The Tigers Finish it Right with 28-7 Win Over Penn

  • November 23, 2019

BY JAY GREENBERG

PHILADELPHIA – The offense, frankly, had barely been moving for two and a half games. And then suddenly, Trey Gray, a victim of an inadvertent helmet-to-helmet hit was on the ground and for a time, not moving at all, testing the meaning of anything else.

Everybody’s worst fear, a spinal column injury, had seemed less likely before Gray, injured on the second half kickoff Saturday, was wheeled out of Franklin Field on a gurney. Concussion being the much lesser of two bad alternatives, maybe it was the relief at seeing the sophomore back’s extremities in motion that got the Tigers going again, as much as it was their ability to quickly refocus. Whatever the reason, their finest hour of what turned into a satisfying and, in the end redemptive, 8-2 season was about to unfold.

Three plays later, Collin Eaddy converted the 4th and 1 that  the Tigers hadn’t been making going back to the Cornell game, a last win that was seeming farther and farther in the past as their 7-0 start turned into 7-2 on the way to possibly 7-3. Missed opportunities on Saturday at a Franklin Field where Princeton had lost painfully at the end the previous two visits, were threatening another miserable loss.

Instead, the Tigers went 80 yards in 15 plays, the final two by Eaddy to stretch their lead to 17-7 on the way to a 28-7 victory over Penn that was celebrated on the field like Princeton had won the Ivy title.

No rings this year. Yale rallied to beat Harvard and Brown dropped a last-play touchdown pass that would have sent Dartmouth to a second consecutive defeat.  After getting their self-image bashed by the Big Green 27-10, and especially Yale, 51-14, last week, the Tigers won their pride back, which beats jewelry. They were not holding their breath waiting for help in two other games, instead holding themselves to a higher standard.

This team wanted this one badly and fully earned it with 285 rushing yards, with a shutout of Penn for the final 53 minutes that included three goal line stands, nine stops on 3rd downs and six on 4th down.

Opportunities missed in the first half by a Kevin Davidson under thrown ball to a wide open Andre Iosivas in the end zone, and consecutive short yardage stuffs after a T.J. Floyd interception set up Princeton at the Penn 31 were devoured ravenously in the 2nd half to the ultimate satisfaction of team that had been looking for itself for three weeks and played with an uncontained glee at rediscovering it.

“To get back to the way we have been doing things is really exciting,” said Eaddy, who ran for 172 yards and two touchdowns. Ryan Quigley added 92, including the last 24 on a 13 play, 95 yard drive that ate up 7:45 and put away the game.

Could it ever get any better than this for a senior? On the next to last play of his career, Quigley overpowered a tackler to score a touchdown that put away his final game.

“Words can’t describe how good it felt,” he said. “It was a great way to go out.”

“I can’t say it was just my touchdown, the holes were there all day.”

Actually, they weren’t on the above seemingly critical plays in the 1st half. Princeton only got 10 points out of three 3rd and goals while the defense was being gashed by Ivy leading rusher Karekin Brooks, plus getting burned for some wide open receptions on two early Quaker drives. On one of them, a dropped pass in the flat on fourth down saved the Tigers from a greater comeback task.

“We struggled with some responsibilities,” said Surace. “They hit us with some things we had practiced, which tells me we have to get better at the start of games. We’re too emotional and make some mental errors.

“We took a deep breath and started to play a football game. Our effort level was so good.”

At 7-7 in the 2nd quarter, an Uche Ndukwe sack, off good pressure from Tola Banjoko, ended a string of Quaker 3rd down conversions and forced a punt. Staying patient as ever with the running game despite a shortage of initial success, the Tigers got untracked, Eaddy breaking a 22 yarder down the sideline to the Penn 10. Quarterback Kevin Davidson got rushed and missed the open Iosivas, but Tavish Rice’s field goal was right down the middle from 28 and Tigers took a 10-7 lead into the locker room.

As soon as they returned, Gray went down blocking for Quigley on the kickoff and stayed down for a frighteningly long time that had both teams on a knee in a hushed stadium looking for a sign of movement.

“(Paralysis) is the first fear,” said Bob Surace  “When the referee allowed me to come over, you could see Trey’s extremities move. When I went over and said ‘I love you’ he smiled.”

“I think the fact that we knew it probably wasn’t his spine made a difference in our energy level. Both sides went whew and could get back to playing football.”

After that, Princeton played it a lot better than did Penn (5-5 and 3-3).  The Tigers drove the 80 to stretch the lead to 10. Matt Jester made a stop of Brooks on 4th and 2 to enable a drive to another Rice field goal, this on the last attempt of his career to make it 20-7.

On a throwback and a halfback pass the Quakers quickly were back knocking. And when Eric Markes scooped one at the 9 that had been close enough to the ground to warrant a review. Penn was very much in the game. But the 4th quarter began with a Sam Wright tackle for a loss by quarterback Nick Robinson, who, on 4th down, had to throw across his body while being chased and overthrew Sire Woods in the back of the end zone.

Then came perhaps the most beautiful thing of all, the Tigers using only three passes to go 95 yards to the Quigley touchdown, burning up 7:45 of 4th quarter clock in the process. Even when the secondary became confused and Robinson hit a ridiculously open Kolton Huber at the Princeton 2, four rushes ended with Joey DeMarco leading a gang tackle of Brooks on 4th down.

DeMarco, Jeremiah Tyler, and James Johnson had impressive games. Delan Stallworth had a magnificent one with a staggering for a defensive back 11.5 tackles and an outstanding break, read and reach-in to bat down a Robinson 4th and 2 pass to Ryan Cragun when it still was 7-7.

Gradually, the team that came in with three straight wins was being put through a ringer by one that had lost two straight, but ultimately not its self-esteem.

“I knew our practices have been so good,” said Surace. “Maybe we paid the price the last two weeks for (previously) getting some breaks because that’s the nature of our league, how tight it is. Look at the other games today.”

“Our level of preparation never changed. We may not always have the best plan. But that part, our character, can carry you in certain areas.”

“We had some misfires in the 1st half but I thought we were winning the line of scrimmage. We were protecting well. That opens up your playbook.”

Plus, closes many fine careers happily, including Davidson’s. He capped a better as it went 16 for 24 day with a two-point conversion to Jacob Birmelin while the quarterback’s non-throwing arm was being held.

“Vital,” is how Davidson described the win, and his peace.

“The message all week was finish, bounce back,” said the quarterback. “And that’s really what happened.”

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