The Greatest Clutch Plays of Princeton’s Ivy Era
By Jay Greenberg
The Greatest Clutch Plays of Princeton’s Ivy Era
We continue our celebration of Princeton’s 150th year of football with a ranking of game-turning plays since the creation of the formal Ivy League in 1956.
This Part Eight of a series of twelve follows lists of the 1) worst weather days 2) greatest single game team offensive performances 3) top single game individual offensive performances 4) single-game team defensive performances 5) upset victories, 6) upset losses and 7) comeback wins. All are archived on this site.
Still to come are 1) individual days by defensive players 2) most painful losses 3) most glorious victories. We will conclude the series by 4) ranking Princeton’s greatest teams of the last 63 years.
There are so many thrills in the below list, representing so much coolness under pressure, that selecting one over another needs to be done by their importance towards a championship. Generally, but not entirely, that was our criteria. We also tried to factor in difficulty, unlikelihood, and ultimately picked No. 1 on the basis of not only significance but also its originality.
The inventory of goose bumps:
35) Nakielny flips the script at Colgate. October 18, 1997 at Andy Kerr Stadium, Hamilton, NY.
The Tigers were leading 24-21 with three minutes remaining when quarterback Harry Nakielny’s attempt to throw the ball to avoid pressure was picked off in the flat by Colgate defensive end Blaine Hicks, who ran 60 yards for a touchdown to put the Red Raiders ahead.
“Rush to the right, turned to the left to get rid of the ball and didn’t see him,” recalls Nakielny. “There wasn’t much time to gather myself, but it was done and over.”
“We still had a lot of time.”
Nakielny completed a 22-yard pass to Ray Canole to put the ball in Colgate territory and then, on fourth-and-six, beat two pass rushers and found Ryan Crowley for an eight-yard gain to keep the drive alive.
An 11-yard strike to Phil Wendler put the ball at the five with no timeouts remaining before a spike and a completion left the Tigers third-and-three. “After we drove the whole field, the entire offense was just like, ‘we’re getting in, there’s nothing stopping us now,” Nakielny told The Daily Princetonian.
He audibled before drilling the ball to Ken Nevarez on a slant just inside coverage at the goal line with 1:03 remaining, pushing the Tigers record to 4-1 in what would become a 6-4 season.
34) Tim Greene blocks it and then falls on it to beat Bucknell. October 1, 1994 at Palmer Stadium.
The Tigers, locked in a defensive struggle all day, had driven for a late touchdown but missed the extra point, leaving them still down 7-6 when the freshman linebacker, playing head up on the long snapper, beat him cleanly.
“We practiced the play all week,” Greene recalls. “They moved me down to right over the center and I think I was just a little faster than he was.”
“Actually I should have blocked a punt in the middle portion of the game when I came free and just totally missed, I don’t know how, maybe just closed my eyes. I got in there so fast, I was past the kicker.”
“The second one hit me in the stomach and went right down.”
He pounced to cover it for a touchdown with 2:09 remaining. The Tigers held on to win, 12-7, as Greene, in the second year of Ivy freshmen eligibility, became the first at Princeton to score a TD and then went on to an All-Ivy career.
33) Weber for the tie and the win. September 30, 1967 at Palmer Stadium.
In the season opener, the Tigers jumped up 14 points after only 13 plays. However, another touchdown was called back, Ted Garcia missed three field goals, and two Rutgers touchdowns were set up by fumbles as the Scarlet Knights roared back for a 21-14 lead.
Tailback Bob Weber led a drive that put the Tigers on the doorstep with 58 seconds remaining. “The quarterback (Bob Schoene) was a blocking back and receiver in the single wing,” recalls Weber. “As the tailback, I took the snap and swept right.”
“It looked like it would be a run so Schoene was open in the flat, running parallel to the goal line. There were tacklers coming up. He had to dive in.”
Now trailing 21-20 in days long before there were overtimes, Coach Dick Colman wanted no part of a tie. Tailback Scott MacBean took the ball from fullback Don Hazen on a reverse to the left, straightened up, and lobbed a pass to Weber standing by himself in the left flat.
“When I was about to throw it, it appeared to me the one Rutgers defender was in the way and I would have to lob the ball to get it over his head,” recalls MacBean. “When we looked at the film afterwards, it turned out Schoene had cut that guy down and I could have walked in.”
“It wasn’t that good a pass. Almost lobbed it over Bob’s head, too. He had to go up and make a great catch to save the day.”
Remembers Weber, “It was like high, I had to extend upward but I don’t know whether I left my feet. Fortunately, I had big hands. Caught it with my left, nestled it and went down on the ground.”
The Tigers had won, 22-21. Following up on a title season, they would lose three games that year and were out of contention into the final week for the first time in half-a-decade. But Colman had instant perspective on the moment created in that season opener.
“You win at football, you win games,” the coach told his team. “But today you did something you will remember for the rest of your lives.”
32) McCareins times it times two. October 2, 2004 at Wien Stadium, New York, NY.
All-America cornerback Jay McCareins, pressed into offensive service by his sheer athleticism and injuries in the receiving corps, had already made three catches of Matt Verbit passes during a two-minute drill that tied the game when Columbia lined up to kick a PAT on the first possession of overtime.
McCareins already had blocked a kick from placement in the game. “I noticed before the first one that the center would squeeze the ball really tight a half-second before the snap,” he recalls. “When his fingertips moved, I was gone.”
“The second one, same thing. That one, I got there in enough time to get it with my forearm.
Princeton’s overtime possession gained only five yards on the first three plays, but on fourth down Verbit avoided a blitz, took off down the right side, cut back and carried a defender to the two. Two plays later, Jon Veach went in from the one and Derek Javarone’s PAT gave the Tigers a 27-26 victory that stretched the Tigers’ record to 3-0 in a 5-5 season.
