Football: Penn hands Princeton 2nd Ivy loss
The football team's game against Penn could mostly be summarized in one word: mistakes. After going on their first four-game win streak since 2006 earlier this season, the Tigers (4-4 overall, 3-2 Ivy League) have started showing hints of the group that went 1-9 in each of the last two seasons. With a 28-21 loss to the Quakers today, Princeton lost control of its own chances for the Ivy League title.
Coming into a game in which a share of first place in the Ivy League was on the line, the Tigers knew the game would be close. And it was, down to the last minute, in which an attempt to make another dramatic comeback was thwarted by the team's fourth turnover.
“It’s a real tough [loss] to swallow,” junior defensive back Phillip Bhaya said. “We haven’t had too much success the past couple years, but I think this one is especially tough, just because this team is definitely a special team and we’ve been really playing hard together. And then with everything on the table for us, after winning those games, it’s really disappointing to come up short here.”
Penn got on the board first after the Tigers' opening drive ended in an interception, the first of three for sophomore quarterback Connor Michelsen. The second quarter started with more errors for the hosts, as a face mask on third down moved Princeton's offense out of field-goal range.
But with eight-and-a-half minutes left in the half, sophomore quarterback Quinn Epperly evened the score at seven apiece with a 3-yard jump pass to senior tight end Mark Hayes, which was set up by Bhaya’s 44-yard interception return and a completion to senior receiver Shane Wilkinson. Michelsen added six more points with a touchdown pass on the next Princeton drive to sophomore tailback Will Powers, who ran 30 yards down the sideline and scored with an acrobatic dive to the corner of the end zone, but a bad snap doomed the extra-point attempt. The Tigers went into halftime down 14-13.
The second half began on a better note for the Tigers, as Michelsen led the offense down the field to take a 21-14 lead on a touchdown pass to junior receiver Roman Wilson, but those would be the last Tiger points of the day. After Michelsen's pass was tipped at the line, intercepted and returned for a touchdown to bring the score to 21-21, Princeton had a chance to stop Penn with a key three-and-out and get the ball back with a little over five minutes to play. But a personal foul after a third-down stop continued the Quakers' drive, which Penn finished with a game-winning touchdown.
Despite being penalized for fewer yards than Penn overall, the timing and nature of Princeton's miscues were extremely costly.
“Our games have been relatively close against the upper-level teams in the league, and they come down to one or two plays or calls or coaching points, and we just have to do better with our finite things,” head coach Bob Surace ’90 said. “I told them all week, 'Do not put yourself in a situation for discipline penalties,' so obviously my point wasn’t clear enough.”
Another major factor in Penn’s ability to both stay in the game and eventually come back to win it was the turnover margin. The Tigers turned the ball over four times and caused only one. Saturday marked the second game in a row in which the Tigers have turned the ball over four times, having also done so in a tight loss to Cornell last weekend.
“There’s a likelihood that we’re not going to reach our goals,” Surace admitted. “We lost the chance to control out own destiny.”
Also contributing to the Tigers' loss was the absence of senior defensive lineman Caraun Reid, who did not play due to a head injury. He is expected to return to practice tomorrow. Senior linebackers Andrew Starks and Tim Kingsbury attempted to fill the hole left by Reid’s absence; each had 15 takedowns on the day. Senior defensive end Mike Catapano also contributed two sacks for a total of 16 yards, bringing his league-leading total to 10 for the season.
“Obviously there’s a lot of disappointment and frustration in the locker room,” Surace said. “I thought our guys played hard. We made some unfortunate errors, and it’s got to get corrected, and we have got to come back tomorrow. Knowing the quality of our guys, they’ll come back fighting, and I’ll keep fighting for them.”
The Tigers will turn their focus to next Saturday’s game at Yale. A victory over the Bulldogs would give Princeton its first bonfire in six years.