The Greatest Upset Wins in Princeton Ivy Era History

  • October 2, 2019

The Greatest Upset Wins in Princeton Ivy Era History




This is the third installment of an 11-part series recording the greatest games, moments, performances and heartbreaks of the formal Ivy League era, which began in 1956. Our celebration of Princeton’s – and college football’s – 150th season will culminate with a Thanksgiving week ranking of the Tigers’ greatest Ivy teams.


Already archived on this site are lists of the most memorable bad weather games and the most painful upsets.  Next Wednesday’s presentation will be of the Tigers’ best team single game defensive performances.


10) Princeton 10, Harvard 7. November 11, 1972 at Palmer Stadium.

Princeton, which came in 2-3-1 against a Harvard team that had only one league loss, used a 35-yard dash by Judd Wagenseller ’75 to the 10-yard line to set up an early touchdown run by quarterback Dave Mistretta ’75 for a 7-0 lead.  It was the first of six drives to the Harvard 25 and beyond, yet the Tigers still were locked in a 7-7 tie into the fourth quarter when Harvard’s best march of the day ended in a Princeton stand and a missed chip shot field goal.

Following an exchange of turnovers – Princeton’s break came when the Harvard quarterback dropped the ball on a rollout and Princeton captain, Mike Kincaid ’73, recovered – the Tigers drove to the Harvard 10. John Bartges ’73, who had missed a short field goal earlier, cleared the cross bar from 27 yards by just one foot and Princeton held on.


Wagenseller ran for 138 yards and Princeton defensive lineman Carl Barisich ’73 had a monster day. “All he did was keep us from running off tackle,” said Harvard Coach Joe Restic. “To either side.”


Harvard faded to 4-4-1. Princeton finished 3-5-1 in Jake McCandless’s final season as head coach.


  1. Princeton 16, Lehigh 15. October 17. 1987 at Palmer Stadium


The Tigers, shocked by the sudden early August death of charismatic Coach Ron Rogerson, came in 3-1 under interim Steve Tosches. After losing the previous two seasons by 48-28 and 34-13 to Lehigh, Princeton continued to look overmatched in the first half. The 13-10 deficit at intermission flattered the Tigers.


“(Jason) Garrett ’89 was taking five step drops and they were there waiting for him,” recalls Tosches. “Judd Garrett ’90 had just [18 yards in 12 carries for the day]. I think our players were intimidated.


“We added some things at halftime, appealed to them to play hard, and we started doing better.”


The Tigers shut out Lehigh in the third quarter, creeping within two points when Rob Goodwin ’88 hit a 38-yard field goal.  With the clock under three minutes, Lehigh was driving to a putaway score when a sack by Rick Emery ’90 left the Engineers in a 3rd  and 17 at the Princeton 33, needing 10 yards to reach field goal position to extend the lead to six.  Instead quarterback Mark McGowan threw to the goalline and Dean Cain, Princeton’s all-time interception leader, came across the field for a pick.


The Tigers, with 2:25 to work with, inched out from their own two before a sack of Jason Garrett left them third-and-28.  “There was just no way,” recalls assistant coach Steve Verbit P05. But a completion on third down to Judd Garrett to get close, then another to brother John (’88) on 4th to move the chains, restarted a drive of repeated Garrett-to-Garretts passes that culminated in Goodwin’s 37-yerd field goal at the buzzer.  “The efforts to get out of bounds were just amazing,” recalls Jason Garrett.


“Greatest two-minute drive I ever saw,” says Verbit.


Tosches had the interim tag removed following the win. The Tigers went on a 6-4 season, their first winning one in six years.  Lehigh finished 5-5.


8) Princeton 17, Penn 14. November 7, 1982 at Palmer Stadium.


After winning only three Ivy games over four years, recharged Penn came to Palmer in week seven unbeaten in the league. The Tigers had lost three straight to drop to 2-5.


