It’s More Than Just Another Win to the Tigers
BY JAY GREENBERG
Penn hasn’t let go of the rope. After getting clobbered 44-6 by Columbia and blowing a big lead against Brown team, then winless in league play, the Quakers came back to beat the Bears on a final play field goal and haven’t lost in the two weeks since then. Squeakers over Cornell and Harvard puts Penn in position to have a winning season with a victory over Princeton Saturday.
“They have found ways to win; it’s impressive,” said Princeton Defensive Coordinator Steve Verbit P05. Also a good example set for the Tigers, who in the last two weeks suddenly began to multiply ways to lose. After getting to 7-0 with coolness under fire, they need to find themselves again at Franklin Field, lest some fine senior performers walk out FitzRandolph Gate in May haunted by their failure to close.
“We don’t want to lose three games in a row to end our careers” said defensive lineman Joey DeMarco.
It’s hard to argue Dartmouth and Yale weren’t better, but harder than ever now to claim Princeton never had a chance in-game, never mind the 17 and 37 point differentials. Dartmouth stunningly lost last week to a Cornell team Princeton handled 21-7. Then on October 12, Yale, which trampled the Tigers, 51-14, with a three touchdown burst in a six minute late second-period span, got blown out 21-0 in the first quarter of a 42-10 loss at Dartmouth.
With lesser margins over their opponents in talent than a year ago, the strong execution on both sides of the ball that had kept Princeton unbeaten, that disappointingly broken against the Big Green and Bulldogs. But look around. Regrets? Ivies have had more than just a few, as we have mentioned.
“Like everybody else in the league, Penn has had that one bad game,” said Bob Surace ’90. “It shows the parity in the league.”
It also shows just how superior Princeton had to be last year to run the table. That all-time team set a nearly impossible standard for this 2019 one, considering all the losses of big-time players due to graduation and other things.
Win or lose Saturday, the program is in excellent shape. Still to be shaped, however, will be the perception of the 2019 team, especially from within. It is a huge point of pride with these guys to finish with a victory.
“Even though the season hasn’t unfolded in the way we expected, you want to end on a high and leave the program feeling a sense of pride,” said offensive tackle Brent Holder. “The last two games weren’t great in a lot of areas.”
“We want to come out this week and play the way we know we can.”
That incentive is further fueled by memories of these seniors back to 2017, when they were part of a team that lost its last four games to settle for an unsettling 5-5.
The loss of defensive linemen that season went three units deep. To the bitter end of that year, those Tigers kept scoring, they just were no longer capable of getting a stop, a shame really, but in the end nothing to be ashamed about. Rallying to go ahead at Dartmouth with three minutes to go in the finale, the team went down slinging.
This year’s team is healthier , with less room to rationalize a sour end to the season and therefore determined to not suffer another one.
“This week we are laser-focused and that has been evident in practice,” said quarterback Kevin Davidson.
As usual, Surace and his assistants have stressed the details, feeling no need to manufacture any incentives. The Tigers need significant help from Brown beating Dartmouth and Harvard knocking off Yale to get a three-way share of a title. The focus is better spent on better helping themselves. Should they win this one, it will be much easier to feel that they did fine this season, considering the talent lost from the 2018 powerhouse.
That’s plenty of incentive to win. In that locker room Saturday will be inevitable remembrances of the pain felt from a game taken away from them two years ago, but the Tigers aren’t playing those officials, just a Penn team half-filled with players who weren’t there that day, the rest having nothing to do with the mistake.
The most powerful incentive of all for the seniors may be the reality that Ivy players get 40 games – and that’s if they are lucky – making the finale ever more precious.
“I want to leave everything out there,” said DeMarco, who had a year out of school to double down on his appreciation for every second spent on every field “I don’t want to ever feel like I could have done something different; all my effort is going into this last game.”
“I really feel I didn’t do everything I could the last two weeks, especially for all my brothers. This is really a good opportunity to end my career the right way.”
Kickoff is at 1 (ESPN+ and WPRB (103.3) . . . Princeton leads the series that began in 1876 by 67-42-1.
The two teams did not pay between 1895 and 1934.
The last road win for either school against each other was in 2013, when Mike Zeuli ’15, Elijah Mitchell ’14 and Anthony Gaffney ’16 each intercepted Billy Ragone, holding the Penn quarterback to just 10 completions in a 38-26 Princeton triumph on the way to first of three Ivy titles under Surace. On Saturday he will coach his 100th game for Old Nassau (55-44, 53-24 after a 2-20 start).
Keeping Track, Just in Case it Still Matters. But They Did Get Better:
After losing its first six, John Garrett 88’s Lafayette Leopards have beaten Fordham, Bucknell and Holy Cross to be 3-8 heading into Saturday’s annual grudge match against Lehigh. Of the other two Princeton non-league opponents this season, Butler is 3-8 in the Pioneer League and Bucknell has gotten to 3-7 too, with wins over Colgate, Lehigh and Georgetown.
The season ends Saturday, but our coverage will continue. We will have the usual Monday story, this time to include the honors handed out at Sunday’s post-season banquet, followed by the release of the All-Ivy teams on Tuesday. In the coming weeks, we will post our annual review of the best plays and players of the season and Surace’s personal thank you to each senior.
After that will come the completion of our 150th anniversary commemoration with six more of 11 ranked lists of Princeton’s greatest of the Ivy League era – comebacks, individual offensive performances, clutch plays, painful losses and glorious wins. The series will culminate with a ranking of the best-ever Tiger teams.