Princeton’s Best Defensive Performances of the Ivy Era

  • October 9, 2019


We move on with the fourth installment of our 11-part weekly listing of the top plays, wins, moments and heartbreaks of Princeton football since the formation of the formal Ivy League in 1956.  Previously posted – and archived on this site – are the worst weather games, upset defeats and upset victories.

Next Wednesday:  Princeton’s best team offensive days. 

First, the best games that defense won:

16) Princeton 6, Cornell 0.  September 19, 1998 at Princeton Stadium.

The Tigers opened Princeton Stadium in front of a capacity crowd of 27,800 by holding Cornell to just 70 yards rushing (2.1 per carry) and limiting Cornell quarterback Mike Hood to nothing but quick outs.  The Big Red had not a single threatening drive until after Alex Sierk ’99 missed what would have been his third field goal – and game clincher – in the fourth quarter.  The Big Red got to the Princeton 34 before Dan Swingos ’98 hit Hood as he threw and Gerry Wilson ’00 intercepted the wobbler. The Tigers finished 5-5.  Cornell won only one league game.

15) Princeton 24, Rutgers 0. September 22, 1963 at Palmer Stadium.

The Scarlet Knights were held to just 28 yards passing (4 for 16), had -4 yards net rushing, and crossed midfield only once, in the 4th quarter.  Rutgers finished 3-6, held that day by a Princeton defense that went on to a share of the Ivy title.

14) Princeton 11, Harvard 6. October 26, 1985 at Harvard Stadium, MA.

The Crimson were 5-0, the Tigers 2-3 and coming off surrendering 44 points in a loss the previous week against Colgate. On this day, Princeton allowed only 100 rushing yards, just 158 passing, and only two 2nd quarter field goals. “We had tremendous pressure, keyed by our captains, Anthony DiTommaso ’86 and Jim Petrucci ’86 the entire game,” recalls Steve Verbit P05, then the defensive backfield coach in his first season at Princeton under new coach Ron Rogerson.

On this day Princeton allowed only 100 rushing yards, just 158 passing, and but two second-quarter field goals. “We had tremendous pressure, keyed by our captains Anthony DiTommaso and Jim Petrucci the entire game,” recalls Steve Verbit, then the defensive backfield coach in his first season at Princeton under new coach Ron Rogerson.

The Tigers, trailing 6-3 in the fourth quarter, broke through on what would have been Harvard’s eighth punt of the day. After a bad snap, the punter had to boot the ball out of the end zone for a safety that pulled Princeton to within 6-5, then Tom Urquhart returned the free kick 75 yards up the middle for the winning touchdown.

“Ecstatic,” said first year Princeton coach Ron Rogerson. The victory ultimately denied the Crimson a title share and keyed a 5-2 Princeton league mark. “Whole new staff, going in there against an unbeaten Harvard team, it was a really a big deal for us,” recalls Verbit.

13) Princeton 44, Columbia 14.  October 28, 1995 at Palmer Stadium. 

Damani Leech ’98 and Rich Hill ’96 each had two of Princeton’s seven interceptions as the Tigers, jumpstarted by a Dave Patterson ’96 pick and return to the Lion 18 on the second play of the game, went on to a 35-0 lead over Lions in a week seven clash of unbeatens.  Princeton also forced two fumbles in the game on the way to an outright Ivy title. The Lions thereafter faded to 3-4 in the league.

12) Princeton 14, Harvard 3. October 21, 1995 at Harvard Stadium, MA.

Strong safety Jimmy Archie ’97 had a 4th and 3 pass breakup, an interception and a fumble recovery – all in Princeton territory during the final quarter – to keep the Tigers undefeated on the way to that first outright championship in 31 years. Earlier, Leech lept high in the air on the Princeton 12 to snag his fifth interception of the year.

11) Princeton 9, Colgate 0.  October 17, 1964 at Palmer Stadium.

The first of four straight shutouts by a Princeton team that would finish 9-0 was one in which the only touchdown of the game was scored by the defense. With Colgate pinned at is own 6 by a bad decision to field a 2nd quarter punt, Cosmo Iacavazzi ’65 jarred the ball loose from Raider back Tom Carpenter and Staś Maliszewski ’66 snatched it out of the air and ran it in.

“We bent a little once in a while, but never broke,” said Coach Dick Colman after the Tigers held Colgate, which would finish 7-2, to just 129 rushing yards and six 1st downs.