The Quakers struck for two touchdowns in the third and fourth quarters to go up 14-7. With a late hit, they had gotten star Princeton tailback Ralph Ferraro ’84 out of the game. But from 4th and goal, Tiger quarterback Brent Woods ’83 hit Brad Urschel ’83 for a touchdown and the point after tied the game with 6:13 remaining.


On a 3rd and 7, blitzing linebacker Vic Ruterbusch ’83 tackled Penn quarterback Gary Vura for a ten-yard loss, the Tigers’ only sack of the game, forcing a punt. Taking over at the Princeton 29 with 4:14 to play, Woods began dumping the ball over the middle.


Farris Curry ’83, who caught nine passes on the day, snagged three straight tosses coming out of the backfield and three Woods runs moved the ball to the outer limit of kicker Chris Price ’83’s range. His 43-yarder barely made it over the crossbar to give Princeton a 17-14 victory.


It was the only win in the last seven contests that season for the Tigers, who finished 3-4 in the league. Penn tied Harvard and Dartmouth for title.


7) Princeton 14, Columbia 11.  November 2, 1996 at Wien Stadium, New York City


Columbia, anchored on the defensive line by future 10 year NFL veteran Marcellus Wiley, had a 6-0 jump on only its second winning season in 34 years when the Tigers came to Wien. “On paper they were a much better team than us that year,” recalls Verbit.  “Wiley was gigantic, intimidating, and a trash talker besides.”


Princeton, struggling with graduation losses following its 1995 title season, had dropped four straight, including a 24-0 defeat by Harvard the previous week, and then lost lead running back Marc Washington ’97 in the third quarter.  Before leaving, Washington scored the game’s first touchdown on a 21-yard run, a drive kept alive by a taunting penalty on Wiley following a sack. The Tigers, starting two freshmen and two sophomores on the offensive line, added on with a two-yard pass from Brett Budzinski ’97 to Kevin Duffy ”97 for a 14-0 lead.


The Lions would run 33 more snaps but the Tigers had three interceptions, including two by Bret Marshall ’98, and their goal line stand off a 4th and goal at the 2 forced Columbia to settle for a field goal and a 14-3 deficit at the half.


“ I’m sure because of our record, Columbia took us a little lightly,” recalls Verbit. “But we kept making defensive plays.”


The Lions finally scored a touchdown with four minutes remaining on a Bob Thomason pass to David Ramirez and Paul Thomas ran for a two-point conversion.  The lead was down to three. The Tigers took the kickoff and, managing one 1st down, ran three and-a-half minutes off the clock before having to kick. Columbia had time to get only to the 32 before Matt Linit’s 49-yard try missed to the right.


“This was the first time all season we played to win as opposed to paying not to lose,” Tosches said after the game. His team won only once in the last three games, over Yale. Columbia finished 8-2.


6) Princeton 20, Harvard 14. November 8, 1975 at Harvard Stadium, Boston


Harvard came in unbeaten in the league. The Tigers, following a 3-0 start, had lost the last three by a total of just 13 points. “I don’t think we could handle success,” recalls Frank Vuono ’78, then a sophomore tight end.  ‘When we were up, we were looking over our shoulders rather than stepping on the other teams’ necks.”


Princeton got the best of starts on this day. Stu Morrison ’76’s 35-yard field goal put the Tigers up 3-0. Bob Reid ’76 finished a 60-yard touchdown drive with a three-yard run and Michael Carter ’77, used as a double safety on punt returns, took a reverse handoff from captain Ed Sheridan ’76, burst up the middle and got outside on an electrifying 77-yard punt return that produced a startling 17-0 halftime lead. It was extended to 24-0 when quarterback Ron Beible ’76 threw a 51-yard bomb to Kevin Gropp ’76.


With the Harvard starter injured and two backups having been ineffective, Coach Joe Restic turned to fourth-stringer Tim Davenport, who threw underneath the Tigers’ prevent defense to drive the Crimson to its first touchdown. When Beible fumbled the first play following the kickoff, Harvard had a short field and, four plays later. only a 24-14 deficit.