31) Lynn Sutcliffe squeezes an undefeated season. November 21, 1964 at Palmer Stadium.
A week after the Tigers had pulled away from Yale in the second half in a battle of unbeatens to win 35-14, Cornell (3-4-1) was not going easily, rallying from down 14-0 to within 14-12. A Don Roth tackle on a two-point conversion preserved the lead and a Charlie Gogolak field goal boosted it to 17-12. But the Big Red still had time for one more drive.
“I had gotten pulled the week before, even while having my greatest game,” Sutcliffe recalls “In our defense, Ron Landeck was the guy who was supposed to make the interceptions; I was the deep guy behind him to make sure nobody scored. And (Yale’s Chuck) Mercein had gotten behind me.”
“So I was in my usual ambivalent position when the (Cornell receiver] comes out of the backfield. The coverage said I was supposed to let him go, but they threw the ball right to me. Very fortunate.”
The interception sealed a 9-0 season, the Tigers’ only unbeaten one in a stretch of 67 years.
30) Trocon trucks all the way to foil Yale. November 10, 2012 at the Yale Bowl.
With the score tied 7-7 and the first half nearing its final minute, the Bulldogs were second-and-goal at the Princeton five. Davis, a backup playing because starter Matt Arends had been hurt during the series, remained where he was supposed to be as tailback Mordecai Cargill attempted a throwback after taking a handoff from quarterback Henry Furman.
“On second-and-two, staying on the back side is better use of your space,” recalls Davis. “Anytime the running back throws the ball, it’s not going to be the prettiest. It stuck in the air for a while.
“Going through my head was ‘try not to drop the ball.’ Trapping it against my stomach was the most secure way I could do it.”
Davis was three yards deep in the end zone, but with nothing but infamous Yale Bowl sand in front of him. ‘I hadn’t carried the ball since high school,” he remembers. “If you watch the video, I was peeking back.
“It’s a penalty if you go down in the end zone for celebration purposes. They saw I was so tired they let it go.
“Every time the story gets told, I add more defenders and like three yards to the run. But it was an easy play that anybody could make, just happy to be in the right place. A lot of things fell in line enabling me.”
Davis officially was credited with only 100 yards, leaving him tied with Jim Anderson (in 1984) for the longest interception return in program history. The Tigers dominated the second half to win 29-7 and assured their first winning season in six. They won the first of three championships in the Bob Surace era the following year.
I think that (2012) season changed the culture,” says Davis. “(Quarterback) Connor Michelsen brought up to me that I made one of the longest plays for one of the oldest programs in one of the oldest stadiums. And against a rival. All pretty cool.”
29) Snow kidding, Morrison’s catch climaxes comeback. October 26, 2002 at Schoellkopf Field, Ithaca, NY.
On a snowy, slippery day not fit for man, beast, nor comebacks from a 25-10 deficit, the Tigers nevertheless tied the game on a Cameron Atkinson touchdown run and a Verbit run for a two-point conversion. A fumble set up Cornell with a chance to win in regulation, but Princeton was reprieved by McCareins’ interception of a tipped (by Joe Weiss) pass.
The Tigers had first possession in overtime. Verbit took a sack, but then completed three straight passes. On the fourth play, Morrison came to the line against a corner who was allowing the receiver too much room on a slick field.
“In those kinds of conditions they either had to do press or do two men over the top in a zone,” Morrison recalls. “They were giving me a running start.”
“Matt hand-signaled me to do a three-step fade. But I thought the ball would be going to someone inside and, when I turned around, it was in the air coming to me. It was high, outside to my left, where the DB couldn’t get it. I had to jump and fell backwards, coming down having no idea where I was.”
He looked at the official. His arms were up. Derek Javarone kicked the PAT and when a fourth-down Cornell pass failed, the Tigers had an unlikely 32-25 victory and, ultimately, their first winning season (6-4) under Coach Roger Hughes.
28) Javarone boots one to tie, another to beat Cornell. October 29, 2005 at Princeton Stadium.
Javarone kicked a field goal from 32-yards to tie he game with 2:18 remaining and then, following a Tim Strickland interception, nailed the winner from 35 in overtime to move the Tigers into a four-way tie for first place.
“I was so much into the zone that after the game, I could barely remember making the kick,” recalls Javarone. The second one was the 42nd field goal of his career, setting an Ivy League record.
27) Strickland leaps and jumps Princeton into first place, October 29, 2005 at Princeton Stadium.
Cornell was third-and-three at the Princeton 18 in the above overtime when Strickland went up to intercept Ryan Kuhn.
“A stock out route to their outside receiver,” recalls the safety, a 40-game starter at Princeton. “When I turned around, the ball was coming right at me.”
Actually, it was coming a foot over his head, but Strickland went up to get it.
“Amazing interception,” recalls Javarone, who, four conservative runs later, kicked his 32-yard winner for the 20-17 victory “Tim was an incredible athlete who made big plays repeatedly.”
26) Ryan Quigley powers the putaway yards. November 3, 2018 at Princeton Stadium.
With third-and-two at the Dartmouth 13 in the final two minutes, the Tigers leading Dartmouth 14-9 in an uncompromising battle of unbeatens, they had no interest in putting the ball in Big Green quarterback Jared Gerbino’s hands one last time. The coaches gave it to Quigley on a straight dive for an apparent no gain that turned into six yards of sheer leg drive for a first down.
