Football: Coach refuses to start popular left-handed quarterback*
Head coach Bob Surace ’90 surprised fans this week by refusing to name left-handed sophomore Quinn Epperly the starting quarterback for the football team’s final game of the season. With rookie Kedric Bostic sidelined due to concussion symptoms, Surace will instead be turning back to a more conventional quarterback with right-handed sophomore Connor Michelsen, who was benched two weeks prior.
The announcement enraged many of Princeton’s supporters, as Epperly has become a fan favorite due to his hard-nosed style of play and his Southern background. The Twitter hashtag #FreeQuinn trended on Princeton’s campus several times during the fall, and fans at Princeton Stadium mercilessly booed Surace last weekend when it became clear Epperly would not enter the game.
Skip Bayless, a host of the ESPN2’s debate show “First Take,” has brought the “Free Quinn” movement to a national stage. One of the southpaw’s most vocal supporters, Bayless devotes a 55-minute segment of his hour-long show to a pro-Epperly rant every morning. “This kid is a gamer. He’s a baller. He’s a playmaker and a shot caller,” he said in Monday’s monologue. “All he does is win.”
Detractors point to Epperly’s passing statistics, which are much less impressive than his rushing numbers. The quarterback, who has completed less than 55 percent of his career passes, has predominantly been used out of the Wildcat formation and has been criticized for his accuracy on downfield throws.
Still, Epperly’s fans point to the “magic” that the lefty has conjured in key situations. In his signature moment, Epperly lofted a long game-winning touchdown pass to secure his team’s biggest victory in six years as an underdog in front of a home crowd.
Michelsen has led Princeton teams to wins in the past, but critics have long charged that he is overrated, riding a strong defense to success. After committing five turnovers two weeks ago — including a particularly embarrassing play in which he hit an offensive lineman in the groin with a sloppy pass, which bounced into the air and was intercepted for a touchdown — Michelsen was benched for the first time in his career.
Instead of starting Epperly, Surace turned to Bostic for the first time, based on what he described as a “gut feeling.” The freshman was sacked 11 times in a 27-17 loss, eliciting boos from the 2,340 fans in attendance, and after the game it was revealed that he hadsuffered a concussion.
Epperly was disappointed that he was passed over for last week’s start and did not want to take snaps in a Wildcat system, according to ESPN reports, asking Surace if he could play “regular quarterback” instead. Even with Epperly available this week, Surace announced that he would turn back to Michelsen for the team’s season finale.
“I just feel more comfortable with Connor,” he said. “Obviously, Quinn’s not very happy with that.”
Epperly’s popularity and the team’s quarterback controversy has brought a media circus to Princeton, forcing the athletics department to block off the upper deck of the stadium as expanded press seating during games. This attention has extended to off-field stories; last week, the Daily News published a front-page photo of Surace lounging by DeNunzio Pool with a tattoo on his right bicep, which featured Cincinnati Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis wearing Michelsen’s No. 12 Princeton jersey.
Meanwhile, sources say it is a “virtual certainty” that Epperly will transfer to Jacksonville State after the semester ends.
“All you can ask for and all you want is a chance,” Epperly said. “A chance to go out there and play the game you love and help this team win football games. That’s all I wanted.”
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