He Loves Taking the Heat

  • November 5, 2018

BY JAY GREENBERG

Up becomes down when just 14 points wins a huge game and the quarterback gets about as much post-game attention as the long snapper.  

Still, somebody named John Lovett, who honestly believes he deserves no more spotlight than the long snapper, did a few unsung things on Saturday in addition to a little red zone dancing that should be credited before he vanishes back into the anonymity he craves. Lovett scored both touchdowns in the 14-9 win over Dartmouth that put 8-0 Princeton into the driver’s seat for a third Ivy title in six years, in addition to going 22-for-30 passing on a windy day against a fire-breathing Dartmouth defense. 

“On the (winning) touchdown (of three yards), John made an extraordinary move on one of their linebackers that resulted in three guys missing,” said Coach Bob Surace Sunday morning after watching the video, “Another player would have only made it to the two.

“And his 22-for-30 was despite three drops.”

It also doesn’t count one end zone interception, plus a midfield fumble to kill a drive. But the only thing tighter than the margin for error in the Ivy Game of the (short) Century remains Lovett’s thoughts when he deals with the media. Good plays and bad plays, he doesn’t like to let the fans in on how either developed because he doesn’t want anybody thinking he is making an excuse or putting himself above any teammate.

The quarterback didn’t want to admit that with Stephen Carlson alone and waiting in the end zone, the rolling Lovett didn’t see safety Ryan Roegge lurking for the interception, never mind Tom Brady might not have either.

“The DB had been running towards John,” said Surace. “Maybe he read John’s eyes before he made three steps to the right. Ninety-nine out of 100 times that would have been a touchdown. It was just a great defensive play.”

So was the penetration by Big Green nose guard Dave Chalmers on the fourth-and-one that foiled a 23-play, 93-yard drive at the five early in the fourth quarter. “I take full responsibility for not getting that first down,” Lovett volunteered at the press conference. “Our offense prides ourselves on getting fourth-and-one every time. I have the ball in my hands there. It’s on me.”

Except, of course, it wasn’t.

“That was a tremendous play by them to win the line of scrimmage,” said Surace. “Their nose tackle got a great push and then it wasn’t just one guy. If it had been, John would have cut off him.

“There wasn’t much room at all. I don’t think Earl Campbell could have gotten that yard.

“If 11 guys were coming unblocked, John would think he should beat them all. He is such a perfectionist he puts all the blame on himself.”

SO MANY PLAYS, SO LITTLE TIME TO GET READY FOR YALE DEPT:

Asked for the stops that dazzled him on his video review, Surace couldn’t name a favorite or three from the many that held Dartmouth to just three-for-12 on third downs. “I don’t know if there was one or two that dazzled me,” he said. “It was just really fun to watch us play our responsibilities.

“We really tackled well after the first series. I don’t know whether we were too amped up or they had some really good schematic things but we were a little off to start. We had them on a third-and-long and missed a tackle in the flat on a screen. Then they hit us on a pass in the flat and on a touchdown where we missed responsibilities.

“But it wasn’t like they were gashing us with big runs. I told the guys that if we keep playing the run like that we will be in good shape. That was the message.”

Apparently he dazzled with his message. Finally Surace remembered a play worthy of recall, the game-sealing stop by Jeremiah Tyler. “Second-and-three, when the quarterback swung it out to (Rashaad) Cooper and JT stopped him for a three-yard loss, that was a big play because they are such a good short yardage offense,” said the coach. “Cooper is an underrated back, so hard to bring down, and if JT misses its third-and-two or third-and-one.”

Ben Ellis earned the defensive game ball with his nine tackles, including a half-sack, and his collaborator on the play, DE Jay Rolader, had six tackles and his best game asa Tiger. “Really strong, battling against a terrific offensive line.”

Delan Stallworth had nine tackles and Mike Wagner six, including a sack. In the glorious struggle to the end, fewer players were used than in six Tiger routs, but not just because the game was close. The defense was getting itself off the field. “Dartmouth only ran 55 plays,” said Surace. “Last year they ran 90. 

“If you count the safety, we had three turnovers. And our defense ran on the field happy for the challenge.”

