The Greatest Wins in Princeton’s Ivy Era History – Part 2
BY JAY GREENBERG
The first 10 of our 12-part series of Princeton glory and heartbreak since the creation of the formal Ivy League in 1956 included separate ranked lists of comeback and upset victories. Entries from those articles went back into the mix for this part 11 but, as we graded importance towards a championship most heavily in the rankings, the majority of good games in bad or mediocre years were included in choices 40 through 21 that we posted a few days ago.
Now that we’re getting down to the best games in the greatest years, let’s explain the methodology. Usually we ranked victories that produced outright titles over shared ones, and late season or clinching victories over important ones earlier in the season, before the drama built. But we also tried to never lose sight of the overriding considerations:
1) The thrill factor
2) Importance to the program
3) Degree of difficulty, both within that game and towards the grander accomplishment of a special season.
Thus our top two choices completed undefeated years, but also in our top five are two victories in seasons the Tigers were also-rans. It was our feeling that those triumphs belong where we put them because of their remembrance value.
Great individual performances, which we listed in previous installments, factored into some victories on this list of course, but first and foremost these are about the team. Four non-league wins made the top 40 because of a spectacular individual performance, the quality of the opponent, or a grand comeback but, of course, Ivy competition dominates the list.
For the record, here is the count: Nine victories over Harvard, seven each Yale and Dartmouth, five Penn and Cornell, two Columbia, one Brown and one each over Lafayette, Rutgers, Lehigh and Colgate.
We will complete the series by ranking Princeton’s greatest teams in the formal Ivy League.
20) Princeton 20, Penn 14. November 7, 1992 at Palmer Stadium
The Tigers had suffered only a non-conference loss to Holy Cross when the once-beaten Quakers came to Palmer with a chance to pull into a tie for the lead.
Penn scored on its first possession. A 29-yard field goal by Jeff Hogg got Princeton on the board. An Aaron Harris interception off a hurry by Gene DeMorat set up a Keith Elias touchdown that put the Tigers up 10-7. When the defense forced a punt, the offense had 75 yards to go and 1:52 before the half.
“If you would have polled everybody in the stadium, they would have thought we were going to run the clock out,” recalls Coach Steve Tosches.
But the Tiger who could have been most frustrated breathing the cloud of dust generated in an attack centered around Elias was not dismayed.
“Coach Tosches has a legacy of being a very conservative coach and he definitely had leanings that way,” recalls receiver Michael Lerch. “In his defense, he had a great record (78-50) and great players like Judd Garrett and Keith so, typically, we would run the ball and that makes you more conservative sometimes.
“But as I think back, once they had confidence I was a playmaker, they were trying to make things happen. I remember reverses and we threw the ball deep a lot. I don’t recall running too many five-yard patterns.”
After a delay to Elias gained five on first down, Tosches and offensive coordinator Joe Susan decided to pass. “The play was to line up in the left slot, run down 15 yards, make a move to the sideline and then with the whole flow of the play to the left, the safety would chase,” recalls Lerch. “Then I would cut against the grain on a post.
“It’s the hardest pattern for a safety to cover. Anytime I had the opportunity to get into a footrace, I was going to win most of them.”
Off play-action, quarterback Joel Foote had plenty of time. “It was like breaking into an open bank,” recalls Susan. The ball, in the air for 47 yards, led Lerch perfectly. “Really well executed by Joel,” recalls Lerch, who was 10 yards behind the last defender on a 70-yard race to the flag that put Princeton up 17-6.
Penn took inspiration when Terrance Stokes slipped a tackle on a 43-yard return of the second half kickoff and the Quakers marched to a one-yard touchdown plunge by Sundiata Rush, followed by a two-point conversion pass, to cut the lead to 17-14. When Lerch’s 54-yard punt return for an apparent touchdown was called back on a hold, the game was destined to go to the wire.
On a fourth-and-three from the Princeton 37, Jonathan Reid and Keith Ducker held up Rush before Aaron Harris made the finish two yards short. Ducker broke up a third-down pass for another stop and a Jim Renna sack in the red zone stymied Penn another time. Nevertheless the Quakers, who were doing the best job anyone had all season on Elias got the ball back at its 25 with 2:10 on the clock and no timeouts.
Quarterback Jim McGeehan took what the Princeton defense gave – short throws – getting the Quakers to the 23. Reggie Harris stepped up to force the quarterback out of bounds with 15 seconds remaining.
Tosches called time out again and summoned Lerch, who even at 5’7″, was used in obvious passing downs as a speed rusher. On the snap, he flashed outside left tackle Chris Fragakis barely touched and got McGeehan to the ground without a struggle. The quarterback had to wait for frantic Penn receivers to race back to the line and the snap came a half-second too late.
Lerch, already leaping into the air even before the officials were waving their arms to signal time had run out, disappeared into a pile of ecstatic, proud, and relieved Tigers. After surrendering that touchdown drive on Penn’s first drive of the second half, the defense had risen for five stops without allowing a point.
The victory pushed Princeton to 5-0 in the league in what became a shared title with Dartmouth.
19) Princeton 13, Yale 7. November 12 1966 at the Yale Bowl, New Haven CT
The Tigers, having endured key graduation losses, injuries, and an early season rout at Dartmouth that apparently had thrown them into the pile of also-rans, had made repeated big plays to surprise two touchdown favorite Harvard. But a week later, Princeton’s renewed opportunity to gain a share of the Ivy title was fading like the November daylight following a 2 pm. television start.
Princeton had capped a 42-yard drive with a Dave 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 and the clock under two-and-a-half minutes.
Yale Coach Carm Cozza decided to punt for the coffin corner. Ron Grossman led 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 Walt Kozumbo, who blocked the kick with his arm.
Larry 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, the Tigers had won on the most unlikely and clutch kick-coverage play in Princeton’s Ivy era – a turnaround that was a metaphor for their season.
“They are all guts,” glowed Coach Dick Colman. The Tigers were one victory away from a share of a most unexpected title.
18) Princeton 7, Cornell 0. November 19, 1966 at Palmer Stadium
The following Saturday, three teams could get a share of the championship. Dartmouth was finishing with Penn and Harvard with Yale while the Tigers faced the toughest of the also-rans – Cornell, which was 4-2 and had huge offensive and defensive lines.
Bending, not breaking, Princeton held the game scoreless despite 112 yards by Pete Larson, the league’s leading ground gainer, and dodged a bullet early in the fourth quarter when Gipson recovered a fumble at the Tiger 20. The Tigers countered with enough yardage before punting to allow a second Gipson recovery, off a hit by Lee Hitchner, to set them up 51 yards away.
On fourth-and-six Rich Bracken hit Tad Howard to keep the drive alive. Bill Berkley gained a first down at the nine, and on third down Bracken swept left for five yards, going in untouched for a 7-0 lead.
Princeton forced two three-and-outs. James sealed the deal with an interception and the Tigers celebrated the hardest share of a three-way title.
“All for one and one for all,” recalls Martin. “Trite but true.