“I hit a couple of Dartmouth guys and then kind of snuck out to the left where I met a couple other guys in the hole and ended up being able to move the pile,” recalls Quigley. “There were linebackers and I think a cornerback hanging on to me and I just kept my legs moving because I knew the game was on the line.”
John Lovett took a knee and the clock ran out on an epic, every-inch-had-to-be-earned victory that pushed the Tigers to 8-0 on the way to 10-0, Quigley’s run being a metaphor of the effort required to win that taut and epic game.
“I wasn’t the only one who kept driving, my offensive line did, too,” recalls Quigley “To get up and look over at the sideline and see all our fans up and screaming is feeling I never will forget.
“I had longer runs in my career than for those six yards. But that one was special because it enabled us to put away the biggest game I ever played in.”
25) Dean Cain’s stop starts the comeback. October 17, 1987 at Palmer Stadium.
The Tigers, manhandled in the first half everywhere but on the scoreboard by a physically superior Lehigh team, crept within 15-13 in the fourth when Rob Goodwin hit a 38-yard field goal. Nevertheless with the clock under three minutes, Lehigh was driving to extend the lead until a sack by Rick Emery left the Engineers in a third-and-17 at the Princeton 33.
Instead of trying for an underneath completion to reach field goal position, quarterback Mark McGowan threw to the goal line and Cain, Princeton’s all-time interception leader, was waiting in front of the receiver at the two. He made a third pick in a game for the third time in his career.
“Dean was a very good athlete with a great feel of where to put himself,” recalls Steve Tosches, the Princeton coach.
Or, in this case, how to recover. “In the film session the next day (defensive back coach) Steve Verbit told me I had called the wrong side,” recalls Cain. “Maybe they didn’t plan to go away from me but probably they did and I was fortunate to be shaded to the wrong side.
“Better to be lucky than good. The quarterback hung the ball up there.”
The Tigers started at the two with 2:25 remaining. See the following.
24) Judd makes it out of bounds to keep the Tigers alive. October 17, 1987 at Palmer Stadium.
Cain’s interception at the two gave Princeton one last shot, trailing Lehigh 15-13. But after two look-in passes from Jason Garrett to Judd Garrett got the Tigers off the goal line, a sack, a holding penalty and a desperate throwaway by an inundated Jason made it third-and-28.
Jason went over the middle to Judd, who juggled, turned and ran seven more yards to the 27 to allow the quarterback to pick up the fourth down with a look-in to his other brother John at the 39.
After another sack Princeton burned its final time out and Jason went back to Judd, who, despite being held by the jersey, made it out of bounds. On the next pass, he dragged another defender to the opposite sideline to gain a first down to the Lehigh 46.
Judd caught another one, in the flat, and made the sideline marker at the 32 and then Jason went back to John who tried to make the sideline. His knee hit inbounds at the 22 but the officials stopped the clock for a first-down measurement, giving the Tigers time to get their field goal unit on the field for a 37-yard field goal attempt by Rob Goodwin.
Jason Garrett was 9-for-10 on the drive, the incompletion a throwaway, as the Tigers pulled off perhaps their best two-minute drill in history, with perfect hands, play calling and clock management. “At third and-28, there was just no way,” recalls assistant coach Verbit. Turned out there were no bounds to the determination of all three Garretts to give Goodwin a chance to win the game with a field goal. See below.
23) Goodwin is good from 38 to win it on the final play. October 17, 1987 at Palmer Stadium.
Much to the consternation of Lehigh coach Hank Small, the measurement for the first down following John Garrett’s catch gave the field goal unit and Goodwin additional time to get lined up with the clock stopped at eight seconds.
“I was more nervous on the sideline, wondering if we would get close enough,” Goodwin told reporters afterwards. “Once I ran in, I tried to block everything out”.
Andy Johanni’s snap was perfect and Brian Barren got the ball placed. Kicking from the right hashmarks, Goodwin’s boomer was almost right down the middle, clearing the crossbar with about 15 yards to spare and setting off a wild rush from the sideline and stands. The hugely inspirational victory pushed the record of interim coach Tosches to 4-1 on the way 6-4. Coach Ron Rogerson had died of a sudden heart attack in August, before the beginning of what would have been his third season.
22) Michael Lerch ends it with a sack. November 9, 1992 at Palmer Stadium.
The diminutive receiver and returner had been so effective blocking punts and placekicks that, in the middle of the season-long absence of All-Ivy defensive end Brian Kazan, the coaches decided to use Lerch off the edge in obvious pass rush situations too.
With Penn trailing 20-14 on fourth down at the Princeton 23 with 15 seconds remaining, this was one of them and Lerch sped outside tackle Chirs Fragakis and took down quarterback Jim McGeehan. The Quakers hurried but couldn’t get off another play and the Tigers, 20-14 winners, remained unbeaten in the Ivy race with two games remaining.
“What helped me as that I had to go so deep around the guy that the quarterback was coming back towards me,” recalls Lerch. “Plus I was 5-foot-6, so I don’t think he even saw me.”
“I give the coaches a lot of credit for having the courage to think outside the box. I got to play receiver, running back, kick returner, even throw a touchdown pass in the Columbia game my sophomore year, plus had a fumble return for a touchdown against Colgate my senior season. I was recruited as a running back and would have been behind Keith Elias and never seen the field. I was very lucky.”
“If you look at the body of the work of Chris Theiss ( Tiger teammate generally considered one of the best offensive linemen in Princeton history), it far exceeded anything I ever did, but he didn’t get to do the fun jobs. It was incredible for me, the best thing ever.”
21) Urquhart runs free with a freebie. October 26, 1985 at Harvard Stadium, Cambridge, MA.