Princeton went 3 and out, Davenport led another touchdown drive, and then, after two failed two-point conversions, the Crimson succeeded to make it 24-20. Harvard got the ball back quickly again and still had 3:41 to work with when Davenport fumbled a snap and Doug Lang ’78 fell on it for Princeton, which, to great relief, ran out the clock.


This was one that hadn’t gotten away. But the final two, to Yale and Dartmouth did by 11 and five points and the Tigers finished 4-5. The loss to Princeton was Harvard’s only one in an Ivy championship season.


5) Princeton 20, Harvard 7. October 22, 1977 at Harvard Stadium, Boston.


Two years later, Harvard was undefeated and Princeton, coming off a 31-13 pounding by Colgate, had just one win, over Columbia, to show for the season. Another reminder that it was a bad year: The bus got lost on the way to the game. Tailback Bobby Isom ’78 knew his way between the tackles and pounded away from the start.


“I’m pretty sure we won the time of possession that year almost every game,” recalls Vuono.  “We were really good between the twenties, but then. . . . “


Indeed, Chris Howe ’79 missed two field goals after long Tiger drives but still hit two for a 6-0-halftime edge. Given a short field by a shanked punt, quarterback Kirby Lockhart ’78’s throw for Vuono was deflected by a safety into the hands of Glenn Robinson ’78 for a touchdown and a 13-0 lead.


But a lightning, four-play, 69-yard, drive culminated in a 20-yard touchdown catch by Harvard’s Paul Sablock to make it 13-7. And when the Tigers went 3 and out, the momentum clearly had changed.


“The crowd thought this was their opening,” recalls punter Bill Powers ’79. “Running on the field, I felt a shot of adrenaline.


“There was a little bit of wind aiding me. And as soon as I kicked, I realized it all come together. The returner turned around and ran, knowing he had no shot at catching it, He ran it down on the bounce but we did a great job covering and he only got it out to the 15.”


The 70-yard punt, the most famous in Princeton history–and one of its most clutch plays by a Tiger at any position, completely changed back the game. Harvard went three-and-out, shanked another punt and Isom broke two tackles on a 7-yard clinching score.  He finished with 209 yards on 42 carries.  Princeton had the ball an astonishing 42 minutes.


Harvard faded from contention. The Tigers won one more, 34-0 in the season ending game over Cornell, and finished 3-6. Coach Bob Casciola ’58 was replaced at the end of the season.


4) Princeton 16, Dartmouth 0.  September 22, 1979 at Memorial Field, Hanover NH.


The Tigers, 2-5-2 in 1978, in fact had not had a winning record in 10 years when Princeton went to Dartmouth for an opener against the defending Ivy champions, who were the preseason favorites. Both Princeton lines, and the linebacking corps, had largely graduated, and the senior class had withered to just 12 survivors.


Dartmouth raced to 1st downs on the first three plays of the game but killed its drive with a holding penalty and then never threatened again.  A defense led by Matt McGrath ’80, Dave Chandler ’80 and Dan Bennewitz ’80 – the latter two blanketing star receiver Dave Shula – pitched a startling shutout, allowed the Big Green to run just five plays in Princeton territory the entire game.


The Tigers harassed Jeff Kemp, a future NFL quarterback making his first start, into a 9 for 23 day while the Tigers used a fumble recovery by McGrath at the Dartmouth 12 to set up a Larry Van Pelt ’82 rushing touchdown for a 7-0 lead.  Quarterback Steve Reynolds ’80 capped a 51-yard drive in the fourth quarter with a two-yard run.  Princeton’s Cris Crissy ’81 rushed for 106 of Princeton’s 255 on the ground.


“The game wasn’t even as close as the score,” recalls Reynolds. “We fumbled on their five-yard line on another drive.”


The players sang Happy Birthday in the locker room to celebrate the rebirth of the program. Indeed the Tigers went on to a surprising 5-2 Ivy season, staying in contention for the title until the next-to-last game.