LITTLE BIG THINGS DEPT:

Stephen Carlson had the sealing block that enabled Lovett to cut to his first touchdown from seven yards out. “We haven’t been in games where we have been throwing a lot so Stephen’s numbers are down but his blocking has been excellent,” said Surace. “He has made some big time blocks in short yardage situations. That one was huge.”

WRONG WAY RIEGELS DEPT:

After Dartmouth sent their kickoff team to the wrong 35-yard-line to start the third quarter, Surace argued that his team had earned the right to have the wind at their back in the fourth quarter.

Princeton had won the pre-game coin toss and elected to receive to start the second half. Dartmouth had the right to choose direction, which presumably would be to have the wind at its back for the fourth quarter.

“John (Lovett) had specifically asked me to ask (the officials) which way we would be going in the third so he could warm up in that direction,” said Surace. “I was told Dartmouth would have the wind in the third and he warmed up that way, but then we were told they had changed their mind.

“You are not allowed to change your mind, just like when you pick a hash at the start of a series.  

“The referee said there was a misinterpretation. I just didn’t like the way it was handled.”

For those of you not older than Nassau Hall, Cal’s Roy Riegels picked up a fumble and ran the wrong way for a Georgia Tech touchdown in the 1929 Rose Bowl.

THE SHOES ARE ON ANOTHER FOOT DEPT:

Senior Steven Mejia booted two of Princeton’s three punts, his first action of the season after being beaten out by freshman George Triplett in camp.

“Steven has been punting better,” said Surace. “I had Stephen Thomas (special teams coach) watch them before the game and it was really close. At halftime Steven was killing the ball.”

Mejia induced a fair catch at the 14 and hit a 38-yarder from the end zone. Triplett’s one punt went 33 yards.  

DISCRETION IS THE BETTER PART OF VALOR DEPT:

Princeton had a previous chance to run out the clock before Tyler’s big tackle and Ryan Quigley’s third-and-two run for six yards finally put it away. But the Tigers couldn’t make 10 yards on play calls that seemed uncharacteristically conservative. 

‘They were in man-to-man so it would be difficult to throw the ball short,” said Surace.

“John was throwing those underneath routes efficiently but those had been against zone. Against man, if you throw a bubble screen, the guy covering it is unblocked. The zone limits what you can do passing to deep balls and slants and we were not going to throw deep into the wind.

“With the time being what it was, you don’t want to throw incompletions. You want to use 40 seconds or make them call timeouts. I felt we just had two good drives. Against the wind we probably were not going to kick it unless we got at least one first down. So we were going to use four downs, hoping to get two-and-a-half yards per play, what we had averaged for the day.

“They had stopped us on some bootleg plays. So we did that and just came up a little short.”

NEXT UP:

Quarterback Griffin O’Connor’s first start for Yale was spectacular, throwing four touchdown passes in a 46-16 win over winless-in-the-Ivies Brown. O’Connor completed 30-of-38 passes for 436 yards without an interception. Brown was held to minus-27 yards rushing in just 17 attempts.

Quarterback Kurt Rawlings, who a year ago engineered a 35-31 win at Princeton with a rally from a 21-point second quarter deficit, was lost to the defending Ivy champions for the season three weeks ago in a win at Penn.

“There was a reason they were picked to win the league,” said Surace. “They returned their offense and significant defensive players.”

Zane Dudek, freshman tailback who ran for three touchdowns last year, is now running second string behind Alan Lamar.  

TIGER TAILS

The offensive game ball was presented to Jesper Horsted for his nine catches. Special teams game ball went to T.C. Schneider… Lovett’s two touchdowns Saturday moved him past Quinn Epperly ’15 on Princeton’s all-time rushing touchdown list with 39. Lovett would need 11 in the next two weeks to surpass Keith Elias ’94… Horsted’s nine catches against Dartmouth moved him past Derek Graham ’84 into second place all-time for Princeton. He needs only 11 in the final two games to surpass all-time leader Kevin Guthrie ’84 but to also wind up No. 1 in receiving yardage will be much harder. Horsted is 325 yards behind Graham… Horsted already holds the touchdown receiving record with 24… IT problems prevented the posting of Saturday’s game story until Sunday morning. We apologize for the delay.

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