The Tigers, who came to Cambridge having won only two of their first five games during Rogerson’s initial season, trailed Ivy co-leader Harvard 6-3 into the fourth quarter when a snap sailed over the Crimson punter’s head. He kicked the ball out of the end zone to keep Princeton from falling on it, the safety narrowing the deficit to a point.
Urquhart took the free kick at his own 25. “When I caught the ball, I looked ahead and saw plenty of daylight,” he told reporters. “One Harvard guy brushed me a bit and then I saw a hole 20 yards wide and just ran through it.”
The 75-yard touchdown put the Tigers ahead. They held on for an 11-6 victory and finished 5-5.
20) Powers’ 70-yard punt turns the tide. October 22, 1977 at Harvard Stadium, Cambridge, MA.
Harvard was undefeated in the league and Princeton arrived in Cambridge with just a win over Columbia to show for the season and coming off a 31-13 pounding by Colgate besides. But on the running of Bobby Isom, two Chris Howe field goals, and a deflected touchdown reception by Glenn Robinson, the Tigers built a stunning 13-0 lead into the fourth quarter.
A lightning, four-play, 69-yard, drive culminated in a 20-yard touchdown catch by Harvard’s Paul Sablock to make it 13-7. And when the Tigers subsequently went three-and-out the momentum clearly had changed.
“The crowd thought this was their opening,” recalls punter Bill Powers. “Running on the field, I felt a shot of adrenaline.”
“There was a little bit of wind aiding me and, as soon as I kicked it, I realized it had all come together. The returner turned around and ran, knowing he had no shot at catching the ball. He ran it down on the bounce but we did a great job covering and he only got it out to the 15.”
The 70-yard punt, the best timed and best-hit in Princeton history, completely changed back the game. Harvard went three-and-out, shanked its punt, and Isom broke two tackles on a 7-yard clinching score of a 20-7 victory.
The Crimson faded from contention. The Tigers won only one more and finished 3-6.
19) If at first Penn couldn’t succeed, they couldn’t beat Archie the second time either. November 4, 1995 at Franklin Field, Philadelphia.
To climax one of the proudest defensive performances in the school’s Ivy history, the Tigers made consecutive fourth-quarter goal line stands from inside the six to foil two-time defending champion Penn, 22-9. The first ended with Jimmy Archie’s end zone bat down of a fourth-down Mark DeRosa pass, the second when Archie’s fourth-down blitz helped Darrel Oliveira hurry the beleaguered De Rosa (13-for-32 on the day) into an incompletion.
“I remember the second one vividly,” says Archie. “It was an all-out blitz and I came off the corner, pulled him down as he tried to throw the ball and it didn’t go anywhere. We were blitzing all game and they couldn’t do anything.”
18) Leaping catch by Connor Kelley turns it around at Brown. October 19, 2013.
The 3-1 Tigers had the start of their worst nightmares. A penalty-botched drive, a blocked kick run in for a touchdown, and a 71-yard Brown scoring run on a simple quick hitter up the middle put them into a 17-0 second-quarter hole that now was threatening to get even deeper. A downed punt and a holding penalty had Princeton facing a third-and-18 from its own four.
“We knew we had a good team and I remember feeling annoyed more than desperate,” recalls Kelley.
“Of course, there are only so many things a team can take while getting nothing. But I didn’t feel any panic from us, at least on the offensive side.
“On that play I was split out as the lone wide receive – supposed to take a post deep if they were in man coverage and their safety shifted to [receivers on the other side]. That’s what he did so I took a couple of steps and turned around and the ball was coming from Quinn (Epperly). It was a little bit high and I kind of had to reach back and jump a little. I think I was hit on the way down.”
“[Offensive coordinator James] Perry had trained us to think that things come in flurries. Keep at it, do your job and with the speed with which our offense operated we could put up 21 points in a blink of an eye. Something finally breaking for us translated into a pretty fierce determination about what we were going to do to that team the rest of the game.”
The 24-yard completion launched a 15-play drive, culminating in Brian Mills’ eight-yard rushing touchdown that got Princeton on the board before the half. The placement was missed but a spark would turn into a bonfire as the Tigers, with Epperly running for three touchdowns, roared back for a 39-17 victory on the way to an 8-2 season and a shared Ivy title.
“Without that catch we’re punting from our own two and things would have been very different,” recalls Epperly.
The best offense in Princeton history to that point recorded 294 first downs on the season, but Kelley’s never will be just another of those.
“I had some catches that probably were more difficult to accomplish,” he says. “I had a couple TDs when we won at Harvard. But that catch at Brown is probably the most important play that I made as a Princeton Tiger.”
17) Methvin makes it a bad decision by Colgate. October 7, 2006 at Andy Kerr Stadium, Hamilton, NY.
Connor Louden’s 34-yard field goal with four minutes remaining tied the score 20-20 and Princeton went ahead on the first possession of overtime on Jeff Terrell’s four-yard run and Louden’s PAT. Colgate came back with a touchdown and Coach Dick Biddle decided to put the game on one play by going for two.
“There is both an excitement and a terror to that kind of situation,” recalls Methvin, who shed a block, not leaving any room for escape by quarterback Mike Saraceno as he tried to cut inside on an option. John Callahan was there to make sure Saraceno didn’t get away as the Tigers held on for a 27-26 victory to go to 4-0 on the way to a 9-1 season and an Ivy title.
“At least I was in the right place,” said Methvin, who, after all, put himself there. “It all seemed to happen in slow motion.”
“I honestly don’t remember if I did much else that game (three tackles). I probably had better days but that’s my outstanding Princeton football memory, sure.”
16) Horsted comes down with it. October 20, 2018 at Harvard Stadium, Cambridge, MA.
