It wasn’t always pretty, but the Tigers (5-3 overall, 4-1 Ivy) got it done when it counted and came out of Saturday’s matchup against Penn with a 22-17 win to keep their hopes of an Ivy title alive. Twenty-two points may not seem like a lot for an offense that has shown explosive potential almost all season, but it was enough in the end as the defense stepped up to frustrate the Penn offense all afternoon.
The Tigers capitalized on Quaker turnovers at key moments, a facet of the game the Tigers have been working to improve all season, giving them momentum and preventing the Quakers from scoring on a couple of drives that could have made all the difference in the win/loss column. Though, if you ask the Quakers’ coach Al Bagnoli, the game was “stolen” from them by the officials.
Sophomore cornerback Dorian Williams led the team with an 85-yard fumble recovery that set up the second field goal for junior kicker Nolan Bieck in the game. Though the Tigers struggled early with finding the end zone, the sophomore kicker continued to come through as he has all season. Bieck remains perfect on the season and set a new career high with a 46-yard field goal in the first quarter.
Penn targeted the Princeton secondary all day, but while they threw for 399 yards, two interceptions and a fumble, ill-timed penalties cost them scoring opportunities at crucial moments. Williams added an interception to his fumble recovery in one of the best performances by the Tiger secondary all season.
“It’s kind of an insult … the fact that they just keep going after one thing, trying to expose one thing on our defense, so I think it kind of motivates us,” Williams said.
Junior safety Matt Arends added 12 tackles and an interception to Williams’ 13 tackles, interception, 85-yard fumble recovery and 3 pass breakups. And while the Tiger offensive line gave up three sacks on the day, the Tiger defense downed Penn’s quarterback in the backfield five times to push the Quakers out of scoring position and end potentially game-tying drives. Sophomore linebacker RJ Paige and senior linebacker Mike Zeuli recorded a sack apiece, while sophomore defensive lineman Ty Desire led the team with two sacks on the day.
“[The secondary] started communicating a lot more and just focusing on what we needed to do, and I think that definitely showed in the second half,” Williams added.
Despite taking an early 12-0 lead, the Tigers went into the locker room at halftime only leading 19-10. However, they were ultimately successful in exploiting both senior quarterback Connor Michelsen’s passing ability and senior quarterback Quinn Epperly’s rushing ability.
“We always want to score more than we did tonight, but the games that you grind out … they almost taste a little better to you,” Epperly said.
Though initially having trouble finding the end zone, the Princeton offense did not punt once in the first half and outran the Penn rushing game 184 yards to four. Sophomore running back DiAndre Atwater returned to play to lead the Tigers with 98 yards on 17 attempts, while senior running back Will Powers added 62 yards on 12 attempts. Epperly added 37 rushing yards and a touchdown.
“We played with such great heart and how we finished that game with a stop on defense, and running out the clock is how we had to play today,” head coach Bob Surace ’90 said. “I just loved how physical we played, and we finished terrifically on both sides of the ball. [We] came up with some huge stops on defense.”
The Tigers will try to keep their chance at an Ivy League Championship alive next weekend when they head to Yale for their final road game of the season.