The Greatest Princeton Single-Game Team Offensive Performances of the Ivy Era

  • October 16, 2019


This fifth installment of our 11 weekly lists of greatest Princeton wins and performances since the formal Ivy League began in 1956 is a ranking of the best days the Princeton offense has ever had.In the coming weeks we will do the finest individual game performances, some of which necessarily were a large part of extraordinary team efforts listed below. Football never is a one-man show. The priority this week is crediting days when the ball got spread around to enormous success, engendered by superior blocking, of course.

Already posted – and archived on this site – are the worst weather games, greatest upset wins, most painful upset losses, and team defensive days.  Next week, we will rank the most glorious comebacks, and then move onto ranking the most superlative individual performances, clutch plays, most painful losses, and greatest wins.

During Thanksgiving week, we will conclude by ranking Princeton’s greatest teams during the 64-season run of the Ivy League.

But first, the best of the best days when the Tiger offense put it all together:

25) Princeton 38, Penn 10.   November 10, 1979 at Franklin Field, Philadelphia, PA

In the absence of starting quarterback Steve Reynolds ’80, Princeton broke big plays to keep its surprising Ivy hopes alive. Larry Van Pelt ’81 ran for 46 yards on Princeton’s second snap of the game. Then sub quarterback Bob Holly ’82 ran for an option touchdown of 37 yards to put Princeton ahead for good.

Van Pelt then scored on a 44 yard screen, Lou Vaccarello ’81 booted a 32 yard field goal, Van Pelt capped a 48 yard march with the 4 yard scoring run and Jonathan Berry ’82 capped the day with a 1 yard touchdown plunge

24) Princeton 46, Bucknell 28. September 24, 1983 at Palmer Stadium, Princeton, NJ

In his first career start towards a 32-year reign as Princeton’s all time career passing yardage leader — he was passed by Chad Kanoff  ’17 in 2017 – Doug Butler threw four interceptions, two in falling behind 28-0 in the second quarter. With the help of Bucknell turnovers, he then led the Tigers to three touchdowns in three minutes as they roared back for a victory.Butler went 28 for 52 for 411 yards in throwing for five touchdowns, the latter a then-Princeton record. Kevin Guthrie ’84 caught three of them and had 16 receptions total, another new Tiger record. The times of possession on the Tigers’ seven scoring drives were: 1:16, 1:00, 1:00, 0:35, 1:32, 1:09, and 1:08.

“Butler had so many high points and so many low points that I couldn’t grade him technically,” Coach Frank Navarro said. “But I could grade his courage. We talked after each mistake and he said, ‘Coach, don’t worry'”.

23) Princeton 38, Penn 30. October 31, 1981 at Franklin Field, Philadelphia, PA

Bob Holly threw for 446 yards, including four touchdowns, as the Tigers outlasted the Quakers in a dual against the Quakers’ Doug Marzonie, who passed for 469 yards and had his team at the Princeton 9 when his pass on the final play sailed high.

Holly, who was playing with torn ligaments in the pinky of this throwing hand, snapped the Princeton mark of 350 yards set by Dave Allerdice ’41 at Franklin Field a long 41 years earlier. It also tied the Ivy marks of Allerdice and Columbia’s Marty Domres (in 1968). Larry Van Pelt caught nine passes, including a touchdown, for 154 yards and also carried 20 times for 75 yards. Dave Ginda ’82 caught eight passes, including two scores.

Princeton finished 5-1-1 in the league but fell short of an Ivy title.  Penn was 1-6.

22) Colgate 49, Princeton 44.  October 19, 1985 at Palmer Stadium, Princeton, NJ

Doug Butler threw for 439 yards and four touchdowns in bringing Princeton from behind a two-touchdown deficit to the ECAC’s top-rated offense.

Butler’s passing wiped out the halftime deficit with a 17 point 3rd quarter and then almost brought the Tigers back once more from 49-38 deficit. A 1 yard touchdown run by Chris Ratliff ’86 capped a masterful 83-yard drive to get Princeton back within a score and then, following a failed two-point conversion, a Colgate fumble enabled a last Tiger push. They were at the Red Raider 18 with 30 seconds remaining when a 4th and 4 attempt from Butler to Tom Urquhart ’86 was broken up diving defensive back Dave Reed, ending a shootout classic.