3) Princeton 39, Harvard 34. October 20, 2012 at Princeton Stadium.


The Tigers, 2-18 in their first two seasons under Bob Surace ’90, were awakening in year three.  A surprising 19-0 shutout of Brown the previous week was a third straight win, making Princeton 3-2 when Harvard, 5-0 and the defending champions, came to visit and utterly dominated.


Harvard’s Colton Chapple was in the process of throwing for 448 yards, Trevor Scales was running for 108, and tight end Kyle Juszczyk on his way to catching 15 passes as Harvard took a 20-0 halftime lead.  “You don’t jump out as much as they did and not be the better team,” recalls Steve Verbit. “ We couldn’t stop them.”


The Tigers drove 86 yards to a touchdown on their first 2nd half possession. When Princeton’s Jakobi Johnson ’15 recovered a Paul Stanton fumble on the kickoff at the Harvard 4, a window suddenly opened, only to be slammed again when the Tigers were forced to settle for a Nolan Bieck ’16 field goal. The Crimson powered 78 and 66 yards for a 34-10 lead with 13 minutes remaining in the game.


It was over, or was at least 999 times out of 1,000.


Anthony Gaffney ’16 ran the kickoff back 59 yards and Dré Nelson ’16 completed a 34-yard drive by catching a 7 yard lob from Connor Michelsen ’15, who then hit Tom Moak ’13 for two points. Still, the Tigers chances seemed even smaller than the 5-foot-6 Nelson.  But the mighty mite flew off the edge to block Jack Dombrowksi’s punt, putting the Tigers in business at the Harvard 48. Matt Costello ’15 used his body as a shield and remarkably came down with a 29-yard touchdown pass before Quinn Epperly ’15 hit Shane Wilkinson ’13 for a two-point conversion. Somehow the Tigers were only a score and a conversion away from tying the contest.


But of course that meant they were one stop away, too, and it looked like they never were going to get it. Helped by a 40-yard kickoff return by Stanton, Chapple, Ricky Zorn and Cameron Brate had the ball at the Princeton five in a lightning three plays before the Tigers swarmed three runs. Greg Sotereanos ’14 got his hand up to block David Mothander’s attempted 22-yard field and the suddenly unstoppable Tigers drove for a Connor Michelsen-to-Seth DeValve ’16 20-yard touchdown with 2:27 to go.


Michelsen’s two-point attempt to Wilkinson was broken up but the Tigers still had three timeouts and by now, all the belief in the world.  On third down, Mike Zeuli ’15 ran down Chapple and the punt left the Tigers, trailing by two, starting at their own 10 with 1:57 remaining.


Michelsen hit Wilkinson for 15 yards, and then made it with his legs on 3rd and 2 for another first down before being forced from the game following a hit on his  non-throwing arm. Harvard, called for a staggering 12 penalties in the game, was flagged for taunting .Three plays later, the Tigers were at the Harvard 36 on 3rd and 2, still a good 15 yards from giving Bieck his best chance.


Wilkinson appeared to be open for those 15 yards, but Epperly, to that point of his career the runner in Princeton’s two-quarterback scheme, went for it all and Roman Wilson ’14, pushing off just enough to not get called, caught the ball over Chris Splinter with 13 seconds remaining.


“The same thing happened as when picked to finish last (in the Ivy League) in the poll,” said captain Mike Catapano ’13.  “We wouldn’t let the big picture overwhelm us.”


It was Princeton’s most impossible win of the Ivy era, and a program turner, even though the Tigers won only one more game after that one – at Yale – and finished 5-5. The following year they won the 2013 title, the first of three in the Surace era.  The Crimson suffered another loss and did not get a share of the 2012 championship.


2) Princeton 18, Harvard 14.  November 5, 1966 at Palmer Stadium.


After suffering only three losses between 1963-65 (including an undefeated 1964), the Tigers had taken huge graduation losses that include All-American linebacker Staś Maliszewski ’66. They were not impressive in close early wins and absolutely humiliated in a 31-13 loss to Dartmouth and a 7-0 defeat by Colgate.