10) Princeton 34, Penn 0. October 13, 1956 at Franklin Field, PA.

In the defeat of a Quaker team that would finish 4-3 in the league, the Tigers had a 24-4 edge in 1st downs, 377 to 81 yards of total offense, and set a record that will never be beaten by any team, in any league, at any level of the sport.  Penn did not have a completion in five attempts.

Princeton at Yale | 2016

9) Princeton 31, Yale 3.  November 12, 2016 at the Yale Bowl, New Haven CT.

The indelible image of the game was safety Dorian Williams ’17 blowing up Yale quarterback Kurt Rawlings on a blitz and Henry Schlossberg ’17 recovering the ball. That only set up the final touchdown in the 4th quarter of a game in which the Tigers did not let their injury-emaciated arch rivals breath.

Yale scored its points only after the defense made a stand at the 10-yard line following an interception of a John Lovett ’19 pass. 2.5 sacks by Rohan Hylton ’17 and two by Kurt Holuba ’19 led a total of seven by Princeton, which held Yale to just 3 of 17 3rd down conversions, 2.9 yards per play, and made the Bulldogs punt 10 times. The Tigers moved to within one win of the Ivy championship, which they completed, 38-21, over Dartmouth.

8) Princeton 12, Bucknell 7. October 1, 1994 at Palmer Stadium.

Here’s one for the special teams as well. After holding a Bucknell team that had scored 74 points the previous two weeks – including 42 over Harvard – to just one score off a short field, the Tigers struck for two touchdowns in the final 3:17, the second on a blocked punt and recovery in the end zone by freshman Tim Greene ’98. That touchdown was the first-ever by a freshman in the Ivy League – it had granted four years of varsity eligibility a season earlier – and it was setup with a sack at the 1 by Michael Carr.

The 3-0 Tigers had yet to allow a 2nd half touchdown. “Defensively, you take away that 1st quarter of the (season-opening) Cornell (24-22 win) we’ve got 11 quarters now of as good football as we’ve ever seen around here,” Tosches said. “That was a good, high-powered offense that came in here today.”

Princeton finished 7-3.

7) Princeton 19, Brown 0. October 13, 2012 at Princeton Stadium.

A safety and four sacks by Caruan Reid ’14, another two sacks by Mike Catapano ’13, interceptions by Anthony Gaffney ’16 and Phil Bhaya ’14, plus a fumble recovery gave Princeton its first shutout in 14 seasons and first win over Brown in six years.

“That’s the best front we probably are going to see this year,” said Brown coach Phil Estes, an exciting revelation for Princeton fans following a third straight win that was bringing a happy close to the drudgery of a 2-20 start to the Bob Surace ’90 era. Brown, who had only 62 yards rushing and threw 50 times, would go on to a 4-3 Ivy record, the same records as the Tigers.

Princeton vs Penn | 2016

6) Princeton 28, Penn 0. November 5, 2016 at Princeton Stadium.  

Yardage was almost even in the showdown of eventual co-champions. Penn star Justin Watson had 12 catches. The Quakers were only 7 of 17 in 3rd and 4th down conversions, three of those Princeton stops coming after Penn penetrated the 30 and yet never got into the red zone until the dying seconds of the game. The Tigers didn’t have a sack or recover a fumble and had just one interception (by James Gales ’17) to stop a Penn drive, but repeatedly made tackles every time Penn threatened.

‘This is one of the most impressive wins, maybe the most impressive win, since I’ve been here,” said Surace.  “Penn is tops in the league or second in almost every category.

“I thought the players executed a game plan almost as well as you could execute a game plan. There really wasn’t much difference between these teams.  It is a game of inches.  We got the little inches better than they did.”

It was the ultimate bend-but-don’t break performance by a defense that allowed not a single 2nd half touchdown by any team that was within 24 points of the Tigers in seven league games.

5) Princeton 37, Dartmouth 7.  October 10, 1964 at Memorial Field, Hanover NH.

The 2-0 Tigers went to Dartmouth resolving payback for a 1963 final game defeat that cost them a solo title. In case that wasn’t motivation enough, Coach Dick Colman made sure his team saw the full page picture of the Iacavazzi fumble that had set up that loss, reprinted by the student paper on game day.

Princeton’s defense arguably was more smothering in four consecutive shutouts that would follow this victory, but on this day repeatedly made big plays to hand the Indians their worst loss in 10 years.

