An Enormous Call and Effort Keeps the Tigers Unbeaten, 21-7
BY JAY GREENBERG
ITHACA, NY – Bob Surace had wasted not five seconds of precious sleep worrying his team might get caught looking ahead to Dartmouth. With both his starting cornerbacks held out in game time decisions and the Tigers well on the way to finishing just 8 for 21 for the night on 3rd and 4th downs, suddenly they were hearing footsteps from behind.
Cornell had just gone 85 yards to cut a Princeton halftime lead of 14-0 in half and had the Tigers in a 3rd and not exactly short 5 at their own 30. If, with four minutes to go in the 3rd quarter, the Tigers were yet not in trouble, certainly you could see it from there.
The quick out stuff wasn’t working very well most of the night. Princeton was repeatedly in 2nd and longs. Kevin Davidson had connected just once for more than 30 yards. It the execution had been off, credit Cornell for that too, so if ever a light bulb needed to go for a Princeton team that has rarely suffered for the right call at the right time in this era, this was it. The Tigers required a superior play and offensive coordinator Andy Aurich had one up his sleeve.
“[Cornell] played every defense imaginable and we were looking back a lot,” said Davidson. “They had to be in man this time for this play to work and Coach got it right.”
Screen right to Dylan Classi. Brush block by Carson Bobo, and Alex Deters cutting of some pursuit, but mostly it was just perfect spacing, timing and planning that got Classi into the open field before he was chased down at the Princeton 30. It set up Collin Eaddy’s four-yard touchdown run and a two-score lead the Tiger defense made hold up for a 21-7 win, Princeton’s 17th in a row.
“Horsted caught a bunch of that play but we haven’t shown it all year,” said Surace. “It was not a bubble, just a one-step screen inside.
“Andy was sure all week that in the right spot, if they were in a man, it would work for a big play.”
Explosive plays have been in shorter supply to get the Tigers to 7-0 this season than last, but Princeton has been required to make more timely ones this time around on both sides of the ball. Picks by Sultaan Shabazz, a nickel back seeing his first action on the corner since training camp in the absence of Delan Stallworth and Christian Brown, another interception by Trevor Forbes, plus a fumble recovery by James Johnson that setup a second quarter touchdown never allowed the Tigers to fall behind. The Big Red was only 1 for 11 on 3rd down.
Yet you still can’t say the defense won this game more than the offense, because that screen to Classi turned back the game Princeton’s way.
“The patience of Classi made that work and the offensive line did a good job, keeping (Cornell) guy’s hands down,” said Davidson. “And then it was just trusting the play.”
“It took some time to set that up.”
It took time to get the ball into the end zone, too, as Ryan Quigley barely made a 3rd and 2 at the 15 to enable Eaddy’s second touchdown with 3:50 to go in the 3rd quarter. Nevertheless, a two touchdown lead was restored.
There still was a lot of football to be played, and it can be argued that Princeton’s offense didn’t play it well, twice having opportunities in Cornell territory to salt it away or at least burn time, and failing because of a Deters hold and a Quigley fumble.
With a third opportunity to run clock, this time to the end, the Tigers got stopped again and had to punt, but Jeremiah Tyler, who was fantastic again, had his fourth tackle for a loss of the game to put it away, finally. Eaddy could have scored another touchdown on burst up the middle but had been told to go to the ground so the Tigers could take the clock to zero. Mercy, but mercy, it had been a struggle.
Ugly win? No such thing at 7-0.
“A win is a win,” smiled Davidson. “But there will be a lot of teaching stuff this week.”
In the meantime, every week we learn a little more about this team’s ability to block out distractions and step up.
“Sultaan hadn’t played corner since training camp but he did a great job,” said Surace. “He bit on a double move to set up their touchdown, but otherwise was terrific.”
“There are errors we have to correct. We had chances to put that game away and didn’t. Credit Cornell; they got us many time on short yardage. They have been good all year on defense and they hit us with some looks we hadn’t seen. But Andy made some good adjustments and we played a professional game.”
Twice in the 1st quarter Princeton was stopped on 4th down runs in Cornell territory, Eaddy was stuffed on 4th and 2 at the 27 on the first series of the game and on 4th and 1 two possessions later, Kevin Davidson was stopped at the 38.
But despite some over the middle completions by quarterback Richie Kenney, the Big Red never threatened until the Tigers defense forced a turnover that jump started their offense. Johnson pounced on SK Howard’s fumble at the Big Red 37, and, operating quickly the offensive line created significant room on consecutive 1st down runs up the middle by Quigley. Eaddy scored from the 3 and with the Tavish Rice point after, Princeton had a 7-0 lead 9:01 into the second quarter.
The Tigers forced a fourth Cornell punt but when Cornell sniffed out a pass in the flat to Sam Johnson on 3rd and 15, Princeton was in danger of another three and out until Davidson went up top to Kevin Griffin, who made a fine tumbling catch at the Cornell 40.
Eaddy got wrapped up again on 3rd and 1 at the 16, but Surace didn’t hesitate to go for it again on 4th and Davidson hit Birmelin perfectly with a slant. The same pattern to the same guy got the ball to the 11 and after Quigley got thrown for loss on 1st and goal from the one, Davidson threw to the toe-tapping Griffin in the corner of the end zone for a 14-0 lead at the half.
Turned out that was enough, even if for the longest time it didn’t look like it would be. “Gritty,” Surace told his players on the field. It’s been one week at a time of course, but certainly this is worth a short toast. The Tigers get to play Dartmouth again undefeated.
“The story of the season has been the resolve these guys have shown,” said Surace. “We travelled 39 freshmen and sophomores, a big number. Those guys are getting better every week while the veteran guys continue to step up.”
“These guys are accountable; a joy to coach.”