Princeton, clinging to a 10-7 lead since the second quarter, had gone pointless in its last four possessions when, with 13 minutes remaining and the ball on the Harvard 20, John Lovett put it up for Horsted, who had inside position on a post pattern at the goal line.
“ I had been battling with a talented corner (Wesley Ogsbury) all day,” recalls the receiver. “This was just a very well-placed ball high where he couldn’t get it.”
“Now I can say it: I ran the wrong route on that play and John realized it and put the ball there anyways. The coverage dictated a different route. I should have run right past him but instead planted and made a cut. That would have thrown a lot of quarterbacks off. But not John.”
Horsted’s catch extended the lead to two scores and re-ignited the offense. The Tigers added two touchdown runs by Charlie Volker but had to cover two onside kicks to win 29-21 and run their record to 6-0 on the way to 10-0.
15) Gip Recovers Two as Tigers get a three-way tie. November 19, 1966 at Palmer Stadium.
Coming off consecutive upsets of Harvard and Yale that improbably had put Princeton back into the Ivy race, the Tigers were into the fourth quarter of a scoreless death struggle with a significantly bigger Cornell team when Lee Hitchner forced a fumble, recovered by defensive back Hayward Gipson to avert a threat.
On the Big Red’s next possession, Gipson recovered a second fumble to set up Princeton 51 yards away from the winning touchdown.
“Primarily it was a function if being in the right ace at the right time for a defense that had an understanding of fundamentals and sticking to the calls we had made all season,” recalls Gipson.
“It was nerve wracking having it come down to the fourth quarter scoreless, but not really that surprising. In general our defensive unit was better than our offense that year. Cornell (4-2) was big and pretty good (indeed would murder Princeton 47-13 the next season). We knew our defense would have to step it up as we had all season and we did.”
14) Bracken-to-Howard keeps alive the title-clinching drive. November 19, 1966, at Palmer Stadium.
From it own 49 following the second Gipson recovery, the Tigers haltingly began to move. On fourth-and-six from the 31, Bracken hit Tad Howard to move the chains. “I think it was a crummy pass to be honest,” Bracken recalls. “He had to dive for it.”
Bill Berkley gained a first down at the nine and, on third down, Bracken swept left for five yards and the touchdown. “Got smacked hard at the goal line,” he recalls. ‘Came down on my back, happy but lumpy.”
The only score of the 7-0 victory stood up for a three-way title tie with Harvard and Dartmouth for a courageous and clutch Princeton team that had been left for dead after two early-season losses.
“I was only a sophomore, couldn’t join an eating club, even get onto Prospect Street,” remembers Bracken. “Went back to my room and had a few beers with my cousin, who was captain of the hockey team. That was about it.”
13) Brock Harvey’s broken play run fixes the Tigers up with an outright title. November 18, 1995 at Memorial Field, Hanover, NH.
Even after suffering an upset loss against Yale that killed an undefeated season, Princeton still could win an outright title with a victory or tie at Dartmouth, plus a Cornell win over Penn. The Tigers knew the Quakers had lost when Princeton got the ball back on its own 36 with 4:25 remaining, trailing 10-7.
“I was the last one in the huddle because I was getting the (first) play,” recalls Harvey. “I was thinking that for the seniors, this was kind of poetic because our freshman team’s first game was at Dartmouth. I said, ‘Here it, is, our last drive together. We can write our own ending.’”
Light snow and less-than-ideal footing had not helped all day, but maybe the Tigers, whose only scoring drive to that point had been in a two-minute drill before the end of the half, just needed the urgency. Now-or-never for a championship, Princeton began moving. The Tigers converted four first downs, including on a third-and-five pass to Brent Godek, and a nine-yard completion to Ben Gill.
They were at the Dartmouth 23 with 15 seconds remaining, time for one more pass to get closer for kicker Alex Sierk.
“When everybody was covered, I looked back to see the defensive end from the left side had over-committed and come inside,” recalls Harvey. “One block by (tailback) Marc Washington sealed it. There was a lot of field out there.”
“The cornerback came from the opposite side and chopped my legs out before I could dive.”
Harvey was knocked out of bounds at the one with four seconds remaining.
12) Sierk kicks the Tigers to a title on the final play of the season. November 18, 1995 at Memorial Field, Hanover, NH.
All that was needed for Princeton’s first outright tile in 31 years was a chip shot from 18. Perhaps not so automatic, though, with the entire season on the line.
“I was happy to have the shot,” recalls Sierk. “Also happy that Brock had run down the left side because for a left-footed kick the angle (from the hash marks) is better than from the right. And of course the kick was now a lot shorter.”
As the Tigers on the sideline held hands, J.R. Davis’s snap was perfect as was Brett Budzinski’s hold. “At the time I thought I had kept my head down like you’re supposed to,” said Sierk. “When I see the footage of it, I think I cheated and looked up.”
“There was joy. But there was so much pressure on all of us that I would say I mostly remember relief.”
11) McCareins’ long runback makes short Harvard’s lead. October 22, 2005 at Harvard Stadium, Cambridge, MA.
The Crimson had just taken its third lead of the seesaw affair, 24-20, on Liam O’Hagen’s 52-yard pass to Ryan Tyler before the All-America defensive back and return specialist took the ensuing kickoff at the seven.
“We had right return on every single one that game,” McCareins recalls. “I was one block away multiple times, but the last two kickoffs had been shorter so we didn’t get a chance to set up.
“This time it was deeper and the Red Sea parted. Derek Davis had one big block and there was another from the inside and I was off to the races between their safety and kicker.”
“The kicker really shouldn’t tackle you and I made the best move of my life on the safety. But it was a perfect team effort on the return, just great. We had been trading blows with them but after (the runback) we got in the huddle and said, ‘Let’s shut them down.’ And we did.”
