The Greatest Wins in Princeton’s Ivy Era History – Part 1
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 lists of comeback and upset wins. Entries from those articles went back into the mix for this part 11. It was important to leave room for gratifying victories even in otherwise poor or mediocre seasons.
Ultimately, however, this ranked compilation of Princeton’s proudest football days factors heavily their importance towards championships. Usually that meant choosing victories that produced outright titles over shared ones, factoring the point of the season in weighing a game’s relative drama. We also tried to never lose sight of the overriding considerations:
1) thrill factor
2) importance to the program
3) degree of difficulty, both in that game and towards the grander accomplishment of a special year.
Of course, great individual performances listed in previous installments factored into some victories on this one. First and foremost this list is about team accomplishment.
There was no problem finding 40 memorable victories over 64 years, only in getting them all into one readable list. To keep your attention and perhaps to build a little suspense, we are presenting them in two sections, counting down #40 through 21 here.
After we post the top 20 within the next week, our celebration of 150 years of Princeton football will be completed by ranking its greatest teams since the creation of the formal Ivy League.
40) Princeton 20, Harvard 14. November 8, 1975 at Harvard Stadium, Cambridge, MA
Harvard came in unbeaten in the league. After winning the first three, Coach Bob Casciola’s Tigers had lost three straight by a total of just 13 points. But on this day they got off to the best of starts.
Stu Morrison’s 35-yard field goal, Bob Reid’s three-yard run to finish a 60-yard drive and Michael Carter’s 77-yard punt return produced a startling 17-0 halftime lead. It was extended to 24-0 when quarterback Ron Beible threw a 51-yard bomb to Kevin Gropp.
With the Harvard starter injured and two backups having been ineffective, Coach Joe Restic turned to fourth-stringer Tim Davenport, who threw underneath the Tigers’ prevent defense to drive the Crimson to its first touchdown. When Beible fumbled the first play following the kickoff, Harvard had a short field and, four plays later, only a 24-14 deficit.
Princeton went three-and-out, Davenport led another touchdown drive, and then, after suffering two failed two-point conversions, the Crimson succeeded on one on make it 24-20. Harvard got the ball back quickly and still had 3:41 to work with when Davenport fumbled a snap and Doug Lang fell on it for Princeton, which, to great relief, ran out the clock.
This was one that hadn’t gotten away. But the final two did to Yale and Dartmouth by 11 and five points respectively and the Tigers finished 4-5. The loss to Princeton was the only one in the league for Harvard during its title season.
39) Princeton 20, Cornell 17 in OT. October 29, 2005 at Princeton Stadium
Coach Roger Hughes’s 4-2 Tigers, who had jumped to a 14-0 lead, fell behind 17-14 on a six-yard TD pass from Ryan Kuhn to Luke Siwula with 10:24 remaining. Quarterback Jeff Terrell took Princeton 63 yards in a painstaking 18 plays to set up Derek Javarone, who kicked a 32-yarder to tie the game with 2:18 left.
In overtime, Cornell was third-and-three at the 18 when Tim Strickland made a leaping interception at the five. “A stock out route to their outside receiver,” recalls the safety. “When I turned around the ball was coming right at me.”
Well, it wasn’t quite so routine. “Amazing interception,” recalls Javarone. “Tim was an incredible athlete who made big plays repeatedly.”
The Tigers ran the ball three times to set up Javarone from 35 yards. “I can’t say I always relished those situations,” the kicker remembers. “Two years earlier against Penn, after making three, I missed one that would have won the game.”
He also had failed just before the half on this day. Therefore . . .
“I really wanted this one,” Javarone says. “I was so much into the zone that after the game I could barely remember making the kick.”
The 42nd field goal of his career set an Ivy League record and the win put Princeton into a four-way tie for the Ivy lead. When the Tigers followed up by breaking a seven-year losing streak to Penn, 30-13 at Franklin Field, they went into the Yale game with a chance to get a share of their first title in 10 years, only to give up two touchdowns in the final 1:14 and lose 21-14.