“When they moved me to fullback, I beat out Bill Berkley and he was so down about it, but right from the camp his attitude was, ‘How can we work together?’ When I wasn’t effective in the Cornell game for reasons I can never explain, Bill came in and was outstanding on our touchdown drive.
“We had one story after another like that. There is tangible power that comes from feeling the power of the team. We were on the brink of a very non-Princeton season; .500 being impossible to swallow after the prior two years (17-1). And we won five straight.”
17) Princeton 59, Yale 23, November 16, 2013 at Princeton Stadium
Yale quarterback Scott Logan barely beat a Mike Zeuli blitz on a dump off that went for 48 yards to Rich Candler to open the scoring, The Bulldogs also scored when Morgan Roberts, pushed out of bounds by Anthony Gaffney, came back in to beat Gaffney on a third-and-goal from the 13.
That left underdog Yale, trying to stave off a Princeton Ivy title share clinching, back to within 14-13 at the half and feeling frisky enough to go for an onside kick. But the bouncing ball glanced off kicker Parker Toms before it went 10 yards and popped up into Jakobi Johnson’s hands. As the Bulldogs en masse ran by him, Johnson took it 46 yards untouched for a score. And thereafter the Tigers put away the Bulldogs in typically fast and dominating 2013 fashion.
Princeton drove 71 yards in nine plays, culminating in Quinn Epperly’s 4-yard touchdown run. On Yale’s second play of its next series, Phil Bhaya ran back a tipped interception 34 yards for a touchdown.
The Tigers forced a punt, then went 84 yards in 10 plays, culminating that drive with a 24-yard Epperly touchdown pass over the middle to Roman Wilson. At 52-16, the party had begun. It was the fifth time, the Tigers, whose 414 points were an Ivy season record by week nine, had scored 50 in a game.
Dre Nelson’s two touchdowns came on runs of 42 – when he beat Yale penetration in the backfield to run down the sideline – and 20 yards, when he broke a tackle and stepped over a last-ditch grab at his foot. Epperly was 24-for-40 for three throwing scores and added a running one, bringing his combined total in both categories to 40 for the season.
Just two years removed from consecutive 1-9 records, Princeton had won its tenth Ivy title. The bid for an outright one failed the following week at Dartmouth and the Tigers settled for a tie with a Harvard team Princeton had beaten. Still there was a bigger picture for the program.
“Obviously we did not have much success in the beginning but we stayed together as a group,” said Bhaya. “I am so proud of my teammates and so humbled to be a part of this class.
“Our duty is to leave this program in a better place than we found it and I think our senior class has done that.”
16) Princeton 37, Dartmouth 7. September 10, 1964 at Memorial Field, Hanover NH
Already traveling with a collective mind to avenge the final game, final minute, 22-21 heartbreaking loss at Palmer that had denied the Tigers an outright title in 1963, they arrived in town to be enraged at the Daily Dartmouth’s reprint of a picture of the Cosmo Iacavazzi fumble that had set up the winning score 10 months earlier.
“Princeton star fizzles,” was the headline that Colman made certain his team saw before its stunning dismantling of the Indians. “Coach was not a great orator,” recalls Iacavazzi, the College Football Hall of Famer. “But he showed us that picture and didn’t have to say a word. I was largely responsible for that loss and here I was being reminded of it.”
Iacavzzi’s touchdown catch from Don McKay climaxed a 65-yard drive with the Tigers’ first possession. Ron Landeck’s diving breakup spoiled an early Dartmouth threat and then he squashed another with a goal line interception that he ran out to midfield. Iacavazzi scored a second touchdown and the defense added another score on Hayward Gipson’s 15-yard interception return.
The Tiger defense totaled four picks and four forced fumbles while Charlie Gogolak set an Ivy League record with three field goals, the final one with two seconds remaining as Colman gleefully piled on. “I wish it was 100 to 7,” he said.
The victory pushed the Tigers to 3-0 on the way to a 9-0 season.
15) Princeton 38, Dartmouth 21. November 19, 2016 at Princeton Stadium
Playing for a share of an Ivy title with a Penn team that they had shutout two weeks earlier, the Tigers were down to the Big Green 14-10 ten minutes into the third quarter. Less than eight minutes later they led 31-14, the relief blasting through Princeton Stadium pretty much like the Tigers blew away the final four teams on their schedule.
In the end, injury-depleted Dartmouth (1-6) was no match either, the Tigers not only putting the finish to six consecutive season – ending losses to the Big Green but just plain finishing to everyone’s complete and wonderful satisfaction.
The Tigers (8-2, 7-1 Ivy) just kept coming on both sides of the ball, like they had from Game Three on. Considering how hard to come by the yards were in the first half, and how flummoxed the defense had seemed by Dartmouth’s quick throws, the turnaround seemed stunning, but, in the big picture, not really. As long as the 2016 Tigers could keep themselves in a game, eventually they were going to make plays.
“We didn’t panic,” said Kurt Holuba, between picture posing and puffs of a big fat, cigar. “[Dartmouth] used a lot of quick game to get our pass rush out of the way, but we started to get breaks on the ball and got after the quarterback in the second half.”
Dartmouth quarterback Jack Heneghan pulled the ball down to run 20 yards for the first Big Green score and threw eight yards to a wide-open Cameron Skaff for a second. Princeton, which had needed a pass interference call on Jesper Horsted to set up its lone first half touchdown, had suffered an untypical stop on a fourth-and-four at the Dartmouth 36 midway through the second quarter. Then a rare red zone stumble forced the Tigers to settle for a 23-yard Tavish Rice field goal and that halftime deficit.
They looked sluggish at best, tight at worst, like their whole season was passing before their eyes. There was finger pointing in the locker room at the half
“There was a feeling of doubt,” said safety Dorian Williams. “It was very petty, the conflict inside was tearing us apart. We had to get rid of it.
As Surace recalled saying following the game: “Trust in each other had gotten us where are. We have to keep trusting.
“We were in this emotional state and we were kind of fighting each other just a little bit. Just focus on the now and we’ll be fine.
“Coach (James) Perry challenged our receivers, told them to start playing faster. We had all these great senior receivers and they were a little bit in a fog in the first half. They came out in the second half and were phenomenal.”
After stopping Dartmouth on the first series, Princeton got a third-and-nine completion by Chad Kanoff to Trevor Osborne to the one, setting up John Lovett’s Princeton record-breaking 20th rushing touchdown of the season to complete an 85-yard drive.
The defense forced two more three and outs. At the Dartmouth 14, Chad Kanoff flipped it to Horsted crossing behind the line of scrimmage and the big sophomore playmaker turned the corner and beat two tacklers to dive in and make it 24-14.
On the kickoff Mark Fossati stripped the ball from Rashaad Cooper and Ryan Quigley fell on it at the Dartmouth nine. The Princeton bench was a madhouse. Offensive coordinator James Perry ran a play on third-and-three that, really, he had been setting up all season – Lovett rolling and Dartmouth chasing until the quarterback pulled up and lobbed the ball back to a wide-open Scott Carpenter in the end zone. A game that had every feel of going to the wire stunningly was 31-14.