Princeton’s 27-24 victory was its first over Harvard in 10 years. The Tigers finished 7-3.
10) Sharp to Judd for two with a hurricane lurking climaxes a 14-point late rally. September 23, 1989 at Palmer Stadium.
As the peripheral winds from the remnants of Hurricane Hugo swirled to 50 mph gusts through Palmer Stadium, the Tigers, trailing William and Mary 31-17 with fewer than ten minutes remaining, got a huge break when William and Mary’s Tyrone Shelton dropped what should have been a touchdown pass in the end zone.
Linebacker Joe Macaione intercepted on the next play and, on second down from his own four, Sharp scrambled away from the rush and hit Tommy Haan over the middle. The senior receiver broke multiple tackles to the William and Mary 22 and two plays later Sharp hit Joe Baker for a 24-yard touchdown.
Chris Lutz’s successful PAT was cancelled by a procedure penalty and the all-Ivy junior kicker missed the second try, leaving the Tigers down eight with 5:54 to go. But the defense forced a punt and Sharp remarkably completed three third-and-ten passes, the last to tight end Pete Masloski, whose facemask was grabbed on the tackle. Facing a fourth-and-five at the 19, Sharp hit Garrett over the middle for six yards to get Princeton to the William and Mary 13 with 14 seconds remaining.
“My job was to sprint out and either run or throw it to the guy in front of me,” recalls Sharp. “That didn’t happen. Somebody was coming off the corner and I wasn’t going to make it.”
“So with a guy in my face, I threw it to Scott Gibbs where he was supposed to be at the back post without making eye contact with him. He probably didn’t see the ball until it was in the air.”
Gibbs made the catch with six seconds remaining. But every play the Tigers had made to save the drive was going to be for nothing if the Tigers didn’t make one more for a two-point conversion.
“Everybody in the stands and on both teams knew the ball was going to Judd Garrett,” recalls center Bob Surace. But at the bench Sharp was surprised to learn how.
“Joel came back to the huddle and said ‘Tosches wants you to line up in the slot and work the option route, a play we never had run from that specific alignment,” recalls Garrett.
“It would have me on a linebacker and I think that’s what Tosches saw. I said ‘okay, let’s do it.’”
“As soon as we lined up, I remember thinking, ‘It’s done,’ recalls Sharp.
Not quite so easy.
“I got enough of a step on my guy and went up,” said Garrett. “But Joel has a much livelier arm than you think and it kind of handcuffed me. I didn’t catch it totally clean but was able to press it against my body.”
The school’s most celebrated tie–actually, probably the only one–was saved when Steve Christie’s field goal attempt at the buzzer from midfield hit the upright. Princeton went on to its first Ivy title in 20 years.
9) Horsted one hands it on third down to keep the drive against Dartmouth alive. November 3, 2018 at Princeton Stadium.
The Tigers, down 9-7 late in the third quarter of a battle of unbeatens, had not scored since their first possession of the game. Horsted reached over his head with his left hand in front of linebacker Jack Traynor to snag a third-and-seven pass from an under duress Lovett and ran to the Princeton 49 to keep alive what would turn into a 91-yard drive.
“I remember John needed to get rid of the ball because of pressure in the backfield and also because the ref almost got in the way that play,” recalls Horsted.
“That game was a battle of similar teams playing their best football. You couldn’t make mistakes and had to create big plays.”
Hosted caught four passes, including another one-handed stab on second down, during that drive, which ended at the five with Lovett stuffed on a run before Princeton forced a three-and-out and was set up with a short field for the winning touchdown. The field position Princeton had flipped on that first drive meant everything. And, if not for that Horsted play, Princeton would have been punting from its own 28.
“Jesper had incredible concentration to make that catch and keep running for the first down,” recalls Lovett.
“You don’t want to say you get used to seeing him doing it, but when he does it all the time in practice, he obviously has great hand-eye coordination. Big game like that, you have to step up when there are opportunities.”
8) John Lovett spins to win maybe the toughest game Princeton ever played. November 3, 2018 at Princeton Stadium.
After Lovett had been stopped on fourth-and-one at the five on the previous series, bringing a painstaking 23-play, 91-yard drive to a painful end, the Tigers still trailed the battle of undefeated teams, 9-7.
But the defense forced a three-and-out and Tiger Bech’s punt return, plus a penalty, quickly put Princeton back in the red zone. After Ryan Quigley had converted with a five-yard run on third down, the Tiger were at the five once more, this time on first down. The vaunted Dartmouth defense had been on the field for 11 of the last 13 minutes. Could it stop this powerful offense again?
“We ran a different play this time,” recalls Lovett. “But yeah, being stopped on fourth-and-one after a 23-play drive – one of the only times I was personally stopped – definitely put some fire in me.”
“With what was at stake, there was no other choice but to get into the end zone.”
As he took the snap, the baggage Lovett was carrying that day also included a fumble and a goal line interception. On a designed run left, he cut though a seal created on the outside by Cody Smith on Bun Stratton, made a diving David Emanuel miss and at the three-yard line spun away from Bushnell Cup winner-to-be Jack Traynor, doing a 360 to fall into the end zone with 6:27 remaining.
“John is one of the great all time short yardage/goal line runners in Ivy League history,” recalls Coach Bob Surace. “We had complete trust giving him the ball.”
“Once he got to the second level with a head of steam, he had incredible leg drive and balance. He also showed his amazing athleticism with an excellent spin move and our blockers showed tremendous finish.”