“That was the year Ron Rogerson switched us from a pro set to a Wing T, which meant going from about 45 passes a game to about 25,” recalls Butler. “When they read me my stats afterwards in the press conference, I joked, “Don’t tell Rogerson.”

Princeton ended 5-5, 5-2 in the league. Colgate went on to a 7-2-1 season.

Princeton at Dartmouth | 2017

21) Dartmouth 54, Princeton 44.  November 18, 2017 at Memorial Stadium, Hanover, NH

Chad Kanoff ’18 threw for 444 yards in bringing the Tigers from behind three times, including 29 yards to  Jesper Horsted ’19 for a go-ahead score with 3:01 remaining. But a depleted defensive line couldn’t stop Dartmouth quarterback Jared Gerbino, who kept the ball six times on a 70-yard winning drive that brought his total to 202 for the day. He scored with one second remaining. Dartmouth ran in a fumble off a desperate hook-and-ladder on the kickoff return to set the final score.

Horsted caught two touchdown passes among 12 receptions. Princeton only punted once and either scored too soon or didn’t have enough time or defense at the end to win one of the all-time shootouts. “Worse defense we ever played,” recalls an unimpressed Defensive Coordinator Steve Verbit P05, who has been on the staff since 1985.  Tigers finished 2-5 in the league. Dartmouth was 5-2.

20) Princeton 41, Lafayette 33. November 5, 1983 at Palmer Stadium, Princeton, NJ

Doug Butler completed 32-of-53 passes for 469 yards and three touchdowns as the Tigers rallied from a 12-point deficit with 12 minutes remaining. Derek Graham ’85 had 15 receptions for 216 yards, including 13 on the winning touchdown, and Kevin Guthrie had 12 for 185 yards.  “Under (head coach) Frank Navarro and (offensive coordinator) Hank Small, we were designed to throw 45 times a game,” recalls Butler. “The numbers we put up that year, when we had both Derek and Kevin. were ridiculous for the times.”

The Tigers finished 5-5.

19) Princeton 51, Harvard 20.   November 8, 1969 at Harvard Stadium, Cambridge, MA

Ellis Moore ’70 bulled for touchdown runs of 10, 8, and 6 yards during the 1st half, and quarterback Scott MacBean ’70 completed 9 of 12 passes for 148, yards that included a 44 yard scoring strike to flanker Chris Montgomery ’71. It was the best day yet for Coach Jake McCandless ’51’s new T formation. “The new vehicle is coming along. I must say,” said the coach. “We were prepared to settle for a day of patience, but Scott just picked them apart.”

Said Harvard Coach John Yovicisn: “Princeton handled us just the way they wanted to. We didn’t give them anything; they earned everything they got. I can’t remember being beaten by a team which executed as beautifully as Princeton did in the first half.” The Tigers scored on their first four possessions, racing to a 24-0 lead and two weeks later, won a three-way share of the Ivy title with Dartmouth and Yale. Harvard finished 2-5 in the league.

Princeton at Yale | 2006

18) Princeton 34, Yale 31.  November 11, 2006 at the Yale Bowl, New Haven, CT 

Jeff Terrell ’07 threw for 446 yards of Princeton’s total of 504 as the Tigers, down 28-14 at the half, rallied for a win that would give them, at 6-1, a share of the Ivy title with the Bulldogs. Brendan Circle ’08, who had 12 catches, scored two of the second half touchdowns. The Terrell winner went for 57 yards to Brian Brigham ’07 with 8:24 to play.  After Princeton forced a punt, it ran out the final 4:51 with four first downs.

“We were overanxious in the first half,” recalls Verbit.  “I remember saying at halftime that if we just settle down, they will not be able to stop us.”

17) Princeton 48, Brown 14. November 4, 1967 at Palmer Stadium, Princeton, NJ

Ellis Moore accounted for 134 yards on 29 carries while Dick Bracken ’69 added another 97. Bracken went around the end for 57 yards on the game’s third play but Princeton really got rolling in the 2nd half. Moore carried the ball on 9 of 14 plays of a 58 yard TD drive in which Bracken’s 21 yard gain on a broken pass play was the big gainer. After a 16 yard jaunt by Don Hazen ’69, Dave Miller ’69 bolted 65 yards on a wingback reverse and another Princeton score, Bracken recorded his third touchdown on a right end sweep.