A Chance Melancon interception and Charlie Volker’s 39-yard touchdown continued through the delirium. The 11th Princeton title since the formation of the league was put away with a tour de force by the most focused and efficient team Surace said he had been a part of to that point in his career, including his time coaching in the NFL.
“I’m just so happy,” said Holuba. “I never won a championship at any level.”
With 26 victories, the winningest senior class in Princeton’s long football history added a second one, better than the first in 2013. A title is a title is a title, but it had been a long ride home from Dartmouth three earlier after being denied an outright championship.
“We lost our last game when we had the chance to win it outright so it was kind of bittersweet,” said Williams. “To win one by winning the last one, especially at home, is something we are going to remember forever.”
14) Princeton 31, Penn 30 in OT. November 5, 2006 at Princeton Stadium
Coming off a flat and suspiciously fat-with-success 14-7 loss at Cornell that ruined the chance for a perfect season, a week later the Tigers were back to making the big plays that for six weeks had marked their surprise title run.
Two Jeff Terrell touchdown throws to Brendan Circle and another to Jake Staser built a 24-10 lead over the Quakers, who came in with consecutive overtime losses to Yale and Brown. But Penn immediately answered with a 10 play, 68-yard, touchdown drive and then, started by a 24-yard punt return by Greg Ambrogi that got them out from the goal line, drove 69 yards in the final 2:19 to tie the game on a 16-yard pass by Robert Irvin to Matt Carre with 39 seconds remaining.
After getting a stop on Penn’s first possession of the overtime, Princeton was in position to win until Connor Louden’s field goal was blocked. The mishaps continued with a holding penalty on the next Tiger possession but a 32-yard pass from Terrell to Brian Brigham left Princeton first and goal from the three.
Tailback Rob Toresco tried and failed to get it in twice and then so did Terrell.
On fourth down at the one, Toresco, leaped into the middle of the line and was thrown back but, with no whistle, tried again. He was briefly within the grasp of a tackler but lateraled the ball to Terrell, who ran in untouched to put Princeton ahead, 31-24.
“I don’t know if I 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 touchdown pass from Irvin to Carre, but a fumbled snap on the conversion attempt enabled the 7-1 Tigers to hang on for the victory.
“What Rob did was totally improvised but really was another extension of the kind of chemistry that team had,” recalls Terrell.
Penn supporters will always feel that the whistle should have blown. But had the Quakers not botched the PAT, 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.”
The following week the Tigers rallied form a two-touchdown halftime deficit to defeat unbeaten Yale 34-31 and then shared the title with the Bulldogs by beating Dartmouth in the finale.
13) Princeton 51, Harvard 48 in 3OTs. October 26, 2013 at Harvard Stadium, Cambridge, MA
A season after the Tigers had surprised even themselves with a once-in-150-years rally from a 24-point fourth quarter deficit to stun the Crimson 39-34, Princeton went to Cambridge with a different sense of belief.
“The year before we were learning how good we could be,” recalls quarterback Quinn Epperly. “A lot of things had to go right for us to win that game. This time we knew we were the better team.”
The Tiger defense was burned for two big plays that helped Harvard erase 13-0 and 21-14 leads into a halftime 21-21 tie but Princeton took a 28-21 lead on Matt Costello’s 10-yard touchdown catch from Epperly. After the Tigers had a 23-yard touchdown run by Dre Nelson wiped out on an illegal block. Harvard came back to tie on a Tyler Ott touchdown catch from Conner Hempel, but Princeton retook the lead at 35-28 on Epperly’s 12-yard pass to Seth DeValve.
DiAndre Atwater picked up a precious first down, only to have the ball stripped and run back 29 yards to the 19, giving Harvard the short field it desperately needed. They scored in three plays, tight end Ott running in a pass in the flat from Connor Hempel to tie the game at 35 with 2:50 remaining.
The Tigers went three and out for a third time in four series and Hempel found Ricky Zorn behind John Hill for 45 yards, putting the Crimson in field goal position to win the game. But with the huge help of two false start penalties by Harvard, the Tigers held, forcing Andrew Flesher to try a 50-yarder into the swirling wind. It fell short and Princeton was reprieved.
Hempel started the overtime by hitting Ott for another score, leaving the Tigers, needing a touchdown to match, They got it on James Perry’s play call of the game, an end-around to Roman Wilson; Nolan Bieck hit the extra point and then a 31-yard field goal to put Princeton ahead, 45-42.
The Tiger defense pitched a three-and-out, and another bad snap by Harvard appeared for just an instant to give the Tigers the game. “I thought it was over,” said Surace. But holder Michael Pruneau amazingly got the ball down, and Andrew Flesher got it barely over the cross bar.
So it was 45-45 and Harvard’s turn again. Hempel picked up one first down, but Jason Ray and Mike Zeuli stopped the next run by Andrew Casten, Dorian Williams stuffed the carry after that and Garrit Leicht, who had dropped a sure interception he would have taken a long way during the fourth quarter, put an end to the third-down try, forcing Flesher to kick another field goal,
Now Princeton could win it was 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, the goal line quarterback getting his first full game in the injury absence of Conner Michelsen. “With our red-zone efficiency (78 percent touchdowns that season), the game was over.”
Costello made a tough, catch of an 18-yard pass to get the ball to the seven. Epperly had to go out of bounds with a keeper, setting up second-and-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 he was (to the sideline) until I saw the replay. He made an awesome catch.”
Wilson was not as open when the ball arrived as when it was launched, but when he came down, he had it and cornerback D.J. Monroe didn’t. After catching the winning pass from Epperly a year earlier to beat Harvard, Wilson had done it again.
“The corner bit on the run a little and then I had the leverage, just had to make sure I had room,” Wilson recalls. “I knew I was running out of space, definitely had to tap my toes, but Quinn throw 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.”
Harvard didn’t lose again and got a title share with the Tigers when they lost the finale at Dartmouth.
12) Princeton 42, Penn 14. November 17, 2018 at Princeton Stadium
Penn, the last obstacle to a 10-0 season, trailed 21-0 deep into the second quarter on the Jesper Horsted show — two touchdown catches and one run on a quick flip from Lovett. But the Quakers put together a 75 yard touchdown drive late in the second quarter to get on the board and a missed tackle on an out pattern enabled Tyler Herrick to go 69 yards to make the score 21-14 just 1:18 into the third quarter.
Thanks largely to two Tiger penalties on the same play, the Quakers even got a stop and the ball back and had gained a first down when Tom Johnson crashed the backfield to stop Abe Willows. A blitz chased Nick Robinson into a throwaway and a false start penalty forced Penn to kick.
“That’s what we do; nothing fazes us,” said safety Ben Ellis. “We take that energy in getting big stops and try to give it back to the offense.”