Captain Walt Kozumbo ’67 rallied the troops with an inspirational locker room speech and convincing wins over non-contenders Penn and Brown followed. The door back to a title share re-opened when Harvard upset Dartmouth, but that only made the Crimson a two-touchdown favorite when they came to Palmer.


Harvard, on its way to a 219-yard rushing day with its three headed monster of tailbacks Bobby Leo, Vic Gatto and fullback Tom Choquette, led 14-3 and, thanks to a fumble by Princeton’s Dave Martin ’67, had the ball at the Tiger 9.  Two Larry Stupski ’67  tackles and an interception by Jim Kokoskie ’67 stuffed the threat.


Martin culminated a drive with a two-yard leap and defensive back Doug James ’67 threw for a two-point conversion to John Bowers ’67, leaving the Tigers down only a field goal when starting the fourth quarter at their own seven.


They drove for another Martin over the top touchdown to take the lead and then after Harvard came right back to a 4th and 2 at the Princeton 20, Kozumbo shed a block and tackled Choquette.  The most tension-filled chain stretch in Princeton history proved Harvard had come up two inches short.


“We were so outmanned by Harvard that to win was an incredible accomplishment and the way we did it was storybook,” recalls Martin.


The following week the Tigers used a blocked kick by Kozumbo, run in for a touchdown by Stupski, to beat Yale 13-7. Princeton then scored in the fourth quarter on a Rich Bracken ’69 run to beat Cornell 7-0 and get a share of a most unexpected title with Harvard and Dartmouth.


“We emerged from obscurity, triumphed over hardship,” recalls linebacker Ron Grossman ’67. “And, to everyone’s surprise, we had success.”


1) Princeton 35, Yale 31.  November 14, 1981 at Palmer Stadium.


Yale came to Palmer not just unbeaten in eight games but for 14 years against Princeton, and as expected, moved to 21-0 lead on a short run by quarterback John Rogan and two plunges by star running back Rich Diana. Princeton quarterback Bob Holly ’82 hit Derek Graham ’84 for a 20-yard touchdown, and then drove the Tigers five plays in just 28 seconds to score on a pass to Larry Van Pelt ’82, who juked his way in from 13 yards out and cut the lead to 21-15 at the half.


A 19-yard strike to Kevin Guthrie ’84 gave Princeton a brief 22-21 advantage before Yale answered with a field goal and a Diana touchdown to go up 31-22. Nevertheless, the Tigers and Holly came right back to finish a drive with a nine-yard touchdown throw to Dave Ginda ’82.


But Princeton still was down 31-29 when it started from its own 24 with no timeouts remaining and 1:23 on the clock. While 35,000 persons in Palmer held their breath, a diving catch by tight end Scott Oostdyk ’82 one foot past the first-down marker on a 4th and 10 saved the drive.


On a windy day, Coach Frank Navarro decided to put his trust into Graham and Holly, rather than a field goal. So from the Yale 20, the quarterback threw in the end zone to Graham, who drew an interference call from the by-then well-toasted Pat Conran that put the ball at one with nine seconds remaining.  Holly rolled left, didn’t try to force the ball to two receivers in the corners, and cut back to get in by a shoulder and a head, setting off pandemonium.


Even if it had been only 14 years since the last win over the Bulldogs, it certainly had seemed like 100 until this “Win of the Century.” Indeed Holly’s 501 yards that day still represents the greatest passing day in Princeton history. 19 years into the next millennium. Graham’s 278-yard receiving day stood as a record for ten years until broken by Michael Lerch ’93.


Yale shared the title with Dartmouth and then didn’t lose to Princeton again for another three seasons. Thanks to an early loss to Dartmouth and a tie with Harvard. Princeton, 5-4-1, finished third in the Ivies.  But two comebacks, a do-or-die final play, and a 14-year Yale drought broken, make this to the people who saw it their most memorable Princeton football victory.


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