38) Princeton 10, Harvard 7. November 11, 1972 at Palmer Stadium
Princeton, which came in at 2-3-1 against a Harvard team that had only one league loss, used a 35-yard dash by Judd Wagenseller to the 10-yard line to set up an early touchdown run by quarterback Dave Mistretta for a 7-0 lead. It was the first of six drives to the Harvard 25 and beyond, yet for all that all ball control, Coach Jake McCandless’s Tigers still were locked in a 7-7 tie into the fourth quarter when Harvard’s best march of the day ended in a Princeton stand and a missed chip shot field goal.
Following an exchange of turnovers, the Harvard quarterback dropped the ball on a rollout and Princeton captain Mike Kincaid recovered. The Tigers drove to the Harvard 10 and John Bartges, who had missed a short field goal earlier, cleared the crossbar from 27 yards by just one foot for the winning points.
Wagenseller ran for 138 yards and Princeton defensive lineman Carl Barisich had a monster day. “All he did was keep us from running off tackle,” said Harvard Coach Joe Restic. “To either side.”
Harvard faded to 4-4-1. Princeton finished 3-5-1 in McCandless’s final season as head coach.
37) Princeton 38, Lafayette 35. September 26, 1992 at Palmer Stadium
Keith Elias, Princeton’s all-time leading rusher, ran for 299 yards and four touchdowns as the Tigers overcame an early 14-0 deficit and hung on for a wild victory against the eventual Patriot champions Leopards.
His final score of 69 yards, which surpassed Homer Smith’s 40 year old Princeton record for a single game, was best described by tackle Chris Theiss, acknowledged to be in the top handful of offensive linemen in Tiger history.
“I’m picking up a linebacker and I feel somebody grabbing the back of my shirt,” recalls Theiss. “I thought, ‘That’s kind of weird,’ but as I hit my block, there’s still somebody grabbing my shirt and then all of a sudden Keith flashes by me to a touchdown.
“When I saw it on film, somebody had tripped him at the line and he was falling forward so he reached out to pull the back of my jersey to catch his balance. He got his feet back under him, waited to catch my block, and took off. That was the kind of play where the guy’s amazing athleticism made everyone look great.”
The other scoring runs were of 38, 40, and 16 yards. Even being spelled by Erick Hamilton every third series, Elias averaged 11.96 yards per his 25 carries.
Alas, he was stuffed a half-yard short of 300 yards on a drive that failed to run out the clock. “If I had gotten the first down the game was over,” Elias recalls. “I didn’t like putting the defense in that position.”
The Tigers, whose turnaround from a bad start was boosted when Michael Lerch picked a fumble out of mid-air and ran it in from 24 yards out, got a final stop and went on to an Ivy title share with Dartmouth. Elias’s Princeton single-game mark has held for 28 years, even against his own efforts. The following week he ran for 273 in a victory at Lehigh.
36) Princeton 34, Dartmouth 3. September 19, 1987 at Memorial Field Hanover NH
Going to year three under the charismatic Ron Rogerson, the program appeared about to turn on the strength of his personality, a good class of sophomores, and the eligibility of three Garrett brothers-quarterback Jason, running back Judd and wide receiver John – who had transferred from Columbia. Then Rogerson suddenly passed away of a heart attack running on a high school track in early August. For all the new talent and higher expectations traveling on the bus to the opener, did the Tigers remember to pack their hearts?
“Friday night, at a team meeting, we talked about our character and how we would represent ourselves in the memory of Ron,” recalls Steve Tosches, the interim coach who had come to Princeton with Rogerson from the University of Maine. “Now it was time to play football and have some fun again.
“It was emotional. Yes, tears. Saturday breakfast usually is pretty silent but it continued through the warmup, which was unusual. There was no emotion. I walked back into the locker with (defensive backfield coach) Steve Verbit saying, ‘We did something wrong. I don’t think they are ready to play.’
“Usually, one of two guys get up and get everyday going. But they are sitting there like they are in shock. Are we even going to get a first down today? If we lost 55-0, everybody would have understood. We had that excuse. My God, this is going to be bad.”
There was a knock on the door. Per normal procedure, it was the officials asking for the captain to accompany them to the field for the coin flip.