Starting from the 10 after the punt, the Tigers never needed a third-down conversion to go 80 yards, 39 of the final 42 to Horsted, including 20 on Lovett’s second picture perfect end zone delivery to Jesper on the day. A two-touchdown lead restored, the pressure was relieved and Penn, which had done a good job against Charlie Volker and the ground game for three quarters, soon was out of gas.
The Tigers enforced their will by running for eight of 11 plays in an 84-yard scoring drive culminating in a Lovett touchdown run, the 21st straight game he recorded one, a new Ivy record.
Horsted set a Princeton mark with eight catches for a career total of 196, three more than Kevin Guthrie ’84. He also passed Guthrie in receiving yards, while still falling 95 short of Guthrie’s teammate, all-time leader Derek Graham ’85. But Horsted had little to say about any of those things, except for 10-0.
“Certainly that was our larger goal, the biggest one stated (at the beginning of training camp),” he said. “But that said, it was game-by-game that we approached things.
“And that’s how we could do this,” added Lovett. “We never looked ahead.”
“We have this saying in our locker room, “Don’t take the cheese’ and that really came across our whole team.”
The maturity of the 2018 team long established, there was no champagne inside a college locker room to celebrate wire-to-wire excellence, just cigar smoking outside and inside, where nine members of the last previous undefeated team in 1964 came to share in the celebration. The cheese finally could fly in satisfaction at perfection.
“Cosmo seemed like an old guy to us when he was in our locker room in ’89 (when Princeton broke a 20-year title drought),” said Surace. “Cosmo is double my age; it is amazing.
“Shows how hard it is.”
11) Princeton 17, Cornell 12. November 21, 1964 at Palmer Stadium
The 8-0 Tigers had wrapped up a title with a 34-14 victory the previous week in a showdown at Yale. But with Princeton’s first undefeated season in 13 years still on the line, no member of that team remembers feeling any less invested in a win the following week against 3-4-1 Cornell.
A Iacavazzi run and a pass from McKay to Tufts put the Tigers up 14-0 but the improving Big Red, coming off a dominating win over Dartmouth, fought back. Cornell went 57 yards for one score, and then, after trying to pass for a two-point conversion and failing, drove 80 yards for a fourth quarter touchdown. This time Cornell had little option but to go for two and Don Roth’s tackle of workhorse running back Pete Larson preserved a 14-12 lead.
Coach Dick Colman’s Tigers calmly and resolutely went to what they did best. Cosmo Iacavazzi pounded the ball to the Cornell 12 and Charlie Gogolak’s field goal built the lead back to back. Cornell still had time for one drive as Palmer Stadium squirmed, but Lynn Sutcliffe’s interception near midfield turned the ball over.
“I had gotten pulled the week before, even while having my greatest game,” Sutcliffe said. “In our defense, Ron Landeck was guy who was supposed to make the interceptions, I was the deep guy behind to make sure nobody scored and (Yale’s) Chuck Mercein had.”
“So I was in my usual ambivalent position when the (Cornell receiver] came out of the backfield. The coverage said I was supposed to let him go but they threw the ball right to me. Very fortunate.”
By the end, the Tigers were imposing their will, as they had all during a season in which they posted four consecutive shutouts. They were at the Cornell six when time ran out and the celebration began.
10) Princeton 21 Cornell 7. November 18, 1989 at Palmer Stadium
A blocked punt had set up a touchdown and an uncharacteristic fumble by the great Judd Garrett on a late drive had helped Yale to a 14-7 victory in a first place showdown at Palmer in week nine. Worse than ruining the clinching of a first championship in 20 years, it put Princeton in position of needing help from 4-5 Harvard in its final game against the undefeated Bulldogs to get even a title share.
“I can remember appealing, pleading, with them that anything can happen,” recalls Tosches. “Harvard and Yale upset each other all the time, so let’s get ourselves ready.
“At least we’ll get a seventh victory (for the first time since 1966). Let’s take another step. As the week went on, it was the personality of that group that they were ready to play. These guys had lived through so much emotion through their careers with [Coach) Ron Rogerson’s (1987) death, and [ignominious losses} the previous year to Holy Cross and Columbia) that it wasn’t so difficult.
“Still, I remember before the game (Sports Information Director) Chuck Yrigoyen told me he would keep calling for the Yale score. I said ‘wonderful, but I don’t want you to announce anything but a Harvard lead. Cornell was decent, was not going to be a pushover.”
Garrett said he took the field without a thought Harvard would help Princeton out; assumed the Tigers were playing for second place. Clearly, the vast majority of the fans who had almost filled Palmer for the Yale game felt the same way. Only 12,500 showed up on a frigid day for 2-4 Cornell, which converted a fumble by Sharp at the Princeton 11 to take a 7-0 lead early in the second quarter.
“We weren’t playing great when they announced Harvard had jumped out (to a 21-0 lead),” recalls Garrett. “We looked around and said, ‘we better get our butts in gear. “I’m thinking that as bad as the Yale loss was, if we screwed up this one, it would haunt us forever.
“We got after them pretty good after that. “
The crowd and a juggling catch by Tommy Haan for 18 yards at the Cornell 30 finally got Princeton going. Garrett and Chris Hallihan picked up first downs, the last of which Garrett gained up the gut on third-and-five to the one. Gibbs dropped a third down pass in the end zone, but Tosches sent in field goal kicker Chris Lutz on fourth down with no intention of using him for anything but a decoy.
“I forgot to tell Chris it was a fake,” said holder Brad Remig. “We did a Charlie Brown.
Remig pulled up the ball and ran it in, redemption for the block of the week before. This time Tosches let Lutz kick to tie the game 7-7.
Midway through the third quarter, Remig pulled another fake, this time of a punt, and completed a pass for an apparent first down, but it was wiped out by Princeton having an illegal receiver downfield. Finally, following a Frank Leal interception of a third-and-ten at the Princeton 13 to keep the score 7-7, the offense started to click. Chris Hallihan picked up two first downs and on first-and-ten at the Cornell 45, Garrett went around the end and down the sideline to put the Tigers ahead 14-7.
Meanwhile, Harvard was surviving a third-quarter onslaught to blow it open in the fourth. Palmer Stadium knew it, and of course, so did the Tigers.
“Suddenly the stadium was feeling more full,” recalls safety Vince Avallone. Princeton recovered a fumbled fair catch of a Remig punt at the Cornell 20, and on the next play Garrett burst for the touchdown. When Brian Wietharn intercepted the Big Red’s last prayer in the final seconds, the sideline celebration was on.
“Tosches got soaked and I remember sharing champagne with he and Frank Leal,” recalls Avallone. “It was the happiest locker room I ever have been in.’
Inventive students faked out security persons guarding one goalpost, made a successful dash for the opposite one, then returned to finish the job of taking them down at both ends.
Some of the Tigers recall not even being aware this was Princeton’s first title in 20 years until it was won. But to the 16 senior starters who had been told by Rogerson that they would play for the Ivy League title by senior season, winning that championship was a mandate.