Dartmouth went three-and-out on its final two possessions and the Tigers, 14-9 winners, went on to a 10-0 season, leaving 9-1 Dartmouth perhaps the best-ever Ivy team to not even get a share of the title.
7) Scott Oostdyk moves the chains and grown men are soon moved to tears. November 14, 1981 at Palmer Stadium.
Princeton, which was 3-4-1 and going up against unbeaten and nationally-ranked-in-all-of college-football Yale, had not beaten the Bulldogs in 14 years. The Tigers had rallied from a 21-0 hole but were behind again 31-29 with 1:23 remaining when they started from their own 24 with no timeouts.
The drive did not get off to a promising start.
“Ken Bowman (the offensive coordinator) called the same play – tight end square – to me four straight plays,” recalls Oostdyk. “On first down (quarterback) Bob Holly got hit. On second, his pass got blocked and on the third I think he had to throw it away.
“The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again in the exact same way and expecting a different result. But I guess because the play had never developed because of the pass rush, [Bowman] decided to try it again.
“I broke the huddle thinking, ‘I can’t believe this.’ I didn’t think I could get comfortable beyond 10 yards, wasn’t sure I had enough time. So I ran the pattern a little bit shorter because Holly was having a hard time getting it off.”
“I saw an opening on my break, turned around and there was the ball at my knees. Somehow he had gotten it through the linebackers. You don’t practice a lot of plays where the ball is at your knees, especially when your quarterback is Bob Holly. Usually it was in your eyes.”
“I started falling because the throw was low. And because my trajectory was leaning forward I didn’t have time to grab the ball and stretch it out to the sticks.”
“Good thing that we didn’t have replay cameras back then. When you watch the film, you see me putting the ball out to get the ten yards and I’m pretty sure that process ended with my knees already on the ground.”
“On the film (narrator) Howard David said ‘Scott Oostdyk, showing senior leadership, knew exactly where he was.’ Truth is, we got a decent spot. Mr. Official graced the orange and black with a nice placement.”
Reprieved, Holly had plenty of other targets to put to use. Derek Graham, who had 15 catches for 278 yards, drew a pass interference call in the end zone that put the Tigers on the one with time for one play.
6) Kozumbo submarines The Crimson. November 5, 1966 at Palmer Stadium.
Harvard, which came to town with a 200-plus yard rushing average and a three-way tie for the Ivy League lead, went up 14-3. But Jim Kokoskie’s end zone interception foiled what likely would have been a putaway score and, behind the running of Dave Martin, the Tigers began to claw their way back, taking the lead, 18-14, on a 93-yard drive culminating on the tailback’s touchdown leap 8:42 into the fourth quarter.
Bobby Leo’s kickoff return to the 33, compounded by a personal foul penalty, immediately set up Harvard at the 48. Leo then reached back to make a remarkable one-handed catch on fourth down to keep the drive alive. A third-down pass made it fourth-and-two at the Princeton 20.
“They hadn’t run at me all day, but I thought ‘maybe this time they will, so I thought I had to be moving forward,” recalls Walt Kozumbo, the All-Ivy defensive end.
He hand fought through the offensive tackle and kept going through a blocking back at Kozumbo’s knees to grab fullback Tom Choquette. Defensive back Doug James was instantly there to keep the runner from falling forward.
The side judge was on top of the play to make an inarguable spot and, as DB Bruce Wayne went to all fours to monitor, the chains were stretched beyond the ball, but not as far as the Tigers’ infinite belief in themselves. Harvard was shot by two inches with 1:35 remaining on the clock.
While most of the Tigers leaped with joy, Larry Stupski picked up the ball and threw it into the stands. After Bracken picked up a first down and Martin ran around to kill the clock, the Tigers celebrated what Coach Dick Colman called Princeton’s biggest and most thrilling upset since beating Penn 20 years earlier. That time, Princeton had played only the spoiler. This momentous occasion had moved a Tiger team written off following two early losses into a 3-way tie for the Ivy League with games remaining at Yale and at home against Cornell.
5) Epperly-to-Wilson climaxes the most incredible comeback in program history. October 20, 2012 at Princeton Stadium.
Once down 34-10 to undefeated Harvard with 13 minutes remaining, the Tigers (3-2) had cut the lead to 34-32 when they got the ball back on their own 10 with 1:56 on the clock. They had reached the Harvard 36, where, at third-and-two and with 20 seconds left, Princeton still was 15 yards short of peak field-goal range.
“It wasn’t like I was trying to go for a touchdown,” recalls Epperly. “I was just running through the normal reads on that call.”
“The corner stayed up on the outside guy. The next read would have led me to Shane Wilkinson on a backside crossing route and I’m told he was open but I kind of read the safety position and felt Roman (Wilson) had leverage, which is why I took a shot.”
“I got crushed on the throw.”
When Wilson looked back, the ball already was in the air. “We had had the ball the whole fourth quarter and were playing incredibly fast,” the receiver recalls. “That was the most tired I ever have been in a game.”
The pass was behind him just a little as he went up in front of defensive back Chris Splinter. “Of course, you can’t let the (DB) push you so I put my hand out a little bit but I wouldn’t call it a push,” recalls Wilson. “It was too close a game to call a (marginal) penalty.”
He came down with the ball – and perhaps the unlikeliest triumph in program history – with 13 seconds remaining.
4) Epperly-to-Wilson again, this time in overtime, foils The Crimson for the second time in two years. October 26, 2013 at Harvard Stadium.
The Tigers, battling Harvard for sole possession of first place, had stayed alive in the first overtime when Wilson ran in a nine-yard end around on third down, There was an exchange of field goals – Princeton’s by Nolan Bieck – on the second tries by each team and then the Tiger defense held Harvard to three points again.
