These Were the Plays and Players of 2017
BY JAY GREENBERG
Player of the Year (or Practically Any Year Even After 148 of Them): Chad Kanoff, now Princeton’s all-time leader in passing yardage, broke Ivy season records for yards, completion percentage, and would have tied the mark for touchdown passes too, but for the game-winning completion taken away from the Tigers at Penn. In every close game but the one against Cornell, Kanoff conducted a fourth-quarter drive to either ice the game or put Princeton ahead.
Best Single Game Performance by An Offensive Player: Kanoff completed his first 21 passes against Harvard, suffered a drop on the 22nd attempt, then hit four more straight. He finished a staggering 31-for-35 for 421 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions.
Best Offensive Lineman: Left tackle Mitchell Sweigart.
Perhaps the Best Offensive Lineman Princeton Ever Has Had: Sweigart. Week after week he was flawless.
Best Offensive Newcomer: By strictest definition, it was freshman running back Collin Eaddy, who averaged six yards per his 63 carries. But by virtual reality, junior Stephen Carlson went from two catches in 2016 to 71 this year and a berth on the All Ivy second team.
Most Improved Offensive Player Over Four Years: Guard Erik Ramirez, an under-the-radar recruit who got the last spot in his freshman class, went out as a two time second-team All Ivy selection.
Best Win: Harvard vs. Princeton needs no explanation of its context, here or anywhere. The Crimson had not been beaten that badly at home since 1967 so, of course, that night of nights in Boston dwarfs all other Tiger victories in a 5-5 season. That said, the quality of a triumph is defined by the quality of the opponent. When the Tigers beat San Diego in the opener, who knew that the Toreros would win the rest of their games by an average of 32 points, including a 41-10 playoff win heading into round two this weekend? The 27-17 Princeton triumph was one of only two recorded by Ivy teams against Division I out of conference foes who finished with a winning record. Brown beat (6-5) Bryant for the other.
Best Overall Team Effort: Brown ended up being winless in conference and, as the season wore on, largely uncompetitive in the league, but how much of that was the effect of Princeton’s 53-0 beating in the fifth week? Shutouts are rare. It was an almost flawless performance by all three Tiger units.
Biggest Clutch Play: There were plenty of big-at-the-time fourth-quarter chain movers in contests when it turned out the depleted Tiger defense couldn’t hold a lead. And four of the victories were routs. So our choice is a 34-yard completion to Carlson on a third-and-16 from the San Diego 42 with 2:33 remaining that maintained the putaway touchdown drive against San Diego. Carlson pulled in the ball falling backwards out of bounds, and then caught a swing pass off play-action for the three-yard touchdown that iced the game.
Biggest Clutch Play That Princeton Had Taken Away to the League’s Everlasting Shame: Carlson made the catch of the millennium, reaching over Penn defender Jyron Walker to tip the ball with the left hand, then pulled it in with his left hand, too, and came down so far in bounds with six seconds remaining that even the official who overruled the touchdown call should have been able to see it was legit from 20 yards away. Officials failed to confer and the Ivy League does not have replay. What would have been a finish remembered for the next 150 years will be recalled for all the wrong reasons.
Best Catch That Counted: Maybe even more acrobatic than the one above. Jesper Horsted was on his back and the flag was being thrown for interference when he reached up one-handed to pull in a 27-yarder at the two-yard line at Harvard, setting up a Charlie Volker run for a 17-0 lead.
Next Best Catch That Counted: On third-and-seven of that putaway drive at San Diego, Horsted was between two defenders and leaped to take the ball away from the rear one for a 16-yard completion that started the putaway drive. Otherwise, Princeton would have had to punt up three with fewer than seven minutes to go.
Best Sideline Catch: Tiger Bech did a clutch toe-tap for a 19-yarder to the Penn 18 that set up the touchdown that wasn’t.
Best Yards After the Catch: By Horsted, who, after breaking a tackle to complete a 17-yard touchdown pitch-and-catch, broke two 75 seconds later on a nine-yard scoring reception at Penn to get Princeton, once down 24-7, quickly back in the game.
Best Throw: Kanoff, about to get leveled, delivered the ball 35 yards in the air just barely over the finger tips of Yale safety Jason Alessi to Bech, who made the catch in full stride and was gone on a 58-yard touchdown play. Coverage was virtually perfect and the throw even better. Of all the wonderful Kanoff passes that NFL scouts will continue to study into the draft in April, this was the one that most should earn him being drafted.