Princeton went 6-3. Brown won only one league game.

16) Princeton 45, Harvard 6.  November 11, 1967 at Harvard Stadium, Cambridge, MA

The following week Moore scored five touchdowns with, according to the Daily Princetonian, “sheer power, excellent cutting, determined second efforts and twisting dives on the wedge.” “The most thrilling day of my life,” said Moore, who accounted for 138 yards in 31 carries, but by no means was the sophomore tailback doing this by himself.

The offensive line opened huge holes all afternoon. Dick Bracken had the finest game of his career, particularly as a passer, quarterback Danny White ’70 consistently outwitted the Crimson with his calls and Jim Koloski ’69 was cited for his “running, receiving and blocking” by Princeton Coach Dick Colman.

“The only Ivy team I recall playing so well without letting up for 4 periods,” said Yovicisn.  Princeton and Harvard tied for fourth in the league with 4-3 marks.

15) Princeton 47, Cornell 14.  October 26, 1957 at Palmer Stadium, Princeton, NJ

The Tigers single wing attack ran up 461 yards, astounding numbers in days of fewer snaps, on the way to a 7-2 season and an outright championship in Ivy League’s second year. Led by the blocking of quarterback Jack Sapoch ’58 and lineman Bob Casciola ’58, sophomore tailback Dan Sachs ’60 had three touchdowns and 130 yards on just nine carries before having to retire at halftime with the flu. His replacement, Tom Morris ’58 broke a 57-yard run down the sidelines and Fred Tiley ’59 added another touchdown on a 38 yard run.  Cornell was 3-4.

14) Princeton 47, Columbia 6. October 5, 1957 at Baker Field, New York ,NY

Four weeks later, the Tigers went 30 yards better on the ground – to 491 yards and 29 first-down runs – both new school records. Six running backs scored touchdowns – two by Sachs and John Heyd ’59 and then one each by Fred Tiley, Jim Mottle ’58, Jim Stansbury ’60, and Dick George ’60.  So dominant was Princeton in another step towards the title that it survived 122 yards in penalties.

Princeton vs Brown | 2018

13) Princeton 48, Brown 10.  October 13, 2018 at Princeton Stadium, Princeton, NJ

Davidson, getting his first career start as John Lovett rested following surgery on his non-throwing hand, directed touchdown drives on four of Princeton’s first five possessions and completed 19 of 26 passes for 299 yards and four touchdowns. Jesper Horsted had 13 catches, two for touchdowns and Stephen Carlson ’19 caught another eight, including a touchdown. Charlie Volker ’19 ran for 107 yards and two scores as Tigers totaled 556 yards on the way to an undefeated season. Brown went winless in the league.

Princeton at Columbia | 2018

12) Princeton 45, Columbia 10.  September 28, 2018 at Wien Stadium, New York, NY 

John Lovett ran for 176 yards and two touchdowns and threw for two more, both to Carlson, as Tigers totaled 540 yards, 363 of them on the ground. Included was a Collin Eaddy 66 yard touchdown run.  Lovett averaged 10.2 yards per carry on his most scintillating rushing day ever of many. “That is the best Ivy offense I ever have seen,” said Columbia’s Al Bagnoli, who has coached 28 seasons in the league and won nine championships at Penn. Princeton went on to a 10-0 season and Columbia finished 6-4, 3-4 in the league.

Princeton at Harvard | 2017

11) Princeton 52, Harvard 17. October 20, 2017 at Harvard Stadium, Cambridge, MA

Chad Kanoff hit his first 21 passes on the way to a 31 for 35 day.  Jesper Horsted caught 13 balls for 246 yards, the third-best receiving day in Tiger history, and Kanoff threw to Stephen Carlson for another score as Tigers steamrolled for 563 yards, 423 of them passing. The average gain per play was 7.5.  It was the fourth time that season the Tigers broke 50 points and yet, as injuries demolished the front seven, it turned out to be the last game they would win. Harvard finished 5-5, same as Princeton.