“I did not want to sit at graduation and then walk out those gates thinking ‘well, we were close,’” recalls All-Ivy senior center Bob Surace.
9) Princeton 34, Dartmouth 7. November 23, 1957 at Palmer Stadium
Dick Colman, the interim coach in the absence of the cancer-stricken Charlie Caldwell, had directed the Tigers to a 7-0 win at Brown on the day following Caldwell’s death, then beaten Harvard. But a 20-13 loss to twice-beaten Yale at Palmer knocked the Tigers into second place. As first place Dartmouth, which had just a tie spoiling a perfect league mark, came to Princeton for the season finale the following week, many wondered how much Princeton had left.
Plenty, it turned out. “It was a senior thing,” recalls All-Ivy lineman Bob Casciola. “Last game and still a title shot, we were going to give it all we had.”
A crowd of 46,000, the first time Princeton ever had sold out consecutive home games, cheered the Tigers to their first championship of the two year-old formal Ivy League while watching one of the great all-around individual performances in program history.
Sophomore tailback Dan Sachs scored three touchdowns – on a punt return, interception return and a three-yard plunge, plus threw for another as Princeton pulled away from the Indians in the second half for a stunningly-convincing victory. “We had never had that kind of speed before Dan Sachs,” recalls Casciola. “Open field you were not going to get him.”
Princeton scored first when Sachs completed a 64-yard drive on 20-yard pass to Bob Shepardson. Less than a minute later Frank Szvetecz intercepted a pass on the Dartmouth 14, setting up the Sachs run. Dartmouth, which responded with a 63-yard touchdown pass from Dave Bradley to Don Klages, threatened to get back into the game after Sachs fumbled at the Dartmouth 13. But he promptly atoned by corralling a pass that went through a receiver’s hands and returning it into the end zone from 36 yards out.
Casciola, a two-way All-Ivy player, keyed the defensive effort with a memorable second-half drive-killing tackle for a loss of Dartmouth All-Ivy-to-be running back Jake Crouthamel. Dartmouth’s comeback effort was further foiled by a third-quarter interception by Frank Schultz at the Princeton 24.
Faced with a fourth-and-one on the following series, the Tigers took back all momentum on a fake kick and 26-yard by Fred Tiley. Behind another in a game-long series of crushing blocks by All-Ivy Jack Sapoch, Sachs returned an Indians’ punt 60 yards for his third touchdown. “Sapoch was a tremendous player both ways and the best thing you ever saw as a blocker,” said Casciola. “If he found you, he would get you.”
Caldwell, who had rebuilt the program from the World War II years and coached consecutive undefeated teams in 1950 and ’51, was an institution for 12 seasons (70-30-3) at Princeton. Colman, who had been with Caldwell going back to their days at Williams, had been formally named coach of the Tigers just before the Yale loss, so the smashing Dartmouth victory was the initial of what would be his 75 victories in 12 seasons.
Most impressively, an outright title – one of only four by Princeton since the formation of the league – had come out of sadness, thanks to the leadership of an interim coach and the seniors.
8) Princeton 22, Penn 9. November 4, 1995 at Franklin Field, Philadelphia, PA
On the way to a first undisputed Ivy title for Princeton since 1964, the undefeated Tigers ended Penn’s 2-year reign as champions with one of Old Nassau’s all time defensive efforts.
“Our defense played 60 minutes as well as any defense can play,” Tosches said after Darrell Oliveira’s constant pressure, culminating in his three-and-a-half sacks, flustered quarterback Mark DeRosa into a 13-for-32 day for only 160 yards.
“Looking at him yelling at his teammates and the refs, I’m surprised he didn’t get thrown out of the game,” said cornerback Damani Leech, who had an interception and had primary responsibility in holding Penn All-America receiver Miles Macik to just three catches for 35 yards.
“In the pre-internet days Macik was almost mythical, based on how much (defensive backfield coach) Steve Verbit talked about him, starting from training camp,” recalls Leech. “Verbs wanted to make sure we really focused on stopping Macik.
“I remember the locker rooms were freezing when we arrived. There was no hot water working, bleeping all of us off before the game started, as if we needed any more motivation.”
The game was finished off by two fourth-quarter, fourth-down, stops inside the 10 by two-time All-Ivy safety Jimmy Archie, the first a bat down and the second a shared sack. Considering the stakes of the contest and its buildup – Penn had dominated Princeton the previous two seasons – linebacker Dave Patterson’s career high 19 tackles that day, including two sacks of DeRosa, was probably the greatest performance of his career.
Patterson broke Princeton’s all-time career tackle record in the game and still holds it at 352, an average of almost 12 per game. “He terrified the opposition on every play of every game,” said Verbit, then the defensive backfield coach.
“We were giving [DeRosa] a lot of different coverages and looks and he never got in a groove,” Patterson said. “We wanted to take him out of the game by not letting him know where we were going to be.
“Everyone just has this kind of feeling with this team that they’ve never experienced with any other team, just the closeness with the rest of the players. I think that comes through on Saturday, especially when we’re in tough situations. There’s just a great feeling that we’re going to get the job done no matter what.”
Marc Washington ran for two touchdowns, one set up by a 50-yard run by Brock Harvey and Kevin Duffy caught a 37-yard pass from Harry Nakielny to take care of the Tiger scoring as they went to 8-0.
The 1995 championship was one of only four – with 1957, 1964 and 2018 – outright titles in Princeton history and the utter dominance of a strong Penn offense made this the signature win of the season. The Tigers stumbled the following week against Yale but rescued the title in the finale with a last-play field goal by Alex Sierk at Dartmouth.
7) Princeton 35, Dartmouth 7. November 22, 1969 at Palmer Stadium
A sour loss to Yale in a title showdown had ruined a perfect Princeton Ivy season and stonewalled the steady offensive progress in the season that Princeton became the last Division One team to abandon the single wing for the T formation. Still, with the undefeated and ranked-eighth-nationally Indians coming in for the finale, Princeton needed no help to get a title share as long as the team was still of a mind to help itself to the opportunity.
“It’s not so much I remember exactly what (Coach) Jake McCandless said on Friday afternoon but what I took from it,” recalls running back Hank Bjorklund. “Savor the moment. Have fun tomorrow.
“It was different, designed to alleviate any anxiety we may have had. And it did. I remember feeling so positive, so ready to play, and that feeling permeated the whole team.”
The Tigers earned a three-way share of the Ivy title with a stunning and extraordinarily complete rout. Dartmouth, which had been averaging 35 points a game, did not cross midfield until late in the third quarter.
Linemen Tom Hutchinson, Bob Hews and Jim Nixon dominated a small Indian offensive line and the Tigers converted into scores three first-half turnovers. Two were committed by Dartmouth’s All-Ivy quarterback, Jim Chasey, who had completed 60 percent of his passes on the year and this time was only seven-for-20.
“When we were deep in the hole, things we tried just put us deeper in the hole,” said Dartmouth Coach Bob Blackman. “Our major problem, though, was our inability to handle certain men on the Princeton defense. We had nobody strong enough.”
