Tigers Fall in the End Again, All the Way to 5-5, with 54-44 loss to Dartmouth

  • November 18, 2017

BY JAY GREENBERG

HANOVER, NH –Barring turnovers causing a collapse by either side, it was obvious not only from the third quarter but maybe even as far back as the first, that the last team to have the ball was going to win this game Saturday here.

On a day Chad Kanoff became the Ivy League’s all time single-season passing leader it was a shame that the final yards of his Tiger career–28 for a Jesper Horsted touchdown, completing a 444-yard day–didn’t just prove a typically breathtaking drive by the senior quarterback. One more time it showed that this offense again was too spectacular for Princeton’s own good.

After the Tigers went 80 yards in just seven plays to go up 44-41, Dartmouth got the ball back with 3:02 to go, enough to run the ball five of the first six plays, get into Princeton territory, wear down the thin defense one last time, and score on a Jared Gerbino’s two-yard run with one second remaining on the clock.

With the option of a chip shot field goal to force overtime, Coach Buddy Teevens went for the win or nothing in the confidence he had done it successfully against Penn early in the year. Also because after 341 rushing yards on the day for Dartmouth, why not?

Charlie Volker’s attempt to keep the ball alive for a miracle on the last-play kickoff–a behind-the-back lateral, was picked off by Ryan Roegge and run in, setting the final score at 54-44.  But this was really a 4-point Princeton loss to top off previous defeats of four, one, three and four points, adding to the agony of a 5-1 start fading into a 5-5 finish, the third in four years for the Tigers wrapping around their 2016 Ivy League championship.

Injuries were huge factors in all three seasons fading down the stretch. In this one, the defensive line lost all three starters, including All-American Kurt Holuba, and multiple backups, plus linebackers Mark Fossati and Mike Wagner who were among the team’s best playmakers. But Coach Bob Surace did not let the survivors off the hook, never mind their youth. He gathered his team in the end zone before it went to the locker room, to pointedly tell them: “You need to get a lot tougher.”

Another lopsided time of possession–34:59 for Dartmouth, 23:01 for Princeton—in part told a story of tacklers being dragged for additional yards by Gerbino, a wildcat quarterback who averaged 6.3 yards per carry on the day on the way to 203.  Worse using fast feet to wriggle away, he was constantly able to fall forward for additional yards while Tigers held on for the dear life that was draining out of the season.

They really wanted this one, like they wanted all the last four contests. But the Tigers failed to make a defensive play–no turnovers today–to save any of these cliffhangers while Kanoff, Horsted and Stephen Carlson continued to keep Princeton alive in each of these games into the final seconds.

Horsted’s one hand grab of a slant for Princeton’s final score deserved to be remembered with the most inspirational catches in school’s history. Carlson’s in the end zone on the previous possession was impressive, too, second only to the one he was cheated out of that really won the Penn game.

Kanoff made one very uncharacteristic mistake, a bad underthrow for Graham Adomitis in the second quarter that Dartmouth intercepted and turned into a touchdown. And that, like a first-quarter blocked extra point attempt of Tavish Rice, ended up being strategy-changing down the stretch.

But Rice also made a clutch 42-yarder to give Princeton one of its second-half leads. And Kanoff, passing Cornell’s Jeff Matthew’s single season Ivy League passing yardage record, plus Doug Butler ’86 as Princeton’s all-time career leader, was brilliant again ultimately for . . . . well, was it really nothing?

“I always have said these things were something to think about when the season is over,” said Kanoff. “But now the season is over and I still don’t think it’s. . . . .  .

“I mean, it’s an honor to have your name with these guys.  But this is an ultimate team sport. Those numbers are totally a function of the offensive line, receivers, and the play calling.  They let me throw the ball to good players.  So if it’s an honor for the whole team.  I am only the representative of them.

“It has been a blessing to throw to these guys.”

Horsted had 12 catches for two touchdowns and 169 yards; Carlson 10 for 138 yards and a touchdown.  They don’t do that however if the ball was not on the money.

