Tigers Give Whatever They Have Left But Lose 35-31 to Yale
BY JAY GREENBERG
Next man up, of course. But with one game to go, the Tigers’ season has become a race to see if, indeed, there is going to be even one man left.
There is no such thing as a moral victory, not even in the Ivy League when you are terribly overmatched and still give it the ‘ol Old Nassau try to the end. For the fourth time this season, on Saturday on Powers Field at Princeton Stadium, the Tigers were one final possession score away from an exhilarating victory and didn’t get it.
Playing for the last three weeks with five starters – and multiple reserves–missing from their front seven, Princeton eight days ago earned a real win on the scoreboard at Penn until a blatantly-erroneous officials’ call erased a winning touchdown with three seconds remaining. The Tigers may not have gained any more sympathy this time in losing fair and square, if almost as painfully, 35-31, to Ivy leader Yale, but certainly earned their highest-level yet of respect, including self-respect.
“That team is many times more experienced than the guys we were putting out there and our guys were amazing,” said Coach Bob Surace. “We got a mike ‘backer playing end, we got an outside backer playing D end, and a nose tackle playing D-tackle as a freshman.
“We had two safeties and a corner go down. (Defensive coordinator) Steve Verbit and his coaches are mixing and matching like, ‘You’re okay? Then go in.’
“I’m standing there like holy cow! I couldn’t be more proud of our guys. That was one of the great efforts/performances, against a team with eight seniors, many of them fifth year players, on defense.”
Princeton had a chance to yet another bitter end because Chad Kanoff threw for four touchdown passes of 88 and 12 yards to Jesper Horsted, 58 yards to Tiger Bech, and 18 yards to Stephen Carlson on the way to 454 yards, the third most in a game in Princeton history.
The quarterback had two fourth-quarter possessions in Yale territory to win it in the end, too, but Hayden Carlson broke up a fourth-down curl for Horsted at the Yale 31, and Kanoff, wrapped up and on his way down on fourth-down at the Yale 43 with 1:13 to pay, desperately threw the ball right to Foyesade Oluokun to enable the Bulldogs (7-1, 4-1 Ivy) to run out the clock.
But because Princeton had the opportunity to pull out what would have been one of the great triumphs of wills in 148 years of the program, does not mean, of course, that the game was lost only in the end.
This one turned when:
1) The Tigers were leading 14-0 after Horsted caught a slant, ran out of the grasp Yale’s Carlson and outraced Malcolm Dixon for the fifth-longest touchdown catch-and-run in Princeton history and then Stephen Carlson scored on a perfectly-executed slant. Yale answered in just two plays–a 29 yard sideline pass to Jaeden Graham against Chance Melancon, then a 47-yard sideline run outside containment by Zane Dudek.
2) Princeton responded with its only methodical drive of the game, to a second-and-goal at the three, from where a flip pass to a crossing Horsted was sniffed out and the Tigers settled for a Tavish Rice 21 yard field goal. You knew they would need touchdowns, not field goals, to outlast Yale in the end.
3) When, after Tiger Bech beat everybody over the middle on a pinpoint 58-yard touchdown throw it could have been a three-score lead at the half. But it wasn’t. On second -and-one at the Yale 42, Safety TJ Floyd, the last guy back, gambled for a breakup or an interception on a sideline throw by Kurt Rawlings to Jaeden Graham. It went for a 58-yard touchdown.
“It was a heckuva throw,” said Surace. “But knowing the situation, we have to be deeper than that.”
4) Another Princeton drive, started promisingly by a 22-yarder to Bech, petered out to a punt and a 24-14 lead at the half, not the end of the world since the Tigers had the ball to start the second half. But then they didn’t. Freshman Collin Eaddy fumbled the ball away on the second play from scrimmage. And, on fourth-and eight, Rawlings had freshman CJ Wall in single coverage and led Ross Drawl perfectly for a 33-yard touchdown.
The score, 24-21, may have still been in Princeton’s favor, but with the third quarter barely started, momentum and the clock really was not. Yale, which would finish the game with a 40:05-to-19:55 time of possession advantage, had the rest of the game to run the ball and wear the thin Tigers down. The Bulldogs promptly did with a 13-play drive in which freshman Zane Dudek carred the ball seven times, including over the goalline from the one, to put Yale ahead for the first time, 31-28.
Kanoff came right back to Bech for 58 yards and the amazing Horsted broke a tackle on a 12-yard touchdown catch for a brief, and final, Princeton lead, at 31-28. But Dudek gobbled up 35 of his 180 yards for the game on the Bulldogs’ responding touchdown drive.
With 12:08 to go, that didn’t figure to be the last score of what seemingly was headed for a win by whoever had the last possession, but Yale’s experience on defense rose to the occasion on the two final Princeton drives.
Stephen Carlson caught one for 32 yards to have the Tigers knocking, but Horsted twice couldn’t free himself as the series died a fourth-down death at the Yale 31. By scoring all their touchdowns on quick strikes and lightning drives, the Tigers had helped wear down their own defense, but then, at last call, without two safeties–Trevor Forbes and Chase Williams,–who had to come out of nickel and dime packages, Princeton made a potentially heroic stand.
Tom Johnson made a tackle on Dudek on second down and Ben Ellis tackled Christopher Williams-Lopez short of the marker on third. So when Alex Gallant’s field goal attempt from 41 went wide, the Tigers were where they wanted to be all along: In Kanoff’s hands with a chance to win it regulation, this time maybe even the officials allowing it to count.
Bech was wide open for 31 yards on first down. But he dropped the next one that would have put Princeton in short yardage, and then was swarmed on a swing pass. On third down Kanoff–limping and no Fran Tarkenton besides–decided to run and only got a yard.
“I don’t think there was a rush on that play, he probably saw an opening,” said Surace. “They played a lot of single high man, but, in the two-minute, they go to two.
“The kid is gutsy. He can barely walk and he threw for how many yards? And we provably dropped 60-70 more yards in passes.
“We didn’t catch the ball as well as we had. And we had a fumble when we needed possession and more points. And Yale was just great on third and fourth downs. But that was one of the great efforts/performances against a team with eight seniors on defense
“They are a man-to-man team that holds and interferes and we had guys fighting through all that. We got some big play against a team that nationally is ranked in every category.”
Horsted has now caught more touchdown passes (12) in one season than anyone in Princeton history. Kanoff’s 26th touchdown throw beat Doug Butler’s single season record and now the quarterback needs only 145 yards next week at Dartmouth to pass Butler as the school’s all-time leading passer.
Maybe these guys’ children will glory in those numbers someday. For now, the Tigers have lost three straight by one, three and four points. Even if they actually did win one of them, a looming fourth 5-5 season around two championships in the last six years is not what they signed up for when the year started. And especially not when they were 5-1 and coming off a rout at Harvard.
Surace vows they will show up in Hanover regardless.
“Most teams in our situation are getting blown out,” he said. “We can’t find the one play, the one call, whatever, that is to get that good feeling.
“But we will fight like heck to get it this week.”
This is a manpower issue, not a self-esteem problem. Horsted tipped his cap to the Ivy champions.
“It’s extremely disappointing, but it’s always worse if you play horribly,” he said.
“That is a really good team.”