Bjorklund, a sophomore in his second game filling in for the injured Brian McCullough, scored the first two Princeton touchdowns and later added a third on his way to a 132-yard day. Quarterback Scott MacBean ran in another against a Dartmouth team that had given up more than two touchdowns only during a rout of Cornell.
“All Dartmouth had done all year was sit and wait for the other team to make a mistake,” said star running back Ellis Moore following the triumph. “We just played our game and all the pressure was on them.
“It was beautiful. We knew we had the best team in the league.”
6) Princeton 18, Harvard 14. November 5, 1966 at Palmer Stadium
After suffering only three losses between 1963-65 (including an undefeated 1964), the Tigers had taken huge graduation losses that include All America linebacker Staś Maliszewski. They were not impressive in close early wins, lost 7-0 at Colgate and were humiliated 31-13 at Dartmouth.
Captain Walt Kozumbo rallied the troops with an inspirational speech and, after victories over non-contenders Penn and Brown followed, the back door to a title share re-opened when Harvard upset Dartmouth.
That only made the Crimson a two-touchdown favorite when it came to Palmer however. Harvard, on its way to a 219-yard rushing day with its three headed monster of tailbacks Bobby Leo, Vic Gatto and fullback Tom Choquette, led 14-3 and, thanks to a fumble by Princeton bell cow Doug Martin, had the ball at the Tiger nine. Two Stupski tackles and an interception by Jim Kokoskie stuffed the threat and Princeton fought back.
Martin culminated a drive with a two-yard leap and defensive back Doug James threw for a two-point conversion to John Bowers, leaving the Tigers down only a field goal when starting the fourth quarter at their own seven.
They drove for another Martin over the top touchdown to take the lead and then after Harvard came right back to a fourth-and-two at the Princeton 20, Kozumbo shed a block and tackled Choquette while James came in high to make sure the Harvard back didn’t fall forward. The most tension-filled chain stretch in Princeton history proved Harvard had come up two inches short.
“We were so outmanned by Harvard that to win was an incredible accomplishment and the way we did it was storybook,” recalls Martin. With the wins at Yale and against Cornell above, the Tigers had risen from the seeming ashes of a written off season to get a three way share of the title with Harvard and Dartmouth.
“We emerged from obscurity, triumphed over hardship,” recalls linebacker Ron Grossman. “And to everyone’s surprise, we had success.”
5) Princeton 34, Yale 31. November 11, 2006 at the Yale Bowl. New Haven, CT
Roger Hughes’s Tigers arrived in New Haven with only a loss at Cornell and a chance to move into a first-place tie with the unbeaten-in-the-league Bulldogs.
Probably over amped, Princeton started sluggishly on both side of the ball. Even their first touchdown, which cut the Yale lead to 14-7, was fumbled forward by Terrell into the end zone, where Adam Berry fortunately recovered. When Terrell’s 6-yard run cut the Bulldog advantage to 21-14, Yale’s leading Ivy offense came right back with a 69-play touchdown drive.
Princeton was at the Yale 27 before running out of seconds at the end of the half; the offense gathering momentum if only the defense could get pick it up in the second half.
“If we just settle down, there is no way they are going to stop our offense,” Verbit, the defensive coordinator, told his unit. The first two Princeton drives of the second half ended in a fourth-down sack and a punt, but a short punt by Yale enabled Terrell to complete a 7-play, 41-yard drive with a 15-yard touchdown to Brendan Circle.
“I ended up in the slot against the outside linebacker, with the safety over the top,” recalls Circle. “Being one–on-one with the linebacker opened up lots of space in the middle of the field. Jeff and I had a lot of confidence in each other in adjusting the routes.”
With Princeton back within a touchdown, Terrell threw a pick on the next possession. But a defense keyed that day by All-Ivy safety Tim Strickland -“I couldn’t believe they still kept trying him,” said Verbit – had taken control of the game.
“Verbs was right; what we hadn’t done in the first half was maintain our gaps,” recalls Strickland. “And I think we put an extra guy in the box to make them throw to beat us.”
The Bulldogs’ opportunity off the interception fizzled and they had to kick a field goal. So down only 11, the Tigers kept coming, passes to Circle and Berry setting up an 8-yard touchdown pass to Circle that cut the lead to 31-26. When the Tigers got the ball back on a punt, it took just two plays for Terrell to find Brian Brigham well behind the defense down the sideline for a 57-yard touchdown.
Yale punted with 4:51 to play in the belief they would get the ball back. But on third-and-eight Terrell found Circle on the sideline for a completion that would enable Princeton to run out the clock.
“I remember that (putaway) catch more than any other in my career,” recalls Circle. “From our team being 5-5 as a sophomore to being in position to win as a junior (until a tragic late loss to Yale), this was our chance – the culmination of everything the seniors had worked for.
“My memory is so clear of catching that ball, rolling over, getting up, watching the referee wind the clock and seeing the crowd on our side going crazy. We were bringing back a bonfire.”
Oh yeah, that too. Held Friday night prior to Princeton’s title-clinching 28-18 win over more-stubborn-than-expected Dartmouth, the inferno was the first in 14 years. Princeton never led a single game by more than 14 points in 2006 and came from behind to win six contests, the one at Yale probably the most exhilarating in that ancient stadium in Princeton Ivy era history.
“Jeff had a career day (446 yards of the Tigers total 504 were by his arm) at a perfect time and the defense shut down what had been the best offense in the league,” says Circle. “We never had more fun than we did playing that day.”
4) Princeton 39, Harvard 34. October 20, 2012 at Princeton Stadium
The Tigers, 2-18 in their first two seasons under Bob Surace, were awakening in Year Three. A surprising 19-0 shutout of Brown the previous week was a third straight win, making Princeton 3-2 when the undefeated defending champions came to visit.
For one half, the Crimson appeared to demonstrate to the Tigers how far they still had to go towards contention. Colton Chapple was in the process of throwing for 448 yards, Trevor Scales was running for 108, and tight end Kyle Juszczyk was on his way to catching 15 passes as Harvard took a 20-0 halftime lead.
Surace reminded his team that it had been down 17-0 going to the fourth quarter in the opener at Lehigh and had scored twice to make it a game, albeit a 17-14 loss.
“I think there was an acceptance that Harvard that year was better than us,” recalls Epperly, then a sophomore. “But we were young and improving and kept playing because that’s what we were being taught to do.”
On their first second-half possession, the Tigers drove 86 yards to a touchdown. And when Princeton’s Jakobi Johnson recovered a Paul Stanton fumble on the kickoff at the Harvard four, a window suddenly opened, only to be slammed shut again when the Tigers were forced to settle for a field goal by freshman kicker Nolan Bieck. The Crimson powered 78 and 66 yards for two more touchdowns and a 34-10 lead with 13 minutes remaining in the game.
