Off Long Fields, They Made Short Work

  • November 19, 2018

BY JAY GREENBERG

Have to hand it to the greatest scoring offense in Ivy League history. Very little was handed to it.

Of Princeton’s 74 touchdown drives, just seven started inside the opposition 30 and only an additional ten inside the 50. Seven TD drives of more than 70 yards in Saturday’s perfect season-clinching 42-14 victory over Penn were of more than 70 yards, bringing that total to 33 of the 74 marches to pay dirt.  

Fourteen trips were even of 80 yards or more. And the longest of the season–91 yards against Dartmouth–resulted in a fourth-down stop, although the field position gained set up a short field for the winning touchdown in the fourth quarter.

“It’s really hard to go 80 yards for a touchdown,” said Penn Coach Ray Priore after Saturday’s game, lamenting his own team’s season-long failure to produce enough turnovers and short fields. But in so many words he conceded Princeton needed no help. Priore joined Columbia’s Al Bagnoli and Harvard’s Tim Murphy as three multi-decade Ivy schemers in calling the 2018 Tigers as the toughest offense they ever had tried to stop.

“To answer your question, yes,” said Priore. “They have so many players to go to– running backs, receivers, multiple tight ends and then there is the threat of No. 12 (quarterback John Lovett).

“The quarterback last year (Chad Kanoff) was really good, great arm, but Lovett added the dimension of the running. You watched both Dartmouth and Harvard defend them pretty well, but still show that if you start doing a lot of trick things to blitz, they make you pay for it one-on-one. They force you to defend sideline-to-sideline, so it’s a pretty tall order.

“What they did [Saturday] was a little bit different, a couple of straight drops and balls straight down the field (for 42 and 20-yard touchdown throws from Lovett to Jesper Horsted).

“They also have been a very good team between the tight ends and the tackles.  We did a nice job [defending the run] early on so late in the first quarter and early in the second they started with the bubbles.  We sort of got that stopped so they started with the wide sweep plays and they really creased us again, 

“They have a lot of moving pieces, a lot of guards pulling, a lot of motion.  They are so explosive and powerful that you really have to match the scoring. We had it at 21-14, had gone toe-to-toe to that point, so you hope we can continue to grind it out with them, but couldn’t.”

Since the Ivy presidents won’t let their football teams into the FCS playoffs, maybe we can round up the some 2013 Tigers–until Saturday the highest point producers in Ivy history–put flags in their pockets and have them shoot it out against the 2018 team on Cannon Green.

The 2013 Ivy champs were a prodigious group, also keyed by a double threat drive-finisher (18 running touchdowns, 25 passing) in Quinn Epperly. They had four runners who averaged more than 4.6 per carry–Epperly, DiAndre Atwater, Will Powers and Dre Nelson–and four receiving threats—Seth DeValve, Roman Wilson, Matt Costello, and Connor Kelly who averaged greater than 10 yards per catch.

But Epperly said Sunday that the 2018 skill players took it up one notch. “You can really tell what the coaches have done in recruiting from the first and second year (Surace era) recruits that we won the championship with.

“John is bigger, faster, and more athletic than I was and you can just see from the NFL looks Horsted and Carlson are getting, they are another step up in talent from what we had. And we had a great team, too.

“It hurt when we lost (running back) Chuck (Dibilio, after his freshman year to a stroke).  We still were decently deep but the explosiveness of this offense was a step ahead of what we had.  These guys were always one big play away. We had to be a little more methodical. It’s fun to see how this program has continued to progress, We were 8-2 and they were 10-0.

“I don’t always like having our records broken but I told John that if any of ours are, I would want him to be the guy. I think very highly of him”

Sean Gleeson, now the Offensive Coordinator, was the running back coach in 2013.

“We were just so tough in the run game, whether it was the quarterback or the running backs,” Gleeson recalls.  “(Center) Joe Goss was particularly good up the middle and we overwhelmed people with how fast we played and how straight ahead we were.  

“I felt that way this year but [2013] had explosiveness as well. (Tight end coach) Mike Willis said this morning John was like a tornado and Quinn was like a missile, putting his head down and running straight ahead. Johnny was kind of unpredictable, could reverse field, but both were dynamic in short yardage.”   

Maybe it takes an offense like the 2013 one to know when you got another good one ready to explode. But probably not. Surace understood, of course, that there were so many dynamic parts returning from an excellent 2017 offense, that Princeton was locked and loaded.

“We had a really good defense and, during training camp, they couldn’t stop this offense,” said the coach.

“Steve (Defensive Coordinator Verbit) said, ‘I don’t know who you take away. If it’s the receivers, that leaves (Charlie) Volker and (Collin) Eaddy and (Ryan) Quigley carrying the ball. Take away the run and Horsted and (Stephen) Carlson will have more opportunities.

“Our offensive line was the big story on media day because we had to replace three starters. These guys were determined not to be the red flag on our team and did a phenomenal job.  Saturday, we had to start a freshman (Henry Byrd for the injured Reily Radosevich) and he played a great game. (Offensive Line Coach) Andy Aurich did a phenomenal job.”

The result was 470 points. Horsted wound up the Princeton leader in career receptions with 196, passing Kevin Guthrie ‘84 and second all-time to Derek Graham ’85 in receiving yards. 