“Matt (captain Whalen) gets up and all of a sudden it was like a match put to gasoline,” recalls Tosches. “There was all this noise, nobody waiting the few minutes as usual to follow the captain. They just rushed out. I had misread the whole thing.”
Wearing RAR patches sewn into the game jerseys for the season by equipment manager Hank Towns, the Tigers ruined the debut of Buddy Teevens as Dartmouth coach. Judd Garrett ran for 134 yards on 18 carries and, after suffering an interception on his first pass, Jason Garrett was 14-of-18 for 219 yards and two touchdowns. Dean Cain, a preseason All America nominee, set a school record with the 11th and 12 interceptions of his career. The Tigers totaled 424 yards of offense.
On Monday, Tosches and Athletic Director Bob Myslik took the game ball, signed by every member of the team for Ann Rogerson, Ron’s widow, to her home. Tosches had the interim tag removed at mid-season and the team finished 6-4.
35) Princeton 11, Harvard 6. October 26, 1985 at Harvard Stadium, Cambridge, MA
The Tigers, who came in 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 Tom Steinberg’s head.
“Anthony (DiTommaso) and I had been beating up all day on that snapper,” recalls James Petrucci, an All-Ivy defensive lineman. Steinberg kicked the ball out of the end zone to keep Princeton from falling on it, the safety narrowing the deficit to a point.
Tom Urquhart took the free kick on the bounce at his own 25 and went up the middle. “The bounce was the scariest part but it came right up to me,” he recalls. “They pretty much left the middle open, where we always went and, in fact, had almost broken a previous one.
“I looked up and all I saw was the kicker. One guy got a hand on me but that was all.”
The 75-yard touchdown put the Tigers ahead and Harvard never again threatened. “It was the defense that really won that game,” remembers Urquhart. “Our confidence had been growing and that was a big turnaround for us.
“We hadn’t beaten either Harvard or Penn my two previous years and we beat them both that season. By the end of that year, we were a good team (finishing 5-2 in the Ivy).”
Recalls Petrucci: “Harvard was really a meaningful victory to the guys trying to get the program turned around with a beloved coach.”
After Rogerson died before the 1987 training camp, his protégé and successor Tosches led the Tigers to titles in 1989, 1992 and 1995.
34) Princeton 17, Penn 14. November 7, 1982 at Palmer Stadium
After winning only three Ivy games over four years, a recharged Penn came to Palmer in week seven unbeaten in the league. The Tigers had lost three straight to drop to 2-5.
The Quakers struck for touchdowns in the third and fourth quarters to go up 14-7. They had gotten star Princeton tailback Ralph Ferraro out of the game with a late hit, too. But from a fourth-and-goal, Tiger quarterback Brent Woods hit Brad Urschel for a touchdown and the point after tied the game with 6:13 remaining.
On a third-and-seven, blitzing linebacker Vic Ruterbusch tackled Penn quarterback Gary Vura for a ten-yard loss, the Tigers’ only sack of the game, forcing a punt. Taking over at the Princeton 29 with 4:14 to play, Woods began dumping the ball over the middle.
Farris Curry, who caught nine passes on the day, snagged three straight coming out of the backfield and three Woods runs moved the ball to the outer limit of kicker Chris Price’s range. His 43-yarder barely made it over the crossbar to give Princeton a 17-14 victory.
It was the only win in the final seven contests that season for Coach Frank Navarro’s Tigers, who finished 3-4 in the league. Penn tied Harvard and Dartmouth for title.
33) Princeton 19, Yale 14. November 11, 2000 at the Yale Bowl, New Haven, CT
With the 2-6 Tigers behind the 6-2 Bulldogs 14-3, Jon Blevins had relieved Brian Dinielewicz at quarterback to start the second half. Blevins threw a 30-yard touchdown pass to fullback Marty Cheatham to begin the comeback and Taylor Northrop’s 25-yard field goal early in third quarter left Princeton still trailing by one when it got ball back at its 20 with 1:18 remaining.
Blevins threw a staple of the struggling offense during Roger Hughes’ first season as coach: A check-off pass in the flat to Cheatham. “The tackler was trying to ride me out of bounds,” recalls the fullback. “I ducked my shoulder.
“My head was down so I knew I still was in. Made one cut to make a guy miss.”
