Once More, Just For New Time’s Sake
BY JAY GREENBERG
Since it took 63 years for two Ivy League teams to meet undefeated in week eight, it seemed like the magnitude and uniqueness of 2018’s Princeton-Dartmouth showdown really could not be exaggerated or under-celebrated. Turns out, it was just another year and another clash of 7-0 clubs.
We joke. Notwithstanding of the fact that Princeton and Dartmouth have been solid favorites in every game they have played this season, it still took a 43 yard heave by Derek Kyler and a tipped touchdown reception on the last play Saturday at Harvard for the Big Green and Tigers to perfectly get to this point in combination in consecutive seasons. This is but one reason why an era likely to be forever defined at both schools by two epic head to head showdowns needs to be completely savored Saturday at Yankee Stadium.
Granted, there is no way that Game of the (Short) Century 2 can be as physically, meticulously and breathlessly played to the end as was last year’s 14-9 Princeton victory. Unless, of course, it probably will be now that both teams have gotten this far again.
“I think my first call (after Dartmouth’s 9-6 victory at Harvard Saturday) was from John Mosley (Senior Manager of College Football Development at the Yankees) and he was ecstatic,” said Bob Surace Sunday morning. “I guarantee Buddy (Dartmouth Coach Teevens) got the same call.”
“Not only is this a celebration of 150 years of college football and college football history, it turns out to be a game between two undefeated teams. Dartmouth is at the top of every FCS statistical category and we are close. This brings attention to the football fan who might not be an alum of either school.”
How We Got Here:
With big plays, particularly on defense, Princeton overcame mistakes we’re not used to seeing to grind past Cornell 21-7 Friday night in Ithaca. Dartmouth, held to just a field goal for 59 minutes, had to go 96 yards in 59 seconds for one of the most fantastic/heartbreaking endings in 150 years of the sport.
“That was a great job by the Dartmouth quarterback extending that play with a rush on him, allowing the receivers to set up, and throwing the ball right down the middle,” said Surace. “For all the errors that sometimes happen (in desperation situations), Dartmouth had incredible execution by the quarterback and the line, which allowed him to roll to the right and step up.”
“When you throw it like that, it can bounce your way. Everybody is saying it is a miracle, but I can guarantee you Dartmouth practiced that like all teams do. When the ball bounced funny, they had their guys in position. So there has to be lot of credit, as much as there is blame or finger pointing.”
Harvard Coach Tm Murphy called it the most painful defeat of his 26 Crimson seasons, which either was a trick of selected memory or a testimony from the bottom of his broken heart. His team blew a 24-point fourth quarter lead to lose with 13 seconds remaining at Princeton in 2012.
Just Another Game Being Played at a Place That Has Hosted 37 World Series and 3 NFL Championship Games:
The Tiger will have a walkthrough in the Stadium Friday morning. Dartmouth has the field in the afternoon. Surace does not plan to bring a stepladder and a tape measure to show his team that the goalposts are of the same dimensions as at Princeton Stadium. Andrew Griffin may be from Indiana, but these are the Princeton Tigers, defending Ivy League champions and unbeaten in 17 games, not Hickory High.
“The Yale Bowl is an historical landmark that seats 100,000 so I don’t think the size of the stadium matters to our guys,” said Surace. “It will be a grass field, not something we play on regularly, why we want a walkthrough.”
“I mean it is Yankee Stadium, but we have been really good about distractions, so I don’t think at kickoff we are going to be looking into Monument Park. (Editors Note: Lou Gehrig was a Columbia guy). I think we have really good senior leadership. It’s all about preparation and that’s not changing.”
“Derek Jeter (Second Editors Note: Surace is a huge Yankee fan) and Tom Brady don’t change their routines. Jeter was the same player in July he was in October, Brady the same in Super Bowl as in week six. Their focus was/is on the preparation.”
“At the end of the day, there are a lot of new players, plus returning players on both sides who have gotten better. Freshmen in this game were preparing for high school playoffs a year ago at this time.”
“In July Buddy and I got to throw out a first pitch before a Yankee game and that was pretty cool. But when you get to this point with two teams that have worked so hard and sacrificed so much, you don’t want to be changing your routine.”
“Besides, anytime I talk about 1989, players look at me like I’m a dinosaur. It’s irrelevant.”
But Just for All You Dinosaurs Out There:
Princeton also brought a 17-game winning streak into the Dartmouth game in 1965, only to lose 28-14. Dartmouth had nine wins in a row going into that game, like this week.
Dept. of Corrections:
The Tigers made enough errors Friday night in Ithaca to give them plenty to work on this week, all the more help to the coaches and the players to shrink the big picture down to the details. Two fourth-down conversion failures kept Princeton from establishing a more formidable first half lead than 14-0. A fumble, a holding penalty, and another stop on 3rd and 2 ended what could have been put away drives.
“Cornell hit us with some really good defense,” said Surace. “We made an adjustment (on a 4th and 1 at the Cornell 38) call to Zach Keller that probably should have waited until halftime and that’s on me.
“I wasn’t clear enough on who we were blocking and Keller got hit on the backfield by a guy who should have been blocked. When he put in something new we can’t assume [opponents] are going to be in the same looks; we have to do a better job ruling things out. Having a guy come through free in short yardage really hurt us after we had moved the ball so well on 1st and 2nd down in the 1st quarter.”
“On defense, we had a couple of moments where we didn’t play as disciplined and they hit us on big plays. You mess up with your eyes just once this week and it is disaster. Nobody has made more big plays than Dartmouth.”
“On a good note, Cornell was 1 for 11 on 3rd down. Our net on special teams worked out to about eight 1st downs during the course of the game.”
Alternative Universe Dept:
Jelani Taylor’s 4th quarter-interception of a 3rd and 14 throw by Kevin Davidson at the Cornell 12 was credited only after Surace asked the officials to review the original call of an out-of-bounds catch.”
“Better than a punt,” said Surace. “A punt can get blocked and run back. And a punt into the end zone gives them the ball at the 20.”
“I wasn’t going to risk a challenge on it. But our guys thought he caught it in-bounds so I asked.”
JT Stands for Just Terrific:
Jeremiah Tyler had 11 tackles, 4.5 for a loss, and a breakup in what might have been the most dominant performance yet by the junior outside linebacker. “I don’t want to rank them yet but he was all over the field and played with such energy,” said Surace. “It wasn’t just the plays he made, it was the times they wanted to do something and they had to go away from him. His discipline was really good, too.”
Princeton remains 9th in the FCS coach’s poll, Dartmouth is 13th. The only other unbeaten FCS team besides these two is No. 1 North Dakota State.
Our schedule of a weekly 150th anniversary list of greatest Princeton performances, upsets, comebacks, etc. of the Ivy Era, has become a victim of over-ambition, plus a demand for material on the 2019 Tigers. The next posting will be of the top comebacks, with single game individual offensive performances, clutch plays, heartbreaks and wins still to come as the series continues into December. It will conclude with a ranking of the greatest Princeton teams.