Now Princeton could win with a touchdown.
“I was probably the most relaxed and confident I was in my whole career, running into the huddle, laughing to myself that there was no way they were going to stop us,” recalls Epperly. “With our red-zone efficiency (78 per cent touchdowns that season), the game was over.”
An 18-yard pass to Matt Costello moved the ball to the seven. After Epperly tried to roll and was forced out of bounds, it was second down from the six.
“We had a lot of success running a play where we would send Connor Kelley in motion and I would fake running up the middle and pull back – sort of play action to myself,” said Epperly. “Roman was always my second option on those but never before had I ever had to use him, not even in practice.
“This time I took another couple steps back to create some space and Roman ran an awesome route at the back pylon. I didn’t realize how close how close he was (to the sideline) until I saw the replay. He made an awesome catch.”
“That was probably the best feeling of my football career.”
Wilson had crushed Harvard hearts for a second consecutive year, this time, 51-48 in the third overtime.
“The corner bit on the run a little and then I had the leverage, just had to make sure I had room,” the receiver recalls. “I knew I was running out of space, definitely had to tap my toes, but Quinn threw a perfect ball.
“I don’t want to say I was shocked. But it was surreal, almost humorous to me, that I could do this to Harvard two years in a row. You never imagine that.”
3) Kozumbo – this time with Stupski – does it again to beat Yale. November 12, 1966 at the Yale Bowl.
The Tigers, alive in the race after time and again making big plays the previous week to upset Harvard, were being significantly outgained by the Bulldogs, yet stayed in the game. Princeton had capped a 42-yard drive with a Martin one-yard run but had missed the conversion kick. Thus the Tigers were still down 7-6 with the Bulldogs fourth-and-one at the Princeton 31 with the clock under two-and-a-half minutes and darkness gathering.
Yale Coach Carm Cozza decided to punt for the coffin corner. Ron Grossman lead a charge up the middle as kicker Bob Kenny had to reach for an off-kilter snap. “He juggled it for just for a split second but that made the difference,” recalls Kozumbo, who blocked the kick with his arm.
Stupski, who had missed much of the season with an injury, found the ball at the 40, Hayward Gipson leveled the punter with a block and Stupski ran through the dusk and mist for the winning touchdown of a 13-7 victory. From doom and then through the gloom-and on perhaps the most special, special teams play in Princeton’s Ivy era – the Tigers had turned the game completely around, a metaphor for their season.
“They are all guts,” glowed Coach Dick Colman. The following week Princeton took it to the fourth quarter again (see above Nos. 14 and 15) to beat Cornell, 7-0 and gain a three-way share of the Ivy title.
2) Holly runs it in to end the Yale drought. November 14, 1981 at Palmer Stadium.
With the ball placed at the one by a pass interference call against Derek Graham, the Tigers had one more yard to go to complete a 76-yard drive and end a 14-year losing streak against Yale. Trailing only 31-29 after once having been down 21-0, a field goal could win it, but as an apparent strategy debate between coach Frank Navarro and coordinator Ken Bowman continued, quarterback Holly grew concerned about the play clock.
“It seemed like there was some indecision there, so I thought, ‘okay, this is that we’re going to do – roll out left with the run-pass option and put some pressure on the defense,’” recalls Holly. “If somebody is open, throw it, if there’s an opening, I can run it in.
“Nowadays they reach out the ball to cross the plane. I just put my head down. I’ve watched it quite a few times over the years and it seems like it wasn’t quite as clear an opening as I thought but it all worked out well.”
The goalposts came down. The drought, the comeback, and the last play victory combined to make men of a certain age consider the 35-31 triumph the most epic in program history, even though the Tigers (5-4-1) did not win the Ivy title that year.
1) Rob Toresco keeps his head and, wisely, not the ball. November 5, 2006 at Princeton Stadium.
After Penn, rallying from a two-touchdown deficit, had tied the score with 39 seconds remaining, the Tigers were backed up a penalty on the first overtime possession. A 32-yard pass from Jeff Terrell to Brian Brigham left Princeton fourth-and-goal from the one when tailback Toresco, leaping into the middle of the Quaker line, was thrown back. Toresco tried again and was within the grasp of a tackler when he lateraled the ball to Terrell, who ran it in untouched to put Princeton ahead, 31-24.
“I don’t know if heard him, but when I looked back, I saw him and threw it back there,” recalls Toresco.
Penn instantly responded on its first overtime offensive play, a 25-yard pass from Robert Irvin to Matt Carre, but a fumbled snap on the conversion attempt enabled the 7-1 Tigers to hang on for a 31-30 victory. The following week they came from a two-touchdown halftime deficit to win at Yale, then won a title share with a win over Dartmouth.
“So much of my passing success that year was due to reads in the defense made by Brendan Circle and Brian Brigham, “ recalls Terrell. “What Rob did was totally improvised but really it was another extension of the kind of chemistry that team had.”
Penn supporters will always feel that the whistle should have blown. But had the Quakers not botched the extra point, The Lateral, as it has become remembered, would have been barely a footnote in Ivy history.
“Was I stopped?” asks Toresco rhetorically. “If I was on the other side of it, I would have a gripe for sure, but at that point of the game, at the half-yard line, the refs are going to let it play out until the ball carrier is on the ground or is completely wrapped up by multiple guys.”
Toresco totaled 1,464 total yards running and receiving during his career but doesn’t mind at all being best remembered for a play on which he was stopped cold.
“I think that’s great,” he said. “You look back, you can never say that one play defined a season; we had so many that season in fourth quarters and overtimes by so many guys.”
“But Jeff’s having the instinct to stay back there on that one was the culmination of doing whatever it took to win that year.”