It was over, or would have been 999 times out of a thousand. But Anthony Gaffney ran the kickoff back 59 yards and Dre Nelson completed a 34-yard drive by catching a seven-yard lob from tandem quarterback Connor Michelsen, who then hit Tom Moak for a two point conversion.
Nelson flew off the edge to block a punt and Matt Costello used his body as a shield and remarkably came down with a 29-yard touchdown catch. Princeton got the ball back and Epperly, at that stage of his career used primarily on the goal line, hit Matt Costello for a 29-yard touchdown, then Shane Wilkinson for a two-point conversion. Somehow the Tigers were only one possession, eight points, away from tying the contest.
Of course that meant they were one stop away, too, and it looked like they never were going to get it. Helped by a 40-yard kickoff return by Stanton, Chapple, Ricky Zorn and Cameron Brate had the ball at the Princeton five in a lightning three plays before the Tigers swarmed three runs. After Greg Sotereanos got his hand up to block David Mothander’s attempted 22-yard field goal, the suddenly unstoppable Tigers drove for a Michelsen-to-Seth DeValve 20-yard touchdown.
Michelsen’s throw for Wilkinson for a game-tying two-point conversion was broken up but with 2:27 remaining the Tigers still had three timeouts and, by then, all the belief in the world. On third down, Mike Zeuli ran down Chapple and the punt left Princeton, trailing by two, starting at their own 10 with 1:57 remaining.
Michelsen hit Wilkinson for 15 yards, and then, on third-and-two, the quarterback pulled the ball down and ran for another first down before being clobbered by Zach Hodges, Harvard’s Bushnell-winning defensive lineman, on the non-throwing arm. Hodges was flagged for taunting – Harvard’s 12th penalty of the game – as Epperly came in for Michelsen. Three plays later, the Tigers were at the Harvard 36 on third-and-two, still a good 15 yards from giving Bieck his best chance.
“I just performed the play sent in (by coordinator James Perry) like it was called – a high low on the corner where Roman (Wilson) ran a wide-release fade,” recalls Epperly “It wasn’t like I was trying to go for a touchdown. 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 on a backside crossing route and I’m told he was open but I kind of read the safety position and felt Roman 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 the ball the whole fourth quarter and were playing incredibly fast,” he recalls. “That was the most tired I ever have been in a game.”
The pass was behind Wilson 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,” said Wilson. “It was too close a game to call a (marginal) penalty.
“I remember after I caught the ball, I stood up and looked at our sideline. It was a picture I never will forget, seeing the team and crowd going wild. To an extent it hit me then that we had done something special. But I don’t think it was until later that night that I realized, wow, how difficult that situation was to make that kind of comeback.”
So much had been required that perhaps Harvard Coach Tim Murphy, whose team had dominated for three quarters, was not merely being gracious when he told Surace during their handshake that the best team had won.
A defense that had not gotten a stop the entire first half rose dramatically to make plays that repeatedly had gotten the Tigers the ball back. The special teams had made a momentum-turning play. The quarterback primarily used at that point of his career for his legs had hit a bomb with just 13 seconds to play to climax a 29-point fourth quarter.
“How many things had to go right?” asks Wilson “Just one goes wrong and you don’t pull out a game like that.”
It was the closest thing to a sporting miracle. And to some extent it also was a program turner, even though the Tigers won only one more game after that one – at Yale – and finished 5-5. The following year they won the title, the first of three in the Surace era.
3) Princeton 35, Yale 31. November 14, 1981 at Palmer Stadium
Yale, which came to Palmer unbeaten in eight games that season – and for 14 years against Princeton – moved to 21-0 lead on the Tigers (3-4-1) with a short run by quarterback John Rogan and two plunges by star running back Rich Diana. But Princeton quarterback Bob Holly hit Derek Graham for a 20-yard touchdown and then drove his team five plays in just 28 seconds, scoring on a pass to Larry Van Pelt, who juked his way in from 13 yards out and cut the lead to 21-15 at the half.
A 19-yard strike to Kevin Guthrie gave Princeton a brief 22-21 advantage before Yale answered with a field goal and a Diana touchdown to go up 31-22. But the Tigers and Holly came right back to finish a drive with a nine-yard touchdown throw to Dave Ginda.
“By the end of that season we were a pretty good team, maybe as good as any in the league,” recalls Holly. “We just kept playing, never stopping to think that Yale was better than us.”
With 1:23 remaining, the Tigers, down 31-29, started from their own 24 with no timeouts. While 35,000 persons in Palmer held their breath, a diving catch by tight end Scott Oostdyk one foot past the first-down marker on a fourth-and-ten saved the drive.
At the 20, on a windy day, Coach Frank Navarro decided to put his trust into Graham and Holly rather than a field goal. Yale men of a certain age always will question the pass interference call that Graham, who had 15 catches on the day, drew from the by-then-well-toasted DB Pat Conran. But the officials’ call was emphatic; the flag in the air even before the ball hit the ground.
“I think he would have caught it if not for the interference,” recalls Holly. “Derek was catching everything.”
The ball was placed at the one with a second remaining.
“I was thinking field goal,” recalls Holly. “But the kicking team wasn’t coming on and there seemed to be some indecision.
“I didn’t get a call from the sideline so I took the initiative and decided on a rollout with a run-pass option. Put a little pressure on the defense with a run threat and, if somebody is open, throw it, or, if there is an opening, run it in.
“After seeing it on film, the opening wasn’t a big as I had thought. Nowadays, they reach out because when the ball crosses the plane, it’s a touchdown. Then, I tucked it in and just put my head down.”
Holly had to cut back on linebacker Jeff Rohrer, who went on to play six years for the Dallas Cowboys, to get in by a head and a shoulder.
The goalposts were gone in the pandemonium. The 14 losses since the last win over Yale had seemed like 150. Thirty nine years later, Holly’s 501 yards that day still represents the greatest passing game in Princeton history and Graham’s 278-yard receiving day stood as a record for ten years until broken by Lerch.
To those who that day record-breaking performances, two comebacks, and a contest won on the final play, this was the game of Princeton’s 20th century, even in a year the Tigers only finished 5-4-1 and settled for third in the Ivies behind co-champions Yale and Dartmouth.
“Back and forth game, no title or anything at stake for us, I was just out there having fun,” recalls Holly. “I don’t remember if I even knew that it had been 14 years since Princeton had beaten Yale until afterwards.
“Only then did I come to realize what finally beating Yale meant to so many people. If I had known, I probably would have been a lot more nervous.”
2) Princeton 35, Yale 14. November 14, 1964 at the Yale Bowl, New Haven CT
Two first half Yale touchdowns had broken a four-game shutout string by the 7-0 Tigers and left 30 minutes to decide first place in a battle of Ivy unbeatens. It was 14-14 in the third quarter, with Yale star running back Chuck Mercein also giving Cosmo Iacavazzi a yard-for-yard battle for the Ivy rushing title, when Wendell Cady’s blocked punt changed the game.
Princeton scored in five plays to take the lead, and then when Paul Savidge recovered a fumble forced by Staś Maliszewski, got the ball back at the Yale 39.
