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Week 6 Preview: #16 Harvard (5-0, 2-0 Ivy) at #17 Princeton (5-0, 2-0 Ivy)

On April 28, 1877, teams representing both Princeton and Harvard met on the South End Grounds to compete in the new collegiate sport of football. It remains one of the sport’s great rivalries, and there is little this showdown hasn’t seen.

This Saturday offers one new opportunity — or at least one that hasn’t been seen in a long, long time.

Both Harvard (#16, 5-0) and Princeton (#17, 5-0) will enter Saturday’s 1 pm game (ESPN+) on Powers Field undefeated and ranked inside the latest AFCA Coaches Poll Top 20. There have been some four major meetings between the two teams over the last 15 years (more on this below), but none included both factors above.

Prior to that? Well, we’d have to go back generations, prior to the national spread of the sport, and even then, it likely happened a minimal number of times.

All that is fun for fans of both programs, but it doesn’t mean a thing to the players on both sidelines who trained through a pandemic and a cancelled 2020 season to be in position to compete for the 2021 Ivy League titles. Harvard has beaten its first five opponents by an average of 26.6 points per game, while Princeton has posted a margin of 25.4 points per game.

Both have one road win over a nationally ranked opponent (Harvard over #24 Holy Cross, Princeton over #25 Monmouth), and both have been in tight fourth quarters in Ivy League games this season (Harvard 24, Cornell 10; Princeton 24, Columbia 7).

Regardless of this weekend’s outcome, there will still be plenty more work to be done. Reigning Ivy co-champions Dartmouth and Yale await both teams, while the rest of the league has already shown to be improved from previous seasons.

But this weekend at Princeton Stadium is special. It’s special because it’s Princeton-Harvard, of course. But the stakes are just a bit higher for this one, the 113th meeting between two of the sport’s most historic programs.

Week 6 Notes

History Lesson • Four Harvard-Princeton matchups in the last 15 years have been classics, often with direct impacts on the Ivy League race.

2006: PRINCETON 31, #15 Harvard 28 – Eventual Ivy League player of the Year Jeff Terrell threw for 223 yards and two touchdowns, the final one coming on a 20-yard strike to Brendan Circle in the final minutes, and four Princeton interceptions guided the Tigers to a thrilling comeback win. That victory paved the way for the Tigers to grab a share of the Ivy League championship, its first since 1995.

2012: PRINCETON 39, Harvard 34 – This one was as crazy as it gets. Harvard led 34-10 with less than 12 minutes remaining before Princeton scored 29 unanswered points, the final coming on a 36-yard pass from Quinn Epperly to Roman Wilson with 13 seconds left to give the Tigers their only lead of the game. Starting quarterback Connor Michelsen threw three touchdown passes in the game before being injured on the final drive. It was Princeton’s first win over Harvard since 2006.

2013: Princeton 51, HARVARD 48 (3 OT) – As if the Epperly-to-Wilson completion wasn’t painful enough the first time, those two connected on a six-yard corner pass to cap a 51-48 triple-overtime road win for the Tigers, a victory that would propel them on another championship journey. Princeton rallied twice in overtime, and it got one of the biggest defensive plays of the season from senior Jason Ray, who kept Harvard out of the end zone in the third overtime session.

2016: Harvard 23, PRINCETON 20 (OT) – The Crimson returned the overtime favor three years later when Joe Viviano scored from one yard out to complete a 23-20 win. Princeton rallied from a 14-0 deficit and forced overtime with a four-yard scoring run by John Lovett with 49 seconds remaining in regulation, but the Harvard defense held the Tigers to a field goal in overtime and set up the win. Unlike the 2013 meeting, however, this one didn’t decide the Ivy League title; Harvard lost its final two games of the season, while Princeton won out to claim its second title in four years.

School Spirit • Quinn Epperly, who completed the game-winning touchdown passes in both the 2012 and 2013 wins over Harvard, can have an impact on the 2021 showdown this Saturday. An alumnus of Christian Academy of Knoxville, he spoke to a future student from that school about the benefits of Princeton football. That player is current Princeton starting quarterback Cole Smith.

Top Of The Charts • Both Princeton and Harvard come in with top-ranked units on both sides of the ball. The Tigers lead the Ivy League in scoring offense (41.2 points/game) and both total offense (455 yards/game) and total defense (257.8), while the Crimson lead the league in scoring defense (10.4 points/game) and both rushing offense (213.0 yards/game) and rushing defense (45.6).

Both teams also rank highly on the national landscape as well. Princeton has the #5 scoring offense in the nation, while Harvard has the #2 scoring defense.

Run To Glory • Senior co-captain Collin Eaddy, who rushed for a career-high four touchdowns last weekend at Brown, ranks sixth all-time at Princeton with 2,190 career rushing yards. He is well within range to break into the top three over the final five games of the season. Here are the Top 6 rushing leaders at Princeton; the number in parentheses is the number of yards Eaddy would need to match that total.

1. Keith Elias, 4,208
2. Judd Garrett 3,109
3. Cameron Atkinson 2,449 (259)
4. Hank Bjorklung 2,362 (172)
5. Walter Snickenberger 2,241 (51)
6. Collin Eaddy 2,190

Getting Sacked • Princeton, which owns the top total defense in the Ivy League, has three of the Ivy League leaders in sacks. Uche Ndukwe ranks third with 6.0, while Samuel Wright is fifth with 4.5 and Cole Aubrey is seventh (4.0).

The Tiger offensive line will be in for a challenge of its own, as Harvard has two of the Ivy League sack leaders in Nate Leskovec (5.0) and Jacob Sykes (4.5).

Lucky 13 • The last time these two teams met (2019), Princeton linebacker Jeremiah Tyler posted one of his most spectacular games. He recorded 13 tackles, including two for loss, an interception and a sack in a 30-24 home win over the Crimson. That game helped propel Tyler to become a finalist for Ivy League Defensive Player of the Year honors.


june, 2023