Princeton's (2-0 overall, 0-0 Ivy League) home opener against Monmouth (2-2) began with a firework display above Powers Field as the Tigers ran out onto the field. Despite the early entertainment, the Tigers’ offense quickly took center stage. Senior quarterback John Lovett threw for 332 yards on 21-27 passing, senior wide receiver Jesper Horsted hauled in 3 touchdowns to set the Princeton record for career receiving touchdowns with 20, and the offense posted 49 points in a commanding 51-9 victory.
Saturday's game started shakily for both Princeton offense and defense. On the first play from scrimmage, Monmouth running back Pete Guerriero broke off a 71-yard run, and Lovett overthrew a wide-open receiver downfield on Princeton's first offensive down. To put it mildly, both units managed to settle in quickly. Princeton held Monmouth to a field goal on their first drive after senior safety Ben Ellis made a touchdown-saving tackle on the long run, and Lovett engineered three consecutive touchdown drives to open the game. The defense only allowed one more touchdown, and the offense kept its collective foot on the brake, as the Tigers took a 30-9 lead into halftime and never looked back.
Lovett, who won the 2016 Ivy League Offensive Player of the Year Award as a primarily running quarterback in a platoon with current Arizona Cardinal Chad Kanoff '18, demonstrated that he’s made the leap as an every-down passing quarterback. He made several accurate throws downfield, including the 81-yard pass to Horsted on which Horsted recorded his record-breaking 20th career TD reception, and played a practically mistake-free game, throwing five touchdowns and no interceptions.
“I thought John's deep balls were really beautifully thrown, and [the receivers] did a great job finishing them [for touchdowns],” said head coach Bob Surace '90.
Horsted, who had 150 yards on 8 catches to go along with the 3 touchdowns, agreed.
“He could always throw the ball, but he's learning to sit in the pocket and make good reads, and his throws are noticeably better,” Horsted said of his quarterback.
Lovett’s job was made easier, of course, by the caliber of receiver he was throwing to. Horsted and fellow senior receiver Stephen Carlson, both 6’4, proved too much for the Monmouth defense, without a defensive back listed above 6’1, to handle. The two combined to haul in 329 of Lovett’s 332 passing yards and all five touchdowns, as the Monmouth defense failed to contain either of them in single coverage.
“You physically can't take two guys to cover me,” said Horsted. “If they choose to do that they're going to have to go against Steve one-on-one, which as he showed today is just not something you want to do.”
While most of the attention, rightfully, will go to Princeton’s dynamic offense and Horsted’s record breaking day, the Princeton defense was also quietly stellar. After conceding the big run to open the game, the Tiger defense clamped down to hold a Monmouth team averaging 32.3 points per game entering the matchup to 337 yards and 9 points. The Princeton defensive line put pressure on Monmouth quarterback Kenji Bahar all day, recording five sacks, with six different players posting at least half a sack.
“They were going so hard, and I think we developed a nice rotation in there,” said Surace of his defensive line. “[Bahar] is a terrific quarterback, and we threw him off rhythm a little.”
Princeton also benefited from some Monmouth sloppiness. A halfback pass gone wrong in the first quarter led to a Princeton interception by junior TJ Floyd, and the Tigers scored on the next drive to take a 14-3 lead. Later, Monmouth conceded a safety after an errant snap forced Bahar to kick the ball out the back of his own end zone. Two of Princeton’s passing touchdowns came on coverage breakdowns, with Monmouth leaving a receiver uncovered in the end zone.
So, in their first intrastate matchup since 1980, Princeton proved clearly that they are the best FCS team in New Jersey.
“I told the guys, this is for the Jersey State Championship,” said Surace. “We knew the quality of the opponent we were playing, and we really raised our game.”
While unofficial state titles are nice, the real action begins Friday, Sept. 28, when Princeton travels to take on the Columbia Lions (2-0, 0-0) in their Ivy League opener. The Tigers should be pleased, then, that their star wide receiver won’t be resting on his laurels.
“The touchdown record is awesome, but I didn’t even know about it, and that’s not why I play,” said Horsted. “The team record is more important, and that’s what I’m focused on, and that’s even cooler.”