Second Best Throw: Perfect trajectory on a post to Horsted, enabling him to break a tackle by the safety and outrun everyone for an 89-yard touchdown against Yale.
Most Breathtaking Pass Play: Three plays after Harvard’s offense finally got on the board with a 12-play drive to a field goal, Horsted crossed over the middl, and caught a Kanoff delivery in full stride. Two defenders appeared to have an angle on him until they didn’t. He went down the sideline for a 66-yard touchdown that extended the lead to 24-3.
Most Breathtaking Run: Charlie Volker ran through a canyon created by backup center Alex Deters and Ramirez to rush for the longest touchdown in 148 years of Princeton football–96 yards at Brown. Deters had been penalized for a hold one play earlier. Instant redemption.
Best Run: In a play that appeared designed to go right, Collin Eaddy veered left, ran through a ravine created by Sweigart and George Attea, and ever-so-smoothly scooted out of two dives at the feet for a 32-yard touchdown that completed the rout in Boston.
Best Blocking on a Run: In perfect execution of a less-than-simple trap-blocking scheme, Charlie Volker ran off left tackle through a hole created by Attea and Ramirez, burst into the secondary, ran through one tackle and bowled over another defender at the goal line for a 14-yard touchdown that competed a 5-play, 80-yard drive extending Princeton’s lead at Harvard to a stunning 31-10 at the half.
Best Power Run: Ryan Quigley bulldozed two tacklers on a 15-yard touchdown run against Georgetown.
Best Short-yardage run: Volker dove over the back of Ramirez – hey, who says shorter linemen are at a disadvantage? – for a one-yard touchdown on the opening second-half drive that pulled Princeton into a tie at Dartmouth.
Best Scramble: Kanoff, flushed out of the pocket for one of the few times all season, leaped over the last Cornell defender on a 14-yard touchdown run to open the scoring.
Best Play Call: Two steps forward by Kanoff to fake a run, then a lob to wide open Graham Adomitis deep the end zone for a five-yard touchdown to put Princeton up 24-10 over Georgetown. The master of play fakes could sell it with his feet, too.
Best Drive: How do you choose? Princeton had 26 touchdown drives of 70 yards or more, four of them to open a game. But for variety’s sake and for purposes of wearing down a defense, we’ll go with the game starter at Dartmouth: Fifteen plays, 81 yards, four different pass catchers, two running backs handling the ball, three third-down and one fourth-down conversion. It was finished by Volker going in untouched on a one-yard run off right tackle.
Best Clutch Drive: Eighty yards in five plays in 2:16 at Dartmouth, culminating in a Horsted catch of a perfectly-led 29-yard post to give Princeton its final lead on its final possession of the season. Only problem was that the Tigers, who needed four points, couldn’t slow it down to play for a field goal. They scored too soon.
Best Clutch Drive In the History of College Football That Reprehensibly Didn’t Count: At Penn, Kanoff had 80 yards to go, 1:12 to work with, and then had to overcome two false starts. To be fair, an interception was cancelled by a Penn penalty. But five completions set up the Carlson touchdown-that-wasn’t with just six seconds to play.
Under Appreciated Offensive Performance: Offensive line gave up only eight sacks all season.
Next Most Underappreciated Offensive Performance: While Kanoff was passing all-time Princeton and Ivy single season records at Dartmouth, Volker was scoring three touchdowns. He had four at Brown and another three at Harvard.
Worst Break in the History of College Football since Colorado was given five downs to beat Missouri: Of course it is the winning touchdown taken away at Penn.
Second Worst Break: Zane Dudek fumbled the ball before he crossed the goalline on a 47-yard touchdown run that got Ivy champion Yale back in the game at 14-7. The ball bounced out of the end zone for what should have been a touchback. Officials missed it, but so did almost everyone in the stadium.
Best Break: To be fair, Princeton had some good fortune, even if in the total scheme it didn’t feel like it. Harvard coverage was so confused on Horsted’s 20-yard touchdown catch to complete the Tigers’ opening drive that nobody was within five yards of either he or Carlson. They could have lateraled the ball back and forth twice and still scored, not that we are recommending that.