With Hughes screaming to get out of bounds and Yale defenders expecting him to do exactly that. Cheatham kept going up the sideline for 44 yards, where he collided with Tiger sophomore wideout Chisom Opara, who had been trying to clean up the last defender, and went down at the Yale 38.
“Now we could see the end zone,” Opara recalls thinking. “[A win] started to seem more real to me, but I thought we would be playing for a field goal.”
So after catching a pass to get his team six yards closer, Opara was sent deep on the next play and was surprised to look back and see the ball coming his way.
“I was pretty well covered,” Opara recalls. “It probably should not have been thrown.”
But he leapt in a sandwich between two defenders and came down with the winning touchdown in what was the only Princeton win in the final five games of a 3-4 Ivy season.
“This was huge; my first time playing in that historic stadium and for the first time, I experienced the great satisfaction with silencing a crowd,” recalls Opara. “I knew how much it meant to a senior like Blevins. So it was a pretty cool moment.”
32) Princeton 27, Harvard 24. October 22, 2005 at Harvard Stadium, Cambridge, MA
Coming in at 3-2, Hughes’ most talented Princeton team yet stunned the defending champion Crimson with Derek Davis’s 72-yard run on a reverse with the game’s first play from scrimmage. The Tigers struggled most of the day to contain running back Clifton Dawson and, midway through the fourth quarter Harvard took its third lead of the seesaw affair, 24-20, on Liam O’Hagen’s 52-yard pass to Ryan Tyler.
Jay McCareins, an 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 had one big block and there was another from the inside. 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.
“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.”
Dawson was held to only 22 yards on eight fourth quarter carries and Jake Marshall’s fourth-and-two tackle from inside the 10 dramatically snuffed Harvard’s last drive. After this first win over Harvard in 10 seasons, the Tigers ran off three more wins, including the first over Penn in eight years before the crushing late defeat by Yale. Princeton settled for 7-3 but the following season won the title.
31) Princeton 14, Columbia 11. November 2, 1996 at Wien Stadium, New York, NY
Columbia, anchored on the defensive line by future 10 year NFL veteran, Marcellus Wiley, had a 6-0 jump on only its second winning season in 34 years when the Tigers came to Wien. “On paper they were a much better team than us that year,” recalls Steve Verbit, then the defensive backfield coach. “Wiley was gigantic, intimidating, and a trash talker besides.”
Princeton, struggling with graduation losses following its 1995 title season, had dropped four straight, including a 24-0 defeat by Harvard the previous week. But Marc Washington scored the game’s first touchdown on a 21-yard run, that drive kept alive by a taunting penalty on Wiley following a sack. The Tigers, starting two freshmen and two sophomores on the offensive line, added on with a two-yard pass from Brett Budzinski to Kevin Duffy for a 14-0 lead.
A goal line stand off a first-and-goal at the two forced Columbia to settle for a field goal and a 14-3 deficit at the half.
“I’m sure because of our record, Columbia took us a little lightly,” recalls Verbit. “But we kept making defensive plays.”
The Tigers lost Washington in the third quarter but had all the points it needed. Columbia finally scored a touchdown with four minutes remaining when Bob Thomason threw a touchdown pass to David Ramirez. Paul Thomas ran for a two-point conversion to cut the lead to three.
Princeton took the kickoff and, managing one first down, ran three and-a-half minutes off the clock before having to kick, leaving Columbia time to get only to the 32 before Matt Linit’s 49-yard try missed to the right. Three Princeton interceptions, including two by Bret Marshall, had enabled a proud defensive effort and a huge upset.
“This was the first time all season we played to win as opposed to playing not to lose,” Tosches said afterwards. His team beat only Yale in its final three games and finished 3-7. Columbia went 8-2 and finished second behind Dartmouth.
30) Princeton 20, Harvard 7. October 22, 1977 at Harvard Stadium, Cambridge, MA
Two years after traveling to Harvard Stadium and handing champion Harvard its only league loss, the Tigers came back with the Crimson undefeated once more. Princeton, just off a 31-13 pounding by Colgate, had only a win over Columbia to show for the season and, as if needing another reminder that they were having a bad year, the bus got lost on the way to the game. But tailback Bobby Isom knew his way between the tackles and pounded away from the start.
