Football: Seniors lead balanced team into finale
The football team has reason to feel pretty pleased entering its final game. Princeton (5-4 overall, 4-2 Ivy League) is coming off a huge win against rival Yale. Not only did the Tigers win at Yale, they trounced the Bulldogs by a score of 29-7, the first time since 2006 the Tigers have defeated rivals Harvard and Yale in the same season. But bonfire aside, Princeton will host Dartmouth (5-4, 3-3) in its last game of the season this Saturday in what promises to be a challenging and emotional test, with a share of the Ivy League title still possibly on the line.
The Tigers are lead by a balanced attack on both sides of the ball, ranking second in the Ivy League in points per game and third in points allowed. A big reason for the defense’s success has been senior defensive lineman Mike Catapano, who leads the Ivy League with 10 sacks.
Princeton’s offense also features a great amount of talent. Breakout wide receiver Roman Wilson has become a big-time threat as a junior, and sophomore quarterbacks Connor Michelsen and Quinn Epperly have played increasingly well as the season has worn on. Michelsen suffered an injury to his shoulder at Yale, however, and his availability for the Dartmouth game was uncertain as of Thursday evening.
According to Catapano, the biggest asset Princeton has is its senior leadership, separating this year’s team from ones that have struggled in previous seasons.
“This group of seniors just went the extra mile to get the attitude right, to make sure we adopt a winning championship culture,” he said. “I think that’s what has been showing on the field, more than anything else.”
Beating both Yale and Harvard in the same season is a sign that Princeton is once again relevant on the Ivy League football landscape.
“Princeton versus Yale is a really historic game; we look forward to it every year. To have the added bonus that we already beat Harvard makes it all the more special,” Catapano said. “You really understand what you’re a part of with this university, how long it’s been around, how long the traditions are.”
But before celebrating at 7 p.m. Saturday, the Tigers must first focus on Dartmouth, which will pose some interesting challenges for Princeton this weekend. The Big Green is similar to Princeton in that it is balanced on both sides of the ball, ranking fourth in the league in both points scored and points allowed.
“They’ve got a really good quarterback who can run the ball, who can also throw the ball. They’ve probably got one of the best running backs in the Ivy League, but they also have some really good receivers who can hurt you if they get down the field,” Catapano said.
That running back is junior Dominick Pierre, who ranks second in the league in rushing and averages over 100 yards per game. Catapano and the defensive line will definitely have its hands full trying to stop him.
The Tigers are looking to finish off a momentous regular season, which has been a turning point for the program in many ways. If Princeton wins and league-leading Penn loses at Cornell this weekend, the Tigers will earn a share of the Ivy League title for the first time in six years.
Catapano said he and the rest of the seniors are proud of the work the team has done this season, changing the culture and perception of the football program nationwide.
“The bottom line is to bring the program to where it needs to be,” Catapano said. “I like to think that this season is really a turning point for Princeton, and that’s what I wanted to do more than anything.”
Princeton will finish off its regular season when it faces Dartmouth at 1 p.m. Saturday at Princeton Stadium.