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On Saturday, No. 18 Princeton (6–0 overall, 3–0 Ivy) faced an unfamiliar challenge this season: a close game. Princeton entered the game with an undefeated record and 43.4-point average margin of victory but needed all 60 minutes to put away Harvard (3–3, 1–2) in a 29–21 victory in Cambridge, Mass.

Saturday’s game looked in the beginning like it could turn into another blowout. The Tiger defense forced a punt on Harvard’s first drive, and Princeton proceeded to drive down the field for a touchdown on its first possession. Senior quarterback John Lovett, playing with a cast on his left arm after missing last week’s game due to injury, capped off the drive with a 33-yard touchdown run on a fourth-and-short play. 

After that, however, the Crimson defense did a stellar job containing Lovett and the rest of the Princeton offense. Princeton would score just three more points in the first half, as junior kicker Tavish Rice hit a short field goal in the second quarter to give Princeton a 10–0 lead. Harvard responded quickly, mounting a 12-play touchdown drive to reduce its deficit to three points going into halftime. 

Neither offense managed to get much going in the third quarter, and the entered the fourth quarter as a defensive struggle, with Princeton still clinging to a 10–7 lead. 

Held in check for most of the game, Princeton’s offense began to regain its form in the fourth quarter. Early in the quarter, Princeton drove down the field and eventually found itself facing a fourth-and-four on the Harvard 35-yard line, and head coach Bob Surace ’90 elected to roll the dice. It paid off, as senior wide receiver Steve Carlson drew a defensive pass interference penalty in the end zone, and Lovett found Princeton’s other star senior wide receiver Jesper Horsted for a 20-yard touchdown pass on the next play. Harvard blocked the extra point, but Princeton came out of the scoring drive with a two-possession 16–7 lead. 

Princeton extended the lead to 15 later in the quarter as the defense forced a turnover on downs in Harvard territory and senior running back Charlie Volker finished off a short drive with a 1-yard touchdown run. 

To Harvard’s credit, the Crimson still would not give in. The Crimson scored twice more on deep touchdown throws by quarterback Tom Stewart, the second of which came less than two minutes after a 49-yard touchdown run by Volker. Princeton recovered a Crimson onside kick attempt with less than a minute left to seal the 29–21 win.

Throughout the game, a stout Harvard defense caused problems for a Princeton offense that had seemed unstoppable through its first five games. Apart from a few long runs, the Crimson defensive front stifled Princeton’s running game, as Princeton struggled to move the ball until the fourth quarter. Lovett was also not as effective as usual throwing the ball, going just 15 of 31 for 207 yards, 126 of which went to Horsted. The Tigers were also uncharacteristically undisciplined, committing 7 penalties for 66 yards. 

With the Tiger offense floundering for much of the game, Princeton leaned heavily on its defense to keep getting stops against the Harvard offense. Particularly noteworthy was the performance of junior safety TJ Floyd, who intercepted a pass in the Princeton end zone on a trick play-wide receiver pass in the second quarter and forced a fumble in the fourth that Princeton recovered. Princeton’s defensive unit also kept Stewart uncomfortable in the pocket, recording four sacks. 

Saturday’s narrow win was the first time this season that Princeton looked anything short of unbeatable. With several tough Ivy teams still on the schedule, starting with Cornell (3–3, 2–1) next week and then showdowns against fellow unbeaten No. 24 Dartmouth (6–0, 3–0) and Yale (4–2, 2–1) to follow, the Tigers should certainly expect Saturday not to be the last highly competitive game they will play this season. 

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