“I’m pretty sure we won the time of possession that year almost every game,” recalls tight end Frank Vuono. “We were really good between the twenties, but then. . . . “
Indeed, Chris Howe missed two field goals after long Tiger drives but still hit two for a 6-0-halftime edge. Given a short field by a shanked punt, quarterback Kirby Lockhart’s throw for Vuono was deflected by a safety into the hands of Glenn Robinson for the touchdown and a 13-0 lead.
But Harvard fought back. A lightning, four-play, 69-yard, drive culminated in a 20-yard touchdown catch by Paul Sablock to make it 13-7. And when the Tigers went three-and-out, the momentum had clearly 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, I realized it all come together. The returner turned around and ran, knowing he had no shot at catching it, 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 most famous in Princeton history – and one of its most clutch plays by a Tiger at any position, completely flipped the game. Harvard went three-and-out, shanked another punt and Isom broke two tackles on a 7-yard clinching score. He finished with 209 yards on 42 carries. Princeton had the ball an astonishing 42 minutes.
Harvard faded from contention. The Tigers won only one more, 34-0, in the season ender over Cornell, and finished 3-6 in Bob Casciola ‘s final season as head coach.
29) Princeton 27, Columbia 26. October 2, 2004 at Wien Stadium, New York, NY
Columbia, helped all day by 11 Tiger penalties, snap mishaps and one red zone fumble, went up 20-17 on a four-yard TD run by Ayo Oluwole with 2:11 remaining. Princeton began its final drive with a beat-up receiver corps necessitating the use of McCareins, who earlier in the game had also blocked a field goal.
“I think I played 100 plays that game,” McCareins recalls.
Three of them resulted in catches during a 13-play 64-yard, drive against the clock to tie the game on Javarone’s 21-yard field goal.
“What I remember most was a third down when we needed 10 yards,” recalls quarterback Matt Verbit. “When I released it, I thought it as five yards over his head. He made a tremendous grab.”
Columbia used the first overtime possession to score on 17-yard run by Rashad Biggar. But on the PAT, McCareins came off the edge for his second block of the game. “I noticed before the first one that the center would squeeze the ball really tight a half-second before the snap,” recalls McCareins. “When his fingertips moved, I was gone. The second one, same thing.”
Princeton gained only five yards on three plays, but on fourth down Verbit avoided a blitz, took off down the right side, cut inside, and carried a defender to the two. Two plays later Jon Veach went in from the one and it was up to Javarone again.
“Kicks to tie the game always were more nerve-wracking than ones to win it,” the kicker recalls. “But always it’s about the process, I didn’t even have to look up to know I had made that one.”
The Tigers stretched their record to 3-0 and would finish 5-5.
28) Princeton 22, Rutgers 21. September 30, 1967 at Palmer Stadium
Coming off a championship season, the Tigers jumped up 14 points after only 13 plays of its opening game. But another touchdown was called back, Ted Garcia missed three field goals and two Scarlet Knights touchdowns were set up by fumbles. Thus, 162 rushing yards and three touchdowns by Rutgers’ Bryan Mitchell had left Princeton, behind 21-14 with 1:58 remaining, needing 57 yards from its single wing attack.
Tailback Bob Weber led a drive that was finished with his pass to quarterback Rob Schoene with 58 seconds remaining.
“It looked like it would be a run so Schoene was open in the flat, running parallel to the goal line,” recalls Weber. “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. He had to go up and make a great catch to save the day.”
Remembers Weber, “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.”
Said Rutgers coach John Bateman after Jim Dulin’s desperate 61-yard field-goal attempt fell harmlessly on the Tiger 14 at the final whistle. “I’m still looking for the guy who was supposed to be covering that flat,” he said. “I haven’t seen him since I sent him in to do that.”
The Tigers would lose three games that year and were out of contention into the final week for the first time in a half decade. But Colman had instant perspective on the moment created in that season opener against a neighborhood rival then on the schedule every season
“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.”
