They Didn’t Have To Win ‘Em All to Win ’Em Over
BY JAY GREENBERG
Two players from the 2018 Tigers, Jesper Horsted ’19 and Stephen Carlson ’19, caught passes in the NFL Sunday. A third, John Lovett ’19, showed enough during camp to be saved on injured reserve.
Princeton also lost some expected returning starters and two-deep players for a variety of other reasons, missed captains John Orr and Graham Adomitis for ten and two games respectively, and still won eight games, which may say as much about the state of the program as the 10-0 season the 2019 team was trying to duplicate.
To do this well in a year when up to 29 sophomores and freshmen were on the travel squad, speaks to: 1) the underclass talent 2) the coaching and 3) seniors invested in more than just winning as many games as possible their final season. Sure, they were playing for a third championship ring in their four years, but when chances for that were all but gone, the football class of 2020 also wanted to pay Princeton football forward.
“The odds were stacked against us in certain areas,” said senior quarterback Kevin Davidson. “And now this gives these guys some momentum for next year to move this thing along.”
He meant the 28-7 win over Pennsylvania Saturday at Franklin Field, a deeply satisfying performance these guys dedicated to getting the Tigers moving forward again after derailments by Dartmouth and Yale.
The Tigers, who started 7-0, played their two worst games against this year’s co-champions, not a coincidence of course. Yet those teams struggled enough against clubs Princeton handled to make a Tiger wonder what still could have been – especially against Dartmouth because turnovers put Princeton in an early hole. But both of the champions were senior-laden, both the reason they were picked to finish one-two in the league and high on the list of reasons they did.
Counting Ryan Quigley, who was used in tandem with Collin Eaddy, Princeton in 2019 had six starting seniors on offense – two of which, Davidson and Andrew Griffin, barely played in 2018. There were just three starting senior defenders – Jake Strain, Joey DeMarco, and T.J Floyd.
Such was a recipe for a fifth 5-5 bridge towards the next championship during the 10 year Surace ’90 era. Or worse. But with the help of some better overall injury luck than in 2014, 2015, especially 2017, the Tigers did themselves proud. Princeton played beyond its level of experience, and most importantly, to everyone, revalidated their first seven wins with a dominating bounce back victory against a prime rival that, with three consecutive victories, had seemed to be finishing on the upswing.
“There was a bitter taste in our mouths,” said Strain. “We wanted to play the way we were supposed to play.”
“Get off the ball, dominate the line of scrimmage, do the things we should be doing. This meant a lot to us, especially the seniors.”
In any program, any year, the underclassmen want to win the finale for the seniors. Not everybody gets to go out that way. Add in the officiating fiasco from Princeton’s 2017 loss at Franklin Field and the kicking disaster there in 2015, Saturday’s was a vindicating win in multiple ways.
“It was great to see us get back to our old selves,” said captain John Orr, who after being lost to injury before the opener, every day at practice remained a pulse of the team from an electric scooter. Tavaris Noel, whose comeback from lymphoma heartbreakingly was set back by a season ending orthopedic injury in game 1, was out there, too, another reason why Bob Surace doesn’t want to evaluate the Tigers’ record in the post-game, just lament that this bonded team was breaking up.
“That’s why our guys stayed on the field as long as they did yesterday after the game,” said Defensive Coordinator Steve Verbit p05. “They enjoyed each other’s company.”
“We weren’t perfect this year, but ultimately as we look back on it, it was a successful season. Don’t misunderstand me, you want to be the best year after year and this year we weren’t. But the guys gave a tremendous effort. They do everything we ask of them. If you get those types of kids in your program, you can be successful.”
“[Penn] hit a couple of plays early but we had a great look in our eyes. We told them at halftime [the Quakers] had moved the ball a bit, but it wasn’t because of them, but us, so we’re in good shape. Just play as you are playing – same intensity – and clean up some of the things you did early and good things are going to happen.”
“I don’t think there is anything better in the game of football than goal line stands. Doing what we did on four straight plays from the one (in the 4th quarter) was awesome, put a big smile on all of our faces. Makes you proud.”
“No question, finishing up on a winning note after starting 7-0 and then losing two in a row is very important. You feel a lot better about the season.”
The richness of Princeton football history is reflected in the namesakes of these annual awards, as presented Sunday at the annual Donold B. Lourie ’22 Football Banquet at the Princeton Hyatt:
John P. Poe/Richard W. Kazmaier Award for good moral character and perseverance in a player of ability: Presented by Keith Elias ’94 to Kevin Davidson & Jeremiah Tyler.
Class of 1952 Award for excellence on special teams: Presented by Jason Ray ’14 to Tavish Rice & Will Johnson.
Donold B. Lourie Award for the best freshman offensive player: Presented by Cody Smith ’20 to Tamatoa Falatea.
Pink Baker Award to the best freshman defensive player: Presented by Spenser Huston ’16 to Daiveon Carrington.
Richard W. Colman Award for excellence in academics and athletic skills: Presented by Andrew Starks ’13 to Andrew Griffin & Alex Deters.
Charles W. Caldwell ’25 Memorial Trophy to the most improved player over four years: Presented by Nick Brophy ’94 to Sam Johnson & Joey DeMarco.
The Henry T “Hank” Towns h82 Award for devotion, mentoring young athletes, and contributions to the community at large: Presented by Tom Johnson ’19 to T.J. Floyd & Jake Strain.
Ronald A. Rogerson Award for team spirit and inspiration to fellow players: Presented by Alan De Rose ’83 to Graham Adomitis & John Orr.
Dr. Harry R. McPhee Award for qualities of durability and fortitude: Presented by Frank Vuono ’78 to Brent Holder & Ryan Quigley.
Not to Be Overlooked Dept:
Trey Gray, who was knocked cold from an inadvertent helmet-to-helmet hit on the 2nd half kickoff Saturday, was in attendance at the banquet.
The 18 wins in 2018-19 are the most for the Princeton program in a two-year period since the 1950 and 1951 teams went undefeated (in nine-game schedules).
The seniors won 31 games over four years.
Penn was just 5 for 20 on 3rd and 4th downs Saturday. The Tigers did not give the Quakers any short fields either via turnovers (none) or weak punts by Will Powers, who averaged 42 per three kicks with enough hang time to not allow a single return.
Penn only scored one touchdown on six trips to the end zone.
Karekin Brooks, the Ivy’s leading rusher, was held to just 17 yards in the 2nd half.
Kevin Davidson was not sacked once.
The All-Ivy teams will be announced Tuesday.