The 78-yard drive that ended with Carlson’s 20-yard catch took only 2:42. Kanoff, who came into the final game needing 382 yards to pass Matthews and 145 to break Butler’s Princeton record, passed both running away. And he did this against a defense yielding only 315 yards total a game, 20th in all of college football.

“We only had nine drives and we score on seven,” said Surace. “I thought going in, there were five outstanding defenses in the league and Dartmouth might have the best one.

“Chad is in the rare air. When you say (Jay) Fielder, (Jason) Garrett–every team has one of them–he has broken every single Ivy League season record, other than the one for touchdowns, and obviously, we were one short from the Penn game or he would have tied that record, too.”

In the first half, the Tigers had the formula to keep their defense off the field–touchdown drives lasting 5:28 and 5:17 on the first two possessions that put up a 13-3 lead. Thanks to a subsequent Ryder Stone drop of a first-down pass, Princeton had a stop and the opportunity to open a three-score lead but Davis Brief’s short punt hit TC Schneider on the leg in coverage and Dartmouth fell on the ball at the Princeton 26.

“The whole bench is yelling, ‘poison!’, which we practice on punts that go awry,” said Surace. “It means, ‘get away from the ball.’  Tiger (Bech), the returner, was pointing too; you have to get away, but [Schneider] didn’t hear it.”

The Big Green scored in five plays, the last when Stone broke a Tom Johnson tackle for a 3-yard touchdown run to cut the lead to 13-10. Next, Dartmouth got a third-down stop on a quick out to Carlson and the Tigers punted for their only time of the game. The Big Green, the key play being a Jack Heneghan first down scramble on third-and-nine, moved methodically to a 12-play 78 yard, touchdown drive, capped by Gerbino’s 4-yard run.

The Tigers had time and the means to counter, but Kanoff’s interception, thrown on the run but not under heavy duress, set up a 39-yard drive to a David Smith field goal to end the half.

“Hadn’t done that in . . .. just underthrew it,” Kanoff said.

But the damage would have been worse had the defense not gotten a stop to force the field goal. And that beleaguered unit forced punts on the first two series of the third quarter while Charlie Volker was completing two more Princeton drives to put the Tigers ahead.

Dartmouth, going to Gerbino more and more, took a lead again when Hunter Hagdorn beat Chance Melancon for a 49-yard score down the sideline. The whole fourth quarter had become a question of computing how much time would be left for which team to score in the end.

It wasn’t even a ridiculous question to ask Surace whether it was a mistake to score so quickly on the last drive.

“We did consider onside kicking after the score,” he said. “But (down four) no, we needed a touchdown because we had missed that extra point. Otherwise, we could bleed the clock a little more.”

A 22-yard throw by Heneghan to Drew Estrada got the drive going to the Princeton 44. Four straight Gerbino runs got the ball to the 37 with 58 seconds remaining, with Dartmouth retaining all the timeouts it needed.

The last stand included an apparent touchdown called back on an illegal receiver penalty, and consecutive interference penalties on freshman Delan Stallworth–the first clearly saving a touchdown–that moved the ball to the two with five seconds on the clock.

Everybody in the house knew the ball was going to Gerbino, including Stallworth, who stood the ball carrier up momentarily before he fell across the goalline.

“Maybe by a foot,” said Surace. “That’s how it goes.

“We have played a number of incredible games the last four weeks.  We forced a fumble into the air today, that (Ed Rudinski) almost caught but they fell on it.   Out of 18 fumbles we forced this year, we recovered only five of them. The analytics say (in any kind of normal) year, that’s not likely.

“After six weeks, we were giving up 60 yards rushing a game. Last four weeks it’s like 300. That’s a huge drop off. . We couldn’t get off the field and that’s frustrating.

“I will spend 10 seconds on the what-if-game at some point. But we’re not the only team in this league playing close games. At the end of the day, we were not good enough.”

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