27) Princeton 32, Cornell 25 in OT. October 26, 2002 at Schoellkopf Field, Ithaca, NY
Down 25-10 after a terrible first half, the Tigers went to the locker room figuring it could have been worse. In the final seconds punter Joe Nardello’s tackle of a Cornell player on his way to running in touchdown off a block had saved a three-score deficit.
On a snowy, slippery day not fit for man, beast, nor comebacks, the Tigers made no headway. By the start of the fourth quarter, three running backs had fumbled the ball away and so had quarterback Matt Verbit, who was starting in place of the injured David Splithoff.
But starting the fourth, Princeton finally got an opportunity off a short field and drove 43 yards. Verbit took it in from the six to make the score 25-17 with 11:18 remaining. On the next Tiger possession, Verbit scrambled for one first down, threw to Blair Morrison for two more and Cameron Atkinson bounced off two tacklers to score from the three. Verbit ran in an option on a two-point conversion to tie the game.
“By that time, the snow was coming down so hard that you couldn’t see the lines anymore,” recalls Morrison.
Princeton got the ball back, couldn’t move and, with under a minute to go Nardello punted, coach Roger Hughes deciding his chances were better chance in overtime. But the kick was called back by a procedure penalty and, on the second try, the wet ball horrifyingly went through the punter’s hands and Cornell recovered at the 15.
Leery of the footing, the Big Red decided to get closer and Joe Weiss, who had 12 tackles including two sacks on the day, tipped a pass that was intercepted by Jay McCareins in the end zone. The Tigers were reprieved.
“We knew then we were going to win,” recalls Morrison.
Verbit took a sack, but then completed three straight passes. On the fourth play, Morrison came to the line against a corner allowing a lot of room for a slick field.
“In those kinds of conditions they either had to do press or 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. When I turned around, the ball was in the air, high and 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 hands were up. Derek Javarone kicked the PAT.
Cornell, with the opportunity to answer, was at the seven when a fourth-down pass by Michael Razzano sailed out of the end zone. The Tigers, who came into the game following a close loss to Harvard, had won to stay in the race, but they were overmatched the following week against Penn, 44-13, and finished 6-4. Still it was Princeton’s first winning record in three seasons under Hughes.
26) Princeton 31, Colgate 28. October 18, 1997 at Andy Kerr Stadium, Hamilton, NY
Road warriors that entire season while Princeton Stadium was being built on the site of razed Palmer, the Tigers picked the wrong bus company. Or driver, anyway. He got lost on the way from the hotel in Binghamton, resulting in a 12:15 pull-up at the Stadium for a 1 o’clock game. Some players were not fully taped before the hurried warmup.
Playing well enough regardless, the Tigers were leading 24-21 with three minutes remaining when quarterback Harry Nakielny’s attempt to throw the ball away in the flat was picked off by Colgate defensive end Blaine Hicks, who ran 60 yards to put Colgate up 28-24.
“Rush to the right, turned to the left to get rid of it 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. Following two incompletions and just a four-yard check down to fullback Mike Clifford, the Tigers were left with a fourth-and-six, but Nakielny beat two pass rushers and found Ryan Crowley for an eight-yard gain to keep the drive alive.
Two more completions to Canole and Crowley again put the ball at the Colgate 16, then Nakielny threw an 11-yard strike to Phil Wendler. It was first-and-goal at the five with no timeouts remaining.
Nakielny spiked the ball, and then missed connections with Canole in the end zone to leave 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 would tell The Daily Princetonian.
He audibled before drilling the ball to Ken Nevarez on a slant just inside coverage with 1:03 remaining to push the Tigers record to 4-1 in what would become a 6-4 season.
25) Princeton 16, Dartmouth 0. September 22, 1979 at Memorial Field, Hanover, NH
Both lines and the linebacking corps had largely graduated from a 2-5-2 team in 1978 and the Tigers had not a winning record in 10 years when they went to Dartmouth for an opener against the defending Ivy champions and preseason favorites. Princeton’s senior class had withered to just 12 survivors.
Dartmouth raced to first downs on each of the first three plays of the game, but killed its drive with a holding penalty and then never threatened again. A defense led by Matt McGrath, Dave Chandler and Dan Bennewitz – the latter two blanketing star receiver Dave Shula – pitched a startling shutout, allowing the Big Green to run just five plays in Princeton territory the entire game.
