Football: Dartmouth hands Tigers season-ending loss
There are two ways to look at the football season following Saturday’s 35-21 loss to Dartmouth. From the more optimistic viewpoint, the Tigers surpassed everyone’s expectations but their own, finishing tied for third with a winning Ivy League record, including wins over Harvard and Yale to earn a bonfire. The pessimistic view, however, is one of missed opportunities. Princeton was the last unbeaten team in the league, and even after its first loss to Cornell, it still controlled its path to the Ivy League title.
Despite faltering late in the season, Princeton still entered Saturday’s game with its hopes for the Ivy League title still alive, needing a win over Dartmouth and a Penn loss to Cornell in order to share the title. However, the game against the Big Green (6-4 overall, 4-3 Ivy League) went very similarly to the season as a whole — a hot start by the Tigers (5-5, 4-3) being undone by poor play in the second half.
The game started off slowly, with neither team scoring any points in the first quarter. After blocking a kick early in the second quarter, however, the Tigers got on the scoreboard first with a four-yard run from sophomore quarterback Quinn Epperly, capping a 75-yard drive in which the team did not face a single third down. Epperly, who has come off the bench to share time with sophomore quarterback Connor Michelsen for most of the season, started Saturday’s game with Michelsen unavailable due to a shoulder injury.
Princeton then added to its lead after a Dartmouth blocked punt was picked up by freshman cornerback John Hill and returned 23 yards for a touchdown.
Dartmouth went into the half with momentum on its side, though, after a seven-yard touchdown pass and a bad snap by Princeton on a fourth-down field-goal attempt from the 2-yard line.
The Big Green maintained its momentum to open the second half, scoring on its opening drive. On the second play of the ensuing drive, Epperly lost a fumble, and the Big Green was able to capitalize with a touchdown. Things got even more out of control for the Tigers when sophomore tailback Will Powers fumbled the following kickoff to give Dartmouth the ball at the 25-yard line; six plays later, the Big Green had reached the end zone yet again.
All in all, Dartmouth turned a seven-point deficit into a 14-point lead in the first six minutes of the second half, during which Princeton ran a total of two offensive plays.
“Obviously when things happen like that, that’s us making mistakes,” senior linebacker Andrew Starks said. “When you’re playing a team that has some athletes like they do, you can’t make mistakes like that. With that being said, I wouldn’t say we were unraveling. I think at that point we still thought we were going to win the game.”
From that point on, Princeton struggled to play in catch-up mode, failing to get into Dartmouth territory in all but one of their remaining drives. After he threw an interception in their first drive of the fourth quarter, Epperly was removed from the game, as he had sustained a shoulder injury on the first drive.
Without Epperly and Michelsen, the Tigers were left with freshman quarterback Kedric Bostic to try to guide the team to a miraculous comeback, which became even more challenging when Dartmouth extended its lead to 21 points after the Epperly interception. After going three-and-out on his first drive, Bostic led the team down the field on his second attempt and scored on a 9-yard touchdown run. But only three minutes were left in the game, not enough time for the Tigers, as the Big Green recovered Princeton’s onside kick and ran out the clock.
The Tigers struggled to contain Dartmouth quarterback Dalyn Williams, who threw for a career-high three touchdown passes.
“He’s a great player,” senior defensive lineman Mike Catapano said. “He’s really elusive. I think we had him in our hands a bunch of times, but he’s a very elusive, athletic guy who can also make throws while being dragged to the ground.”
In the end, Princeton’s loss did not end up costing the team a share of the Ivy League title, as Penn beat Cornell on a late touchdown. But players said that fact did not make Saturday’s loss any less painful.
“It would have been nice if Cornell could have pulled it out,” Starks said. “But we just wanted to win this game ... It doesn’t relieve any of the tension.”
Overall, the Tigers finished the 2012 season with an even 5-5 record and a 4-3 mark in the Ivy League, good for a three-way tie for third behind Penn and Harvard.
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