They Grow Up Even Before You Know It
BY JAY GREENBERG
In a game so tight for so long that that the attempt at the big play begged the wrong answer, the most unsung player on Saturday for a rare time probably was the winning quarterback.
“I thought Kevin Davidson (22-for-35 for 271 yards, one touchdown and one interception) managed the game really well,” said Coach Bob Surace ’90 on Sunday morning in the afterglow of a hugely difficult and highly satisfying 21-10 win over Columbia. “On the (first series) interception (leading to Columbia’s early field goal) maybe the throw could have been a little better, but the bigger problem was the spacing (of the receivers) which made it a tighter window than it should have been.”
“When they had pressure and Kevin had to make split-second decisions he did well, getting rid of the ball or going to the right place with it and then making a beautiful throw on the catch by Dylan Classi (keying Princeton’s third touchdown drive).”
“Catch of the year,” Davidson called Classi’s one-handed stab in a closet of three players, two of them enemies, but it was the throw of the year, too, one that should never leave the passer’s hand without complete confidence that the receiver has the body control to legally win a fight for position and the concentration to pull down the ball.
“It wasn’t surprising to me because Dylan does that all the time in practice,” said Surace. “It wasn’t a fluke.”
At 27 yards, that was Davidson’s longest completion of the day. Collin Eaddy’s legs took care of the last 15 yards of the second longest – 25 for Princeton’s first touchdown. And the third longest, to Jacob Birmelin for 20 on the sideline with a pass rusher in Davidson’s face, might even have trumped the one to Classi in terms of difficulty.
Davidson is in there to throw; the Tigers have a running quarterback, Zach Keller, for the goal line. But when there was nowhere to go with the ball on 3rd and 5 with the Tigers needing a couple 1st downs to put the game away, Davidson pulled it down and made the chains by five yards.
On a day where the defenses on both sides forced the quarterbacks to take what was there, Davidson aced a first test in four career starts of his understanding that less can be more. Never did he become overanxious. And it won the game, same as 400-plus passing yards can do on another day.
They Were Special
“Going in I thought special teams were going to be a key factor,” said Surace. “The (Lions) have a great return game and three different times we pinned them inside the 20. That was a beautiful punt of George Triplett’s that we downed on the one-inch line.
“Joey DeMarco blocked a field goal. Tavish (Rice) kicked the ball either out of the end zone or deep enough that they only returned two (kickoffs) one of them to only the 15 (thanks to a sure tackle by Will Perez). On the other, the (officials) missed a clipping call that should have put them inside the five. Still they only got it out to the 25 on that one, which was the best field position they had from the kicking game all day, which was great.
“Will (Powers) only got (27 yards) on one of his (three punts) but that was okay because it was really high and they didn’t get a return. We wanted to force fair catches (actually the 27-yarder was downed) and we did against a team that has scored consistently on special teams.”
Innocent Victim of Blind Football Justice Dept.
Will Johnson escaped scolding for the running-into-the-kicker penalty that helped keep Columbia’s drive alive to its only touchdown. The officials got the earful from Surace instead.
“From the film I have, I don’t think Will touched him,” said the coach. “He was beyond the kicker, who looked like he was trying to make contact.
“To make it worse, the kicker (while writhing on the ground) took his helmet off, which is illegal and should have been an automatic 15-yard penalty. At minimum it should have been offsetting penalties.
“I’m not mad at Will; that was not a mistake in discipline. I sent [a film clip] in (to the league). We’ll see what they say.”
It Got Hard Going Deep against this Depth
In the absence of starting corner Delan Stallworth, Matt Winston more than held his own and nickel back Sultaan Shabazz continues to shine.
“Matt earned trust with the spring and training camp he had,” said Surace. “That’s a good (Columbia) receiving corps– two guys (Josh Wainright and Ronald Smith) who have been All-Ivy and a third (Mike Roussos) who was All-Ivy as a returner. We played really well in the secondary.
“On the touchdown, their guy (Smith) made a catch that was Jesper Horsted-like. Matthew could have played the ball a little better maybe on that one but our pass rush pressure and the coverages were outstanding against guys who once gave us nightmares (in the 2017 game won on a late 63-yard reception by Smith).”
“Sultaan had a key breakup (Saturday) and on their second longest throw of the day, he made a heckuva reach and was inches away his second interception. He may have jumped a split second early on that one. It could have grazed his fingertip.”
The Wright Stuff
Growing before our eyes into an elite pass rusher is Sam Wright, who had three sacks Saturday, bringing his season total to four.
“His effort level is awesome,” said Surace. “Even on a couple of sprint outs (by quarterback Josh Bean), Sam forced bad throws. It’s rewarding to see a guy start to reach his ability level because his work ethic has been great.
“They cut blocked him on the first series, then they tried it again the next and he made an athletic play to force an incompletion.”
Sophomore linebacker Daniel Beard, who was expected to fill a backup role both inside and out, became the starter inside with the loss for the season of captain John Orr. Beard had nine tackles Saturday.
“He is a really good athlete who has worked hard to put on weight and strength,” said Surace. “As with he and (freshman) Anthony Corbin, their game one errors were for five yards, in game two it was three or four yards and in game three it was two yards, what you want to see with young guys. I’m really happy with their level of intensity. They are such great kids.”
Even When He’s Not Eadding ‘em Up Dept:
“Collin Eaddy’s stats say he was 21-for 62 but it was really 21-for-35 that he turned into 62,” said Surace. “They forced us into a game plan of four-yard gains. He and Ryan (Quigley) did a good job of finishing runs and finally Ryan popped one (for the third touchdown).”
And Often Last, But Never Least, the Offensive Line:
“They have a defensive end, Daniel DeLorenzi, who is one sack away from being the all-time leader at Columbia, a school that had (10-year pro) Marcellus Wiley and Josh Martin, who still is playing the NFL,” said Surace. “And DeLorenzi had just one assisted tackle the entire game. Our plan was good and I thought Henry Byrd did a great job on him.”
Columbia’s one sack, which lengthened Rice’s field goal attempt from 49 that missed barely left on the last play of the first half, came on a corner blitz the Lions had not shown in the first two games.