“(Tackle) Dick Reinis mentioned to (tackle) Ernie Pascarella that [Yale] was calling certain signals blocking,” recalls Roy Pizzarello, the quarterback in the single wing. “We moved the tailback [Don McKay] out as the flanker.”
Iacavazzi, sent up the middle off a direct snap, broke a tackle at the 35, outraced two more defenders down the sideline and threw the ball into the stands. Next possession, from the Yale 47, the Tigers flanked McKay right and Cosmo went up the middle again and cut left. “Two tacklers had me dead to-rights on that one,” he said. They bounced off and Iacavazzi outran the last defender down the sideline.
This time the official ran to him to save the ball, but Iacavazzi threw it in the stands again regardless.
“Do that again and it’s a penalty,” said the official.
“If I can run that far for another touchdown, I’ll take all the penalties you can give.” Iacavazzi replied and still chuckles about it 56 years later.
“Remember, once you score a touchdown they don’t take it back (on a delay- of-game penalty), just kick it off from 15 yards farther,” he says. “With Charlie Gogolak, you never worried about that.
“I wasn’t a trash talker but emotion was part of my game and I was so excited. I’m very fond of those two runs; they iced the championship.”
The official chose not to penalize Iacavazzi, even if, as all five of Gogolak’s five PATs reached the stands at the cavernous Yale Bowl. The Princeton ball bag had to be raided to finish the game. A hobbled Mercein came out after 88 yards, while Iacavazzi finished with 188 on 20 carries.
The Ivy title clinched – Yale had come in with a tie – Colman stopped the bus in Greenwich on the way home for a celebration at Manero’s Steak House. “Best meal I ever had under the age of 20,” recalls Gogolak. “An alum must have paid for it.”
The Tigers, denied an outright title a year earlier, when Iacavazzi’s fumble following a brilliant goal line stand enabled Dartmouth to punch in a late touchdown, completed their perfect season with a 17-12 win over Cornell at Palmer Stadium. Yale lost to Harvard to drop to third.
1) Princeton 14, Dartmouth 9. November 3, 2018 at Princeton Stadium
It was a gorgeous thing in and of itself, the Tigers getting to 8-0 and being in control of their own title destiny heading into the final two weeks of the season. But under the skin of an ugly 14-9 score was so much more meaning than merely survival.
“There is such beauty in just a four-yard run against that Dartmouth defense,” said Surface. “You execute perfectly to get four yards and you think ‘that should have been ten.’”
One of the best offenses in Ivy League history went up against one of its all-time defenses that Saturday on Powers Field and both exceeded the hype – not in yards or thrills, but plain, unrelenting, resolve. Probably the best way to explain that –and certainly to the point of how Princeton broke Dartmouth’s heart in delivering its first loss, was that the Tigers won the game, essentially, on a drive that in the end failed.
Down 9-7 by the margin of a first-quarter safety, starting from their own three with 4:31 to play in the third quarter, Princeton used 22 exacting, painstaking, willfully-executed plays to reach a fourth-and-five at the Dartmouth five. Inch by inch, it had been a work of art. Jesper Horsted getting Princeton off the goal line with a catch at the 15, taking the ball away from DeWayne Terry at the 28 and making an astonishing one-hand Gorilla Glue stab at the Dartmouth 39.
From there, twice John Lovett made it on fourth down before Horsted took a bubble screen and fought to the five, where the ball remained up until a fourth-and-one. Princeton was a chip shot away from a one-point fourth-quarter lead yet, with fewer than 11 minutes to go, Surace decided to go for the touchdown.
“We had made it twice already on fourth down on that drive,” explained the coach. “We had been going for it (on fourth-and-one) all year.
“I won’t bore everybody with the analytics. But if you have confidence in your defense that you will get the ball back in plus territory, then you go for it.
“We only need six inches. It wasn’t fourth-and-three.”
Nigel Alexander and Perry Jackson combined to stop Lovett and Princeton got nothing out of 23 plays for 91 yards in 8:59 but field position. Which only turned out to be everything.
The Tigers stopped Jared Gerbino, who had been 202 yards of unstoppable in Dartmouth’s 54-44 win a year earlier. Then Jeremiah Tyler and Joey DeMarco teamed up to tackle Rashad Cooper on a vanilla Dartmouth choice of a run on third-and-ten. Tiger Bech steamed back seven yards with a 35-yard punt before 15 yards were tacked on for a facemask penalty on Jake Moen. Considering the difficult with which yards had come all day, Princeton was set up again at the almost too-good-to be-true Dartmouth 19.
Lovett to Horsted got the ball to the nine. Quigley, who had become the lead back after Volker’s first quarter injury making a tackle on an interception, pounded to the five.
“We ran a different play this time to try to get in,” recalls Lovett. “But yeah, having been stopped on fourth-and-one for one of the few times all season 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.
There was still 6:33 to play, and Princeton’s first lead of the day was only five points but a Tiger defense that had given up a 75-yard, 14-play touchdown drive on the first possession of the game was, by the fourth quarter, in almost total control. Mike Wagner had a sack on third down to force one punt and after the Big Green defense kept Dartmouth alive with another fourth down stop of Lovett at the Dartmouth 22, Jeremiah Tyler wrecked the next series, too, with a tackle of Cooper for a huge loss on a second-and-two.
After a fourth down deep sideline prayer failed, Dartmouth punted but on third-and two for Princeton at the Dartmouth 19, this struggle to the death still wasn’t put away until Quigley did it with six of the hardest-earned yards of the long, bruising, and riveting day.
“A slugfest that lived up to everything everybody said it would be,” Surace called it.
“I can’t thank our seniors and leaders enough.
“Nobody panicked. (Even with) turnovers, a fourth-down stop, all those things that happened in the course of the game, they had a great deal of belief in each other and the coaches have a great deal of trust in them. After we got stopped, Verbit was tremendously positive in the huddle before sending his guys out.”
Dartmouth had taken a 9-7 lead when Seth Simmer powered up the middle to bury Lovett in the end zone for a safety. But a sequence just before the half, when Dartmouth appeared about to convert the Lovett fumble into a two-score lead, was the first turning point. Two Dartmouth false start penalties inside the five and a bad snap on a wobbly short field-goal attempt enabled the Tigers to escape to the locker room down just two.
“Talk about an emotional peak for them,” said Dartmouth Coach Buddy Teevens. “No points. It hurt us.”
Thereafter, Dartmouth had just two first downs. “No one has stopped us like that,” said Teevens. “In the second half they contained (Jared) Gerbino and we didn’t make the plays we needed in critical situations.
“They put 11 guys on the line of scrimmage essentially and we didn’t answer it. We needed perfection and didn’t get it.”
A Big Green team good enough to win the Ivy title in the vast majority of seasons settled for 9-1. Princeton, having won its hardest game under the most pressure in 64 formal Ivy League seasons, completed a perfect one with victories over Yale and Penn.