Hardest Worker on Offense According to the Coaches: Carlson.
Hardest Worker on Defense According to the Coaches: Thomas Johnson. Practiced as he played.
Best Defensive Player: Johnson, who led the team in tackles, remained a first team All Ivy performer as the playmakers around him dwindled.
Best Single Game Performance by a Defensive Player: Johnson had 16 tackles against Yale.
Best Defensive Play: Safety by Kurt Holuba against Georgetown. With the Tigers down 10-7 in the first quarter, Holuba made a terrific move on a stunt and buried quarterback Clay Norris.
Defensive Hit of the Year: Up 6-0 against San Diego, ball at the Princeton six, Ben Ellis crashed through to get his head on a football carried by Emilio Martinez, knocking it to the ground. Wall recovered at the four and Princeton responded by going 96 yards in 12 plays. With five new starters in the back seven, it established a new defensive identity that carried through the Harvard game, after which the injuries took a terrible toll.
Strip of the Year: By Chance Melancon of Harvard’s Charlie Booker III, recovered by John Orr, to set up a short field and yet another touchdown. Melancon dislodged another one to set up a touchdown at Penn.
Best Interception: Freshman cornerback C.J. Wall, reading Norris’s eyes like a senior, jumped a quick out and then broke a tackle for a 31-yard touchdown against Georgetown. It blew the game wide open at 31-10 in the second quarter.
Most Improved player on Defense This Year: Linebacker Ed Rudinski. Became a starter when Mike Wagner was lost late in the Brown game and was an instant star at Harvard. Rudinski then more than held his own with three-and-a-half tackles for losses for the season.
Best One-on-One Tackle: On Booker by Rudinski in the backfield for a two-yard loss on the first series of his first start, forcing a third-and-long.
Most Improved Player on Defense Over Four Years: Melancon.
Best Overall Performance by the Defense: Only gave up two touchdowns, one of them with the game long decided, after losing Holuba in the second quarter at Harvard. Yielded 427 total yards but repeatedly made big plays when the Crimson threatened, leaving hope that the Tigers could still get enough stops to continue winning.
Second Best Performance by the Defense: With only three returning defensive starters out of 11, the Tigers held a prolific San Diego team to just 17 points in the opener.
Best Newcomer on Defense: As the injuries on defense mounted, a lot of players had to be given responsibilities for which they were not ready. But John Orr, who stepped in for captain Mark Fossati at the Will linebacker position was not one of them. He keyed an excellent performance by all the ‘backers at Harvard with ten tackles.
Best Special Teams Play: Simeon Lane came up the middle to block a Georgetown field goal attempt.
Best Special Teams Player: Return team blocker Hayden Murphy, as chosen by the coaches. But Chase Williams and T.C Schneider also were demons on kick coverage.
Hardest Worker on Special Teams: Hoffman was put to work by coordinator Stephen Thomas on all four return teams and, as a senior, was their spiritual leader.
Best Newcomer on Special Teams: Freshman James Johnson, Tom’s kid brother, was relentless all year on coverage and recovered a fumble.
Best Tackle on Special Teams: After Princeton scored on the opening drive against Columbia, Adam Hoffman collapsed the wedge on the ensuing kickoff to drive back returner Will Allen at the 14-yard line.
Best Return: On a punt, Bech made three Toreros miss and ran over a fourth to get 15 of the hardest-earned yards of the year to midfield. It set up a third quarter Rice field goal that extended Princeton’s lead to 20-10. Bech also picked up a bouncer on the sideline and stiff-armed his way to a 41-yarder against Georgetown but it was negated on an illegal block.
Kick of the Year: Tavish Rice nailed a 42-yard field goal to put Princeton up in the fourth quarter at Dartmouth.
Biggest Turning Point: Losing Holuba, returning runner-up for the Bushnell Trophy and an All-American. There was virtually no pass rush thereafter and one of the FCS’s best rushing defenses soon began to disintegrate.
Next Biggest Turning Point: Losing linebacker Mike Wagner, who was on his way to being the league sack leader when injured at the end of the rout of Brown. No reflection on Rudinski, but had Wagner stayed healthy, the loss of Holuba to the pass rush might have been survivable.
Warmest Thought to Close a Season That Ran Cold: Talented, rehabbed, recharged, experienced and skilled players will be coming back with a vengeance.