With a Non-Catch to an Apparent Victory, Tigers Have Their Hearts Broken, 38-35

  • November 5, 2017


PHILADELPHIA — It didn’t seem like any defeat could possibly hurt more than Princeton’s in overtime here two years ago, after having a chip shot field goal blocked at the end of regulation.  But it turns out the dictionary needs a stronger word than excruciating.

Princeton, down 24-7 in the third quarter had come all the way back when Stephen Carlson caught Chad Kanoff’s pass in the end zone. With seven seconds remaining, the closest official’s arms were up; the Tigers led 41-38, and then, a few seconds later, they did not, the trailing official apparently ruling that Carlson was juggling the ball as he fell over the end line.

There is no replay of officiating calls in the Ivy League, no explanation that will ever satisfy a ballistic Bob Surace and no heart to the football gods, either, when a second final-seconds field goal attempt in two weeks by Tavish Rice, this one from 31 yards, also missed.  Princeton (5-3 2-3 Ivy) went down to what the books will forever record a 38-35 defeat to Penn, even if the Tigers will always know in their hearts otherwise.

“You think you won and then you didn’t,” said Kanoff. “Its probably the worst way you could ever lose.”

Actually, it gets even worse than that.  Both Columbia and Cornell were defeated Saturday, which means a Tiger win would have put them back in control of their own fate for a share of the Ivy title, with leader Yale coming to Princeton next week.

Considering the condition of an injury-decimated defense that yesterday gave up 531 yards, including 331 on the ground, Princeton beating the Bulldogs is going to be a task as tall as all the inches there are to Carlson (10 catches, one touchdown Saturday) and Jesper Horsted (nine catches for two touchdowns) combined.   But the Tigers had defied their decrepit physical state on defense and a three-score deficit for what was one of the most ecstatic and memorable victories in school history. Until it wasn’t.

“We have so many guys playing more than they should–Eddie Rudinski and Ben Ellis got hurt and came back because they know how short we are,” said Surace. “We needed to score a lot and needed to get some turnovers and we did. Everything we needed we got.

“We fought out tails off.  Two weeks in a row, Chad put us on his back at the end of the game. That drive should have gone down as one of the historic drives by Princeton.  Instead, it goes down as a guy who should be making that call missing an obvious touchdown.

“We have clear evidence that it was caught.  [The official] panicked, there was nothing else to it. I’m sure he feels terrible.  Just not as terrible as my fifth-year senior quarterback and our offensive line walk-ons who are playing the defensive line because we need to get exhausted players off the field.

“To have these guys get on the bus disappointed just kills me.”

As always, there were ample reasons why it didn’t have to come down to needing to go 67 yards in 1:12, just to have your heart broken. In their condition, the Tigers weren’t going to win this one 17-13, so they let the hole get too deep, never mind they climbed out of it, only to be pitch forked back in the most painful way.

Following an opening-game touchdown drive culminating in a 22-yard touchdown pass from Kanoff to Carlson, the Tigers didn’t score again in their scant three possessions of the rest of the first half.  A fumble by freshman Collin Eaddy stopped one drive; drops by Tiger Bech did not help two others. Had not the Quakers hurt themselves with penalties on two other drives, the deficit could have been worse than 17-7.

In the locker room, Surace told the Tigers they were facing a test of will.  “Are we going to be a team that fights or do the ‘woe is me,’ with injuries and everything else?” he asked.

But the Quakers, who had the ball for 20:09 of the first half, got it again to start the second and scored again in just five plays, Justin Watson running past CJ Wall, who did not get the deep help he was supposed to receive, on a 36-yard touchdown throw from Will Fischer-Colbrie.

It was 24-7, when Kanoff, on the ensuing drive, got called for intentional grounding, leaving the Tigers in a third-and-13 at the Penn 28. A fourth down throw in the end zone for Horsted was broken up and a long day was getting longer.  But then on a third-and-seven to Karekin Brooks, Chance Melancon shed a block and made a tackle, forcing Penn’s first punt of the game.  When Hunter Kelly shanked it out of bounds for just 14 yards, the Tigers, set up at the Penn 40, had a reprieve.

Kanoff hit Bech for 11 and Horsted beat a tackle and tiptoed down the sideline for a 17-yard touchdown. Princeton was down only 10.

Ryan Quigley’s tackle on the ensuing kickoff forced a Penn start from the 14. And something different happened this time on first down other than the Quakers running for at least five yards.  Fischer Colbrie fumbled and Princeton’s Khalil Bryant dug it out of the pile.  On third-and-five from the nine, Horsted bounced off two more Quakers to make it a one-score game, 24-21, with more than a quarter to play.

Penn stayed on the ground, not only converting a fourth-and-three at the Princeton 48, but Tre Solomon taking the pitch, cutting back and going all the way, at least until being flagged for unsportsmanlike conduct.  That put the ball on the 20, not that it turned out to matter.  Five more runs took the ball in regardless.  Down 31-21, the Tigers appeared on fumes.

The offense, however, was not. Mostly on the ground, except for a 20-yard throw to the crossing Horsted, the Tigers fought back again to a one-score deficit, Charlie Volker making the final yard.  And then came another huge break, a fumble by running back Abe Willow, recovered by Nico Bayless.

Bech caught an 18-yarder and pass interference against Horsted in the end zone set up Volker going off left tackle for a Princeton lead, despite it all.

Penn, with its ball security issues, was a greater friend to the Tigers than the clock, however.  The Quakers had 4:26 for a final drive, plenty to run the ball if they so chose, which they did until getting over midfield. They then started to work Watson, who next year will be in the NFL.  He caught a 26-yarder on the sideline and then ran a go-route past Melancon to catch Fischer-Colbrie’s pass and put Penn back ahead 38-35.

“[The single coverage] was on me,” said Surace. “I told the defensive staff that we were not going to bleed to death.

“The guys up front were exhausted.   There were a couple positions we didn’t have a backup, we were just out of guys.  If we kept giving them four yards a pop, we weren’t going to get the ball back. Had to help the guys up front.”

Two timeouts had been saved when the Tigers started–badly–at their 20 with 1:12 to go. Consecutive false starts put Kanoff in a first-and-20 bind and Jyron Walker’s interception appeared to win Penn the game but the Quakers had been caught offsides. Reprieved, Kanoff found Carlson over the middle for 15, Jordan Argue between defenders for another 22, and then, with 18 seconds remaining, Bech got out of bounds with a 19-yard sideline completion.

Argue caught one over the middle for five more, setting up Rice with 12 seconds remaining and still enough time for one play into the end zone.

“Winning in overtime would have been hard,” said Surace. “We needed to take a shot.”

Kanoff and Carlson took their best one, an all-time good one that wasn’t. The Tigers raced to the end zone to celebrate, only to have the finish line moved on them.

“I thought all the way I was in bounds,” said Carlson.  “I looked at the referee in front of me and he was signaling a touchdown.

“The back line ref came in and waved it off, said I bobbled it. I thought that was hard to do when the ref in front of me was signaling touchdown.”

Penn burned two timeouts to freeze Rice. Unlike a week ago against Cornell, this time he had plenty of distance but missed wide right.

“Tavish is another guy fighting his way through some (physical) things,” said Surace.

“Keep fighting and fighting; there is nothing else we can do. We’re proud of them.  As I told them after the game, life is not fair. You want the calls to be right, if not on the field, then by replay when the first call was incorrect.

“There was a facemask that wasn’t called on our two-minute drive last time we were here.   Situations happen. It’s just happening too many times to us.”

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