10) Princeton 39, Brown 17.  October 19, 2013 at Brown Stadium, Providence, RI

The Tigers fell behind 17-0 on a field goal off the opening, drive, a 71-yard touchdown run by John Spooney and a blocked punt run in for a score, and then were 3rd and 18 at the their own 4 when Connor Kelley ’15 made a leaping, twisting, 24-yard catch of a pass from Quinn Epperly ’15 that changed everything. They completed the drive with a Brian Mills ’14 touchdown and, following the half, exploded for three Epperly touchdown runs, a Connor Michelsen ’15 touchdown pass to Des Smith ’14, and rolled to 566 yards while Brown went scoreless, perhaps the most dramatic in-game turnabout in Princeton history.

“I just recall how positive everyone was on the bench, even down 17-0,” says Verbit. “They knew they could come back and win the game. This was the fourth of seven straight wins on the way to a share the Ivy title with Harvard at 6-1. Brown went 6-4.

9) Princeton 38, Lehigh 28. October 3, 1992 at Goodman Stadium, Bethlehem, PA

Keith Elias ’94 broke touchdown runs of 54 and 50 yards and finished with 273 yards on 36 carries, bringing his yardage in back to back games to 473 yards, a new FCS record.

The Tigers threw the ball only eight times in bringing their record to 3-0 on the way to 8-2 and a share of the Ivy title. But perhaps the greatest of all the great runs of Elias’s career, in which he stiff-armed the last defender three times, still might not have been the Tigers’ most explosive play of the game.  Fielding a first-quarter punt, Michael Lerch ’93 ran straight ahead into a pile, escaped untouched and outran the last defender down the sideline for a breathtaking 75-yard touchdown return.

Erick Hamilton ’93 added another 82 yards and a touchdown to a 434 yard day on the ground. .

8) Princeton 51, Harvard 48. October 26, 2013 at Harvard Stadium, Cambridge, MA

There were four lead changes and four ties until the Tigers won it in the third overtime on a Quinn Epperly 6 yard pass to Roman Wilson ’14. Epperly was 37 for 50 in throwing for six touchdowns to five different Tigers. Wilson tied the score in the second overtime on an end around and caught nine passes, the same total as Matt Costello ’15.  Princeton amassed 529 yards in handing Harvard its first loss of the season.  The teams would tie for the Ivy title.

7) Princeton 38, Lafayette 35. September 26, 1992 at Palmer Stadium, Princeton, NJ

Elias’s 299 rushing yards, the highest single-game rushing total Princeton football history, broke Homer Smith ’54’s record of 273. The Tigers trailed 14-0 before three minutes had been played and led only by 31-28 in the 4th quarter when Elias broke a breathtaking 69 yard touchdown run. All of these points were needed as Lafayette had the ball at the Princeton 33 when time ran out.

“I can imagine how tired and weakened our players are right now, because I’m exhausted,” said Tiger Coach Steve Tosches. “I mean, that was draining.”

Elias scored four touchdowns, but arguably the best day a Tiger ever had was not performed alone. “It was such a pleasure to run today, because of our front five – lan Lombard (’94), J.C. Stilley (’93), Scott Miller (’94), Chris Cyterski (’94), and Chris Theiss (’93),” said Elias. ‘Those front five, with tight end (Chris) Beiswenger (’93), and Pete Bailey (’94), the fullback, did an incredible job.”

6) Princeton 53, Columbia 7. October 5, 2013 at Princeton Stadium, Princeton, NJ

Princeton’s 645 yards were perfectly distributed between passing (314) and rushing (315). Quinn Epperly threw for four touchdowns, three to Roman Wilson, on a 24-for-33 passing day, ran for two more, and didn’t turn the ball over once as Princeton won the time of possession by a huge 13 minutes. “It’s what we have been practicing for,” said Epperly, heretofore the goalline quarterback until Connor Michelsen was concussed in the game’s third series. “We haven’t performed up to that standard in years past. So this is just the beginning of what should be.”

Indeed this just the second of five 50+ point performances in an 8-2 season in which the Tigers broke many league offensive records in sharing the Ivy title with Harvard.

5) Princeton 53, Cornell 20.  November 2, 2013 at Princeton Stadium, Princeton, NJ

Epperly completed an NCAA record 29 consecutive passes in going 36 for 40 as the Tigers set a Princeton all-time single game school record for 1st downs with 38.  Seven Tiger rushers contributed 263 towards Princeton’s 605 yards, including Epperly’s 69. Nine receivers caught passes; including Seth DeValve ’16’s eight. Princeton, which punted just once, competed drives of 75, 72, 80, 72, 90, 72, 66, and 62 yards and only had to convert on two of seven 3rd down opportunities to do all that.

