Tigers Keep Their Heads, Down Dartmouth in a Head to Head Classic
BY JAY GREENBERG
It’s a beautiful thing in and of itself, being 8-0 and in control of your own title destiny headed into the final two weeks of a season. But under the skin of an ugly 14-9 score Saturday was so much more meaning for the Tigers than merely survival.
“There is such beauty in just a four-yard run against that Dartmouth defense,” said Bob Surace. “You execute perfectly to get four yards and you think ‘that should have been ten.’”
One of the best offenses in Ivy League history went up against one of its all-time defenses Saturday on Powers Field and both exceeded the hype probably–not in yards or thrills, but plain, unrelenting, resolve. Probably the best way to explain that–and certainly to the point of how Princeton broke Dartmouth’s heart in delivering its first loss, was that the Tigers won the game, essentially, on a drive that in the end failed.
Down 9-7 by the margin of a first-quarter safety, starting from their own three with 4:31 to play in the third quarter, Princeton used 22 exacting, painstaking, willful plays to reach a fourth-and-one at the Dartmouth five.
Inch by inch, it was a work of art. Jesper Horsted got Princeton off the goalline with a catch at the 15, and then took the ball away from DeWayne Terry at the 28 before making an astonishing one-hand gorilla-glue grab at the Dartmouth 39.
From there, twice John Lovett made it on fourth down before Horsted fought with a bubble screen to the five, where the ball remained up until a fourth-and-one. Princeton was a chip shot away from a one-point fourth-quarter lead but with less than 11 minutes to go, Surace decided to go for the touchdown.
“We had made it twice already on fourth down in that drive,” said the coach. “We had been going for it (on fourth-and-one) all year.
“I won’t bore everybody with the analytics. But if you have confidence in your defense that you will get the ball back in plus territory, then you go for it.
“We only need six inches, it wasn’t fourth-and-three.”
Nigel Alexander and Perry Jackson combined to stop Lovett and Princeton got nothing out of 23 plays for 91 yards in 8:59 but field position. Which only turned out to be everything.
The Tigers stopped Jared Gerbino, who had been 202 yards of unstoppable in Dartmouth’s 54-44 win a year ago. Then Jeremiah Tyler and Joey DeMarco teamed up to tackle Rashad Cooper on a vanilla Dartmouth choice of a run on third-and-ten. Tiger Bech steamed back seven yards on a 35-yard punt before 15 yards were tacked on for a facemask penalty on Jake Moen. Considering how difficult had come the yards all day, Princeton was set up again at the almost too-good-to be-true Dartmouth 19.
Lovett to Horsted got the ball to the nine. Ryan Quigley, who had become the lead back after Charlie Volker’s first quarter injury making a tackle on an interception, pounded to the five and Lovett, so little room to cutback all day, found a seam from there that put Princeton ahead for the first time, 14-9.
There was still 6:33 to play, but a Tiger defense that had given up a 75 yard, 14-play first possession of the game touchdown drive, was, by the fourth quarter in almost total control. Mike Wagner had a sack on third down to force one punt and after the Big Green defense kept Dartmouth alive with another fourth down stop of Lovett at the Dartmouth 22, Tyler wrecked the next series, too with a tackle of Cooper for a huge loss on a second-and-two.
Dartmouth punted again after a fourth down deep sideline prayer failed, but on third-and two for Princeton at the Dartmouth 19, this struggle to the death still wasn’t put away until Quigley did it with six of the hardest-earned yards of the long, bruising, and riveting day.
“They got me but I kept driving with my knees,” said Quigley. “There was a hole to the left that my line had made for me and I hit it with full force. It was big enough to get me through.”
It was a fitting ending to an utter classic that will find its place among the greatest victories in 149 years of Princeton football, Yep, it was that good as a standalone, never mind what happens the next two weeks.
“A slugfest that lived up to everything everybody said it would be” Surace called it. Of course, there will be no consolation if the Tigers–who have the tougher remaining games (at Yale and against Penn) than Dartmouth, which goes to Cornell and closes with Brown–don’t seal the deal on a special season now. But after Saturday it’s harder than ever to imagine any danger of these guys, methodical as they are in running up a 45-0 halftime deficit as they are in a struggle to the end, getting ahead of themselves.
“I can’t thank our seniors and leaders enough,” said Surace. “Nobody panicked.
“(Even with) turnovers, a fourth-down stop, all those things that happened in the course of the game, they had a great deal of belief in each other and the coaches have a great deal of trust in them. After we got stopped, (Defensive Coordinator) Steve Verbit was tremendously positive in the huddle sending his guys out.”
Dartmouth earned most of its grinding 75 yards with the opening kickoff, except for the final 13, when an obvious blown coverage left Robbie Mangas wide open in the end zone to take a pass from Jared Gerbino 7-0 lead. The Tigers answered immediately with a 75-yard drive highlighted by three first-down catches by Horsted, and Lovett’s three-yard touchdown run tied the score.
Princeton then got a midfield stop but a Dartmouth punt downed at the seven, and a false start against center Alex Deters asked for trouble. It came in the person of Seth Simmer, who powered up the middle to bury Lovett in the end zone for a safety and a 9-7 Big Green lead.
The unperturbed Tiger defense got a stop after the free kick though. Quigley caught a pass for a first down and ran for another before a penalty for grabbing Collin Eaddy’s facemask at the end of the run set up the Tigers grandly at the nine. Next play, Lovett saw a wide-open Stephen Carson in the end zone but not flashing safety Ryan Roegge, who intercepted.
The Tigers were driving again when Lovett lost the handle on a snap; Simmer making another play to fall on the ball at the Dartmouth 47. The Big Green went to air, Derek Kyler finding Hunter Hagdorn at Princeton 18, before two false start penalties inside the five and a bad snap on a wobbly short field-goal attempt enabled the Tigers to go to the locker room down just 9-7.
“Talk about an emotional peak for them,” said Dartmouth Coach Buddy Teevens. “No points. It hurt us.
Thereafter, Dartmouth had just two first downs. Princeton’s lane discipline and physicality against a huge and strong Big Green offensive line, held Gerbino to just 36 yards and Cooper to 60. Gerbino ended up with the same yards per carry, 2.6 as Lovett, a reflection of a game of inches, but Dartmouth threw only 21 times for 103 yards and Teevens said it wasn’t because of the wind, more the plan.
Meanwhile Lovett was 22-for-30 for 161 yards, all of them so hard earned. Horsted would up with nine catches, his longest being for just eight yards, but eight proud yards nevertheless.
“Fun football.” he called it. Actually 66-0 over Cornell looked like more fun to fans who went through the ringer Saturday with so much at stake. But in the end there was much more than just a feeling of relief, but pride. The Tigers can win ‘em big and they can win’ em tough.
“No one has stopped us like that,” said Teevens. “In the second half they contained Gerbino and we didn’t make the plays we needed to in critical situations.
“They put 11 guys on the line of scrimmage essentially and we didn’t answer it. We needed perfection and didn’t get it.”