The Tigers harassed Jeff Kemp, a future NFL quarterback making his first start, into a nine-for-23 day while the Tigers used a fumble recovery by McGrath at the Dartmouth 12 to set up a Larry Van Pelt rushing touchdown for a 7-0 lead. Quarterback Steve Reynolds capped a 51-yard drive in the fourth quarter with a two-yard run. Princeton’s Cris Crissy rushed for 106 of Princeton’s 255 on the ground.
“The game wasn’t even as close as the score,” recalls Reynolds. “We fumbled on their five-yard line on another drive.”
The players sang Happy Birthday in the locker room to celebrate the rebirth of the program. Indeed Frank Navarro’s Tigers went on to a surprising 5-2 Ivy season, staying in contention for the title until losing to Yale in week nine.
24) Princeton 16, Lehigh 15. October 17, 1987 at Palmer Stadium
After losing the previous two seasons by 48-28 and 34-13 to Lehigh, the Tigers came into the game 3-1 under interim coach Tosches, but still continued to look overmatched; Only a botched Lehigh PAT snap and a failed two-point attempt got Princeton to halftime trailing only 15-10.
“(Jason) Garrett was taking five step drops and they were there waiting for him,” recalls Tosches. “Judd Garrett had just [18 yards in 12 carries for the day]. I think our players were intimidated.
“We added some things at halftime, appealed to them to play hard, and we started doing better.”
The Tigers shut out Lehigh in the third quarter, creeping within two points when Rob Goodwin hit a 38-yard field goal. With the clock under three minutes, Lehigh was driving to a putaway score when a sack by Rick Emery left the Engineers in a third-and-17 at the Princeton 33, needing 10 yards to reach field goal position to extend the lead to six. Instead, quarterback Mark McGowan threw to the goal line and Dean Cain, Princeton’s all-time interception leader, came across the field for a pick.
Having 2:25 to work with, the Tigers inched out from their own two before a sack of Jason Garrett left them third-and-28. “There was just no way,” recalls assistant coach Steve Verbit. But a completion on third down to Judd Garrett to get close, then another to brother John on fourth to move the chains, re-started a drive of repeated Garrett-to-Garretts passes. “The efforts to get out of bounds were just amazing,” recalls Jason, who also had gotten rid of the ball on a play when the line had been overrun.
When John finally was tackled in bounds at the Lehigh 22 with the clock under 20 seconds the officials did the Tigers, out of timeouts, a huge favor by measuring for a first down, enabling the field goal team time to get on the field and compose itself. The crowd understandably did not when Goodwin’s 37-yard kick at the buzzer cleared the crossbar by at least 10 yards, setting off ecstasy.
“I was crying,” remembers Cain.
On their knees at their own two Princeton had crawled down the field with painstaking execution to produce probably its most uplifting non-league victory of the Ivy era.
“Greatest two-minute drive I ever saw,” says Verbit.
Tosches had the interim tag removed that week. The Tigers went on a 6-4 season, their first winning one in six years.
23) Princeton 39, Brown 17. October 19, 2013 at Brown Stadium, Providence RI
Fourteen seconds into the second quarter, the 4-1 Tigers were down 17-0 on 10 points worth of special teams mistakes and an untouched 71-yard touchdown run.
In their four possession Princeton had punted three times and been stymied on fourth down on the other.
The only thing stopping the Bears, who had recorded six straight winning seasons, were the Bears themselves with 11 first-half penalties. Turned out the calmest guys in the stadium were the Tigers.
“Everybody knows what we are so capable of at any second,” would say receiver Connor Kelley. “Things weren’t going our way because we weren’t executing, but we had the best week of practice ever this week and that stuff translates.
“It was only a matter of time that we would start making plays.”
Two plays after he was penalized for holding, Kelley made the first one, a leaping, twisting 22-yard catch from Quinn Epperly on third-and-17 from the two. The Tigers drove to a Brian Mills rushing touchdown before the half and thereafter dominated.