“Honestly, we should have scored every drive,” said Epperly. “We were in a zone, the receivers made some excellent catches and our linemen, I don’t think I had any pressure on me all day.”

The Tigers went on to share the Ivy title with Harvard. Cornell was 3-7.

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

Bob Holly threw for 501 yards, a record that still survives the onslaughts of Doug Butler, Quinn Epperly and Chad Kanoff, as the Princeton single game record. The Tigers erased a 21-0 second quarter deficit and then completed a classic two-minute drive when Holly ran the ball in on the final play. The greatest upset in Princeton’s Ivy Era history also broke a 14 year losing streak to Yale.  Kevin Guthrie had 278 receiving yards, a record that held up for 10 years.

Princeton at Cornell | 2016

3) Princeton 55, Cornell 7. October 29, 2016 at Schoellkopf Field, Ithaca, NY

John Lovett accounted for seven touchdowns – four passing, two rushing, one receiving – and Chad Kanoff also was 17 for 23 with another touchdown pass as the Tigers put up 645 total yards, tied for second all-time for one game in Princeton history. The Tigers had 32 first downs to Cornell’s 13, totaled 645 yards to the Big Red’s 263.  Lovett was 10 for 11 for 194 yards and Kanoff 17 for 23 for 198.  In scoring eight touchdowns, Princeton never had a drive shorter than 50 yards.

Isaiah Barnes ’17 broke a 95 yard touchdown reception from Lovett, tied for the second longest in Princeton history. The average gain per play was 7.9.

“It was all clicking,” said Barnes. “We had such a bad taste in our mouth from last week (an overtime loss to Harvard) that I think we were ready to play on Monday. The loss became just one more motivation to prove to the rest of the league that we are for real. Cornell just happened to be the first team we played.”

“It was a complete game for everybody.”

Princeton went on to an 8-2 season and a share of the Ivy title with Penn. Cornell, which had started promisingly until this day, finished 4-6.

2) Princeton 59, Brown, 37. October 12, 1991 at Brown Stadium, Providence, RI

Michael Lerch had 463 of Princeton’s 645 yards in one of Princeton’s greatest individual performances – again, that’s for another day and list. Yet this still wasn’t a one-man show and never turned into a rout. The Tigers had to punt the first three times they had the ball, but then exploded for two Chad Roghair ’92 to Lerch bombs sandwiched around a Keith Elias rushing touchdown, But thanks in part to two turnovers on returns converted by the Bears, Princeton had to keep scoring, even come back from a 37-26 deficit.

“It was a track meet, a circus,” Princeton head coach Steve Tosches said when it was over. “Anything was going to happen. We were able to just stay in the race and do our part.”

Brown bunched the line of scrimmage in an effort to stop Elias. Burned so badly in single coverage against Lerch (370 yards on nine catches and four touchdowns) — that the Bears had to back off in the 2nd half, the Bears allowed Elias and Erick Hamilton, who had been held to a combined 32 yards in the first half, to run wild thereafter. A 67-yard scamper by Hamilton gave Princeton the lead for good at 38-37 and the Tigers didn’t put it away until Elias’s second touchdown of the game with 2:33 to play.

The Tigers went 8-2, finishing second behind Dartmouth for the Ivy title. Brown was 1-9.

Princeton vs Lehigh | 2018

1) Princeton 66, Lehigh 7. October 6, 2018 at Princeton Stadium, Princeton, NJ

The 733 yards the Tigers put up are their most-ever in a game by a significant 88. They had a near perfect balance of 391 passing and 342 rushing.  The average gain per play was 9.5 and Princeton scored another 21 points after John Lovett and most of the first unit was pulled.

Seven different players scored their nine touchdowns on two drives of 80 yards, two of 70+ and only 7 of the 66 points came off short fields due to turnovers.  In eight trips to the red zone, Princeton had to kick one field goal, and in the entire game, committed but two penalties. Lehigh finished the season 3-8. But 733 yards are 733 yards. And it was the largest margin of victory by Princeton in 68 years.

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