Volker’s touchdown Saturday broke a tie with Judd Garrett ’90 and moved him into third place in Princeton history in career rushing touchdowns, And Volker’s 85 yards in his last collegiate game vaulted him over Dick Kazmaier and Jordan Culbreath into seventh all-time at the school.   

Lovett finishes as the second-leading rushing touchdown maker ever at Princeton with 42, seven behind Keith Elias.

CONSOLATION DEPT:

Lehigh finished 3-8, but had one more bragging right besides yesterday’s rout of arch-rival Lafayette. The Mountain Hawks were the only team to score points off a Princeton turnover, a fumble by Jacob Bermelin at the 34-yard line.

The Tigers fumbled the ball away to the opposition just three times, threw only three interceptions.  They allowed only 17 touchdowns, six of them against Yale.

CUM LAUDE DEPT:

This season had so many stars, so many inspirational leaders, that most of annual awards presented at the annual Donald B. Lourie team banquet Sunday night at the Princeton Hyatt were shared:.

Harlan “Pink” Baker ’22 Award to the best freshman defensive player, presented by Jason Ray ’14: Christian Brown.

Donold B. Lourie Award to the best freshman offensive player, given by Jonathan Esposito ’15: Henry Byrd.

Class of 1952 Award to special teams player of the year, bestowed by Alan DeRose ’83: Jordan Argue and Eli Stern.

Henry T “Hank” Towns h82 Award to the most inspirational senior, given by Rob Holuba ’94: Kurt Holuba, Joe Percival and George Attea.

Charles Caldwell Award to the most improved senior over four years, presented by Nick Brophy ’94: Stephen Carlson and Graham Adomitis.

Dr Henry R. McPhee Award to the squad member who demonstrated courage and fortitude, presented by Frank Vuono ’78:  Mike Wagner, Cody Smith and Charlie Volker.

Ronald A. Rogerson Award to the most inspirational player, given by Matt Whalen ’88: Mark Fossati and Tom Johnson.

Richard W Colman Award to senior demonstrating scholarship, skill, and sportsmanship, presented by Andrew Starks ’13: Ben Ellis and Jake Strain.

John P. Poe/Richard Kazmaier Trophy to the team member demonstrating courage, perseverance and modesty, given by Guthrie: John Lovett and Jesper Horsted.

Percival, who had to leave school for a year to care for his ailing mother Valerie, Stern, who suffered a compound leg fracture on a kickoff at Yale and Kurt Holuba, whose ACL rehabbed from an ACL tear suffered midway through the 2017 season heartbreaking went out again in the pre-season, all received emotional standing ovations.

Just three days after he devastatingly lost both his medical redshirt season and NFL aspirations, Holuba asked to address the Tigers, saying he would be there while they pursued 10-0. And he was, becoming a defacto assistant coach.

“I love you guys with all my heart,” Holuba told his teammates in front of the banquet crowd with a breaking voice, recalling, “I said, ‘you’re going to win this thing. You guys listened. You answered the call.”

Guthrie, presenting Horsted, said:  “We’re all competitive. You got it, now you have to hold it for 35 years.”

Then he called Horsted “the greatest receiver in Princeton history.”

FCS PLAYOFFS DEPT:

There always is at least one Ivy League champion. Maybe a season in which there clearly was two playoff-caliber teams, both in the top 20 of coaches’ poll, will inch the Ivy League closer to allowing its football teams to participate.

“Dartmouth was the most talented team I ever coached against,” said Surace on Saturday.  “We were one play better, that’s all.”

It’s not a coincidence that Princeton’s 2013 record for points lasted only five years. As more and more Ivy Leaguers make it in the NFL, the level of play clearly is improving and the itch to prove it is not being scratched.

 “Our president (Christopher Eisgruber) is about excellence, social and economic diversity, all those things,” said Surace. “This is all about opportunity. 

“These guys should be on Cloud Nine getting ready to play somebody. All we have now (by way of comparison) is we beat Cornell by more than Delaware beat them and that’s not football. It’s got to be us against them on the field.  

“It’s an empty feeling for us. And almost all Ivy coaches have now experienced this, with their players feeling the same way our guys do today.

“We have to work together on this. You see the lacrosse and basketball tournaments and I think most of the AD’s are on board. We just need to educate. When Cornell’s president (Martha Pollack) is quoted saying she is worried we would have to play Alabama, they haven’t done a good enough job educating that president.” 

TIGER TAILS

From Cosmo Iacavazzi, the 1964 All-American halfback, who made a presentation at the banquet to the 2018 team on behalf of the 1964 undefeated team: “It gets better as the years go on.”… Began Fossati, when he accepted the Rogerson award, “I’ll try not to get ejected early.”  Fossati received a targeting penalty on Saturday.  

The title was the Tigers fourth outright since the formation of the Ivy League in 1955 and first since 1995. Eight other Princeton football championships have been shared… Another reason to find another game, somewhere, against anybody: The 1903 Tigers were 11-0, and not against some AC’s either. They played a full collegiate schedule, with only Yale managing to score against Princeton. And those Tigers did it without a coach, too, although no one had one in those days.

The season of all seasons is completed but the website is hardly going into hibernation.  All Ivy teams will be announced Tuesday, the Asa S. Bushnell Ivy Players of the Year awards will be bestowed in New York on Monday, December 3, plus in upcoming weeks we will have our annual highlight review of the Plays and Players of the Season and Surace’s tributes to each individual senior.

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