–just man up and take their chances, including with Tiger Bech, who has caught 32 for 51 yards per contest, too.
Kanoff hits Carlson and Horsted high, then the 5-9 Bech low. Got ‘em all on the winning drive at Penn that wasn’t, too, including Jordan Argue. There is an argument that can be made that he would be starting and starring, if not for this embarrassment of riches.
And all this is after losing 88 catches from last year’s championship team through graduation, not counting tight end Scott Carpenter’s 14.
“[Wide receiver] was one of the spring question marks, and that was before we even knew about John Lovett, who caught (26) balls last year (before undergoing summer surgery),” said Surace. “We really needed to see guys pick up the slack.”
Horsted, with 30 catches as a sophomore the second-leading receiver behind Isaiah Barnes in 2016, has become everything expected. Carlson, who had just two catches last year, has become a go-to monster, in addition, obscuring considerable depth at the position.
“Jordan (14 catches) has had some good weeks,” said Surace. “Tiger Bech (32 receptions) is really coming on. I see Alex Parkinson (five) is practicing well; the reads just haven’t gone his way recently. At some point, the numbers will be there for him, too. “
That’s a lot of guys to push each other for the precious right to be hit in the numbers by Kanoff on practically every sideline and over-the-middle throw.
“Stephen is an incredibly-talented athlete with whom I compete in almost everything I do,” said Horsted. “We have this ongoing pool rivalry, too.
“On the field, he makes me better by giving me somebody to compare myself to at all times. There are things he is better at than I am. I watch him to try to get on his level on certain things.
“He has the playbook down at this time. I don’t. He is a better blocker, has better techniques at that. And he is extremely talented at going up and getting the ball, regardless of situation. From the other side of the field, I really admire that.”
In addition to respecting each other, they even like each other. No loose cannons in this corps–they eat together at Cannon. Argue and Carlson are roommates, Horsted is one floor down, unless he is in the pool room, where he is not likely to be found behind any 8-balls.
Football and billiards are not the only things that involve a ball that Horsted is good at. He misses spring practice every year to star for the Tigers in center field, hence him being a little behind on his route knowledge, even if you can’t tell Penn (10 catches there) that.
It seems fair to call him a natural. “He breaks tackles, goes up over top of people,’ said Carlson. “With his athletic movements, it’s tough for the defense to get a read on him, tough for them to take him down.”
Carlson has become just as big a load through hard work.
“I feel a lot stronger,” he said about his big jump of the off-season. “All my lifts were way up, I felt way faster, getting off press (coverage), felt way more confident.
“And last spring was big for me on technique. That was when I started to take reps with the ones (first-stringers), really tried to be a leader in knowing where to be at the right time. It set me on a good path for this season.”
It was a path lined with rose petals. Just in the Surace era, Trey Peacock made way for Matt Costello, Roman Wilson and Connor Kelly, who yielded to Seth DeValve, now of the Cleveland Browns, whose star has been passed to Horsted and Carlson. Surace says two more are coming, in diminutive freshmen Jacob Bermelin and Austin Carbone.
But it’s not just something in the Jersey air, double entendre fully intended. The link in this Princeton chain that rarely fails to move the chains is receivers coach Dennis Goldman.
“Is there a better technique teacher of wide receivers in the country?” asked Surace. “I would be hard pressed to find one and I coached in the NFL and got to know a lot of receiver coaches. He pushes guys who are already self-motivated.”
You may have noticed the quarterback with an FCS-leading 74.4 per cent completions percentage is pretty good, too.
“I can’t say enough about how incredibly well Chad is playing,” said Horsted.
It is imperative that standard not fall off against a Yale offense of considerable talents, too. But this week, too, Princeton has at least a catcher’s chance.
Twenty-seven seniors will be introduced before this last home game and 54 Princeton captains will be on the field at halftime. Kanoff is excused because he will busy. . . This rivalry, the second longest active in NCAA football next to Lehigh vs. Lafayette, is led by Yale, 76-53-10. The two teams have split the last two, four, six and eight meetings, Princeton winning last year, 31-3. . . Kickoff is at 1. The game will be televised on Eleven Sports and streamed on the Ivy League Network (Bill Spaulding, Jack Ford, Seth Cantor) plus broadcast on WPRB 103.3, or through the Tune In app (search: Princeton IMG Sports Network) with Cody Chrusciel and Dave Giancola.