Football: With bonfire at stake, Tigers look to snap losing streak at Yale
The biggest story of the weekend for Princeton students is the possibility of a bonfire, held if the Tigers defeat both Harvard and Yale in the same season. Having already beaten Harvard, a win this weekend would bring a bonfire to Princeton for the first time since 2006, a prospect that certainly has campus abuzz.
A strong senior class, particularly on defense, leads this Princeton squad. “This group is a really special group of seniors who took that initiative and really tried to spread it all throughout the team. We’ve really had it from top to bottom and the bottom up,” senior defensive lineman Mike Catapano, who leads the Ivy League in sacks, said.
The Tigers have had a consistent and well-balanced season, ranking third in the Ivy League in total offense and fourth in total defense. One standout for Princeton this season has been junior receiver Roman Wilson, who has emerged as Princeton’s top pass-catching threat and ranks in the conference’s top five in both receiving yards and touchdowns.
“I think this year our offense has really clicked,” Wilson said. “Our offense is one of those offenses where the ball can go to anybody. I’ve just been fortunate to be in the right place at the right time.”
Princeton is coming off a difficult loss to Penn last week at Princeton Stadium in which three interceptions by sophomore quarterback Connor Michelsen allowed the Quakers to eventually steal one from the Tigers. According to Wilson, Michelsen is not looking back and will be ready to go this week. “Connor’s a competitor. He comes out every day and works his hardest,” Wilson said. “He’s got the edge and is going to correct the mistakes. He’s not going to let it happen again.”
Yale has had less success this season than Princeton has, but head coach Bob Surace ’90 said the Bulldogs have vastly improved over the course of the season, having beaten the same Penn team Princeton lost to last week. Particularly, Surace talked about Yale’s strength on defense and the difficulties it wil pose to the Tigers’ offense.
“Their linebacker crew is really fast, and those guys get to the football. The improvement [Yale’s defensive line] has made has been tremendous,” he said. “Their short-yardage goal-line defense is as good as anybody’s. Their secondary is really aggressive. To see them early in the year, and to see them now and what they did to Penn, they have been very impressive as of late.”
One player the Tigers will have to keep their eyes on is running back Tyler Varga, who is leading the Ivy League in rushing and all-purpose yards per game. “He’s a great player,” Catapano said. “He’s a physical guy. He’s strong, about 220 [pounds], so we have to wrap him up. He’s got breakaway speed, and we can’t let him get in the open field.”
Another storyline for the Bulldogs has been their troubles at quarterback. Injuries have forced Yale to change their offensive game plan, electing to go with a triple-option approach, in which Varga gets the ball on almost every snap. In fact, Yale has even played its running backs at quarterback at some points this season, trying to manufacture points in any way possible. The Tigers will have to be prepared for the triple option on Saturday, as it is unlike anything Princeton has seen so far. “[The Bulldogs have] found themselves in this thing where their best player touches the ball 50 times a game now,” Surace said.
This weekend’s game should be an exciting one for the buses of Princeton students that are expected to roll into New Haven for the event. Perhaps a bonfire will follow in the coming week.
The game will kick off at noon and will be nationally broadcasted on YES Network.
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