Four fumbles were jarred from the hands of Dartmouth ball carriers and four passes intercepted. One of the picks was on the goal line by Ron Landeck ’66, who with the scored 10-0 had made the probable game-turning play by diving and tipping a pass on 4th and 3 at the Princeton 4.

“I wished it was a hundred-to-seven,” said a gloating Colman after sending Charlie Gogolak ’66 to kick a field goal with two seconds remaining.

4) Princeton 31, Brown 10. October 8, 1994 at Palmer Stadium.  

Eleven Tiger sacks of quarterback Jason McCullough were an NCAA record -sacks had become an official stat eight years earlier. Darrell Oliveira ’96 had 4.5 and seven other Tigers had at least a partial.

“We’ve had some good years around here, we’ve had good teams, we’ve had good players,” said Tosches.” ”But never, never have we played the type of defense that we’ve played the last three weeks. We’re just shutting people down.”

The Tigers lost league games to Cornell, Columbia and Penn and finished 7-3 but were building towards the outright title they won the following season.

3) Princeton 35, Dartmouth 7. November 22, 1969 at Palmer Stadium.

The Tigers, largely written off after a sour upset loss to Yale the previous week, won a share of the Ivy title with a stunning performance over the nation’s 8th ranked and previously unbeaten Indians, who did not cross midfield until late in the 3rd quarter.

Linemen Tom Hutchinson ’70, Bob Hews ’70 and Jim Nixon ’70 dominated a small Dartmouth offensive line. The Tigers converted three turnovers into scores in the 1st half, two by quarterback Jim Chasey, who had completed 60 per cent of his passes on the year and this time was only 7 for 20.

“When we were deep in the hole, things we tried just put us deeper in the hole,” said Dartmouth Coach Bob Blackman.  “Our major problem, though, was our inability to handle certain men on the Princeton defense. We had nobody strong enough.”

2) Princeton 22, Penn 9. November 4, 1995 at Franklin Field, Philadelphia.

On the way to a first undisputed Ivy title for Princeton since 1964, the undefeated Tigers ended Penn’s 2-year reign as Ivy champions with a magnificent effort.

“Our defense played 60 minutes as well as any defense can play,” Tosches said. Oliveira had three-and-a-half sacks as flustered Penn quarterback Mark DeRosa finished 13-for-32 for only 160 yards. “Looking at him yelling at his teammates and the refs, I’m surprised he didn’t get thrown out of the game,” said Princeton’s Leech.

Added All-America linebacker Dave Patterson, who broke Princeton’s all-time career tackle record in the game: “We were giving him a lot of different coverages and looks and he never got in a groove. We wanted to take him out of the game by not letting him know where we were going to be.”

Twice in the 4th quarter, the Quakers failed to put any points on the board from 1st and goal inside the 6, one ending in a hurried miss and the other on a diving knock-away by Jimmy Archie ’97. Both Penn scores came off short fields enabled by Princeton giveaways. Miles Macik, Penn’s first-team All-Ivy receiver, was held to three catches.

Princeton vs Dartmouth | 2018

1) Princeton 14, Dartmouth 9. November 3, 2018 at Princeton Stadium.

In an epic, bruising, week eight war of unbeatens, the Tigers allowed a touchdown on the game-opening drive and then nothing else. Holding an offense that came in averaging 34 points a game and 5.8 per rush to 3.2 yards per carry, Princeton overcame a 4th quarter 9-7 deficit by allowing Dartmouth only two 1st downs in the 2nd half.

Princeton’s lane discipline and physicality against a huge and strong Big Green offensive line held quarterback Jared Gerbino, who had run for 202 yards against the Tigers in 2017, to just 36 and lead running back Rashaad Cooper to 60. Gerbino ended up with the same yards per carry, 2.6, as the Tigers’ John Lovett, a reflection of a game of inches, and Dartmouth threw only 21 times for 103 yards.

Field position, and the game, turned on a 23-play, 91 yard, drive that Dartmouth stopped on 4th down at the 6. The Tiger defense forced a 3 and out that set up a short field for Lovett to sneak in this time. But a goal line stand when Dartmouth was at the Princeton 4 late in 2nd quarter proved equally critical.

“No one has stopped us like that,” said Dartmouth Coach Buddy Teevens.  “In the 2nd 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.”

Dartmouth, an all-time team that came together in the wrong year, finished 9-1, outscoring opponents 340 to 120. The Tigers completed a 10-0 season, the first since 1903, with wins over Yale and Penn.

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