Until Will Powers put it away with a nine-yard touchdown run with 1:16 to go, culminating a clock-eating drive in 4:56, the Tigers had scored on marches of four plays and 70 yards (in 1:15), seven plays and 80 yards (in 2:05), seven plays and 94 yards (in 2:34) and five plays in 50 yards (in 1:40).
Epperly ran for touchdowns of 39, 18, and two yards, plus played the decoy from the slot while Connor Michelsen was hitting tight end Des Smith for 28-yard touchdown to put Princeton ahead, 18-17.
“Everybody said at halftime, ‘We’re going to come back,’” said Epperly. “I told our guys the whole second half [the Bears] were not going to stop us.
“To just totally turn it around like that, this turned into the most fun game I ever played in my life.”
The Tigers went on to an 8-2 season and a title share with Harvard.
22) Princeton 18, Harvard 0. November 7, 1964 at Palmer Stadium
On their way to an undefeated 9-0 season, the mighty Tigers recorded their fourth straight shutout – and the best yet according to Coach Dick Colman. Paul Savidge and Staś Maliszewski dominated the line of scrimmage on a Crimson team that managed only 120 yards on the day.
The only touchdown came when wingback Dick Tufts knocked one of three Crimson players tracking a quick kick inside the five-yard line into the ball, which squirted into the end zone. “I just scooted around and fell on it, pretty nice” recalls Pizzarello.
The Crimson were finished off with Gogolak’s second three-field-goal game in three weeks, practically unprecedented usage of the three-point try in college football at the time. “Not that many coaches believed in the field goal much in those days,” said Gogolak. “I’m forever grateful to Dick Coleman for recognizing it as a weapon.
Cosmo Iacavazzi, who Colman said “gets better every week, if that’s possible,” carried 28 times for 115 yards. Tiger tailbacks, passers in the single-wing formation, completed nine of 19 for 96 yards, with junior Ron Landeck, who stepped into the shoes of the injured Don McKay, drawing praise from Colman. The coach said he was “slightly amazed” at the number of times the Tigers went to the air. “We’re getting to be a little unsound,” he chuckled.
A week later the Tigers broke a 14-14 halftime tie and went on to a 35-14 showdown win at undefeated Yale, but Harvard gained second place with an upset of the Bulldogs the final week.
21) Princeton 59, Yale 43. November 10, 2018 at the Yale Bowl, New Haven CT
Collin Eaddy, getting his first start in place of the injured Charlie Volker, ran 75 yards untouched up the middle for a touchdown on the first play. Jeremiah Tyler intercepted freshman quarterback Griffin O’Connor on Yale’s second snap and, on the initial touch of the following series, Eaddy scooted 17 yards off right tackle without a Bulldog within five yards.
Thus it was 14-0 after 54 seconds and 21-0 after 4:38, when Tyler tipped a pass, Tom Johnson intercepted it, and Ryan Quigley ran right for 37 yards and another touchdown.
It was the fifth game in that season the Tigers hit 50 points, and for the first time the Tigers would need most of them. As Princeton played off the ball and rushed just four in order not to give up the big play, Yale made some anyway, O’Connor throwing for 465 yards to get the Bulldogs back to within 16 points and still a chance with four minutes remaining. Mark Fossati’s diving sideline interception secured Princeton at least a share of a second title in three seasons and a third in six years.
After O’Connor, who hurried into some early mistakes, settled in, Princeton’s incredible start essentially won the game. On the way to a 42-7 lead, the Tigers put up 489 yards rushing, including Eaddy’s 266 yards and Ryan Quigley’s 113.
“Mid second quarter, I asked Sean (offensive Coordinator Gleeson) how many plays we had run,” said Coach Bob Surace. “(Tight end coach) Mike Willis told Sean through his headset that it was just 13. And we had 28 points.”
“We had a really good game plan and executed some plays. After [defeating Dartmouth) last Saturday (in an epic battle of unbeatens), we had our best Sunday.
“Tuesday we had a great practice, measured some things scientifically like we do all the time (with body sensors) and it was the best we measured since I have been here. Despite nearing the end of a season, that’s how much energy we had left and it was a comforting feeling. When I went to address the guys before the game they were pushing me out the door.”
Coming Up Wednesday: The countdown continues to No. 1.