The Princeton Tigers (9–0 overall, 6–0 Ivy) look to cap their undefeated season with a win against the Penn Quakers (6–3 overall, 3–3 Ivy) on Saturday at Powers Field.
Last year, Penn held off a Princeton comeback to win 38–35 after a missed field goal in the final seconds of the game. The Tigers have much more on the line in this year’s rivalry game.
Princeton has already secured a share of the Ivy League Championship, but a win on Saturday would secure its first sole Ivy League Championship since 1995 and its first undefeated season since 1964. After beating both Harvard (5–4) and Yale (5–4) in the same season, the Tigers also guaranteed a bonfire, Princeton’s first since 2013.
Princeton’s success comes from dominant units on both sides of the ball. Princeton’s offense ranks first in the Football Championship Subdivision (FCS), averaging 47.6 points per game. Princeton’s defense is holding opponents to an average of 12.9 points per game.
Senior quarterback John Lovett serves as a dual threat, passing for 1578 yards and 15 touchdowns while adding 771 yards and 12 touchdowns on the ground. Sophomore running back Collin Eaddy stepped up for the injured Charlie Volker and gashed Yale for 266 yards and three touchdowns last Saturday. Senior receiver Jesper Horsted leads the team’s receiving corps with 882 yards and 10 touchdowns.
On the defensive side, junior defensive back TJ Floyd’s six interceptions rank second in the Ivy League. Senior linebackers and captains Mark Fossati and Tom Johnson lead the team with 58 tackles each.
For teams doing well, overconfidence is often a concern, but this Princeton team has remained focused all season.
“Our guys do such a great job locking in on the details of our preparation. Having been in this league nine years, the teams in this league are better than I can ever recall. Every week presents great challenges,” head coach Bob Surace ’90 said.
Even with their success, in the past two games, the Tigers have struggled at times on either side of the ball. Dartmouth held the high-octane Princeton offense to 14 points two weeks ago, and Yale scored four touchdowns in the second half against the stout Princeton defense.
“We struggled against Dartmouth offensively, the second half of the Yale game, we struggled defensively, but you keep trusting and believing in each other and playing hard, and hope that it’s good enough to win,” Surace said.
Penn presents a strong challenge to Princeton, reminding Surace of Dartmouth in the number of looks that it provides.
“We’re going to have to do a great job executing assignments against a team that plays so many different looks that then combines the speed, athleticism, and physicality that they do,” he said.
Penn’s offensive line, in particular, will be a tough matchup. The stout unit only allowed seven sacks all season and paved the way for running back Karekin Brooks to average just under 100 yards a game. The quarterback it protects, Ryan Glover, has only thrown five interceptions this year, with two coming in last week’s loss to Harvard.
On the other side of the ball, the Penn defense is the 10th-ranked scoring defense, holding opponents to an average of 18.6 points per game. Penn has also corralled nine interceptions this season while keeping teams to 314.4 yards per game.
For the 29 seniors on this Tigers football team, this will be their last collegiate football game. The Class of 2019 was also part of the 2016 Ivy League Championship Team.
“This group [of seniors] has been so wonderful to coach. They enjoy all the work you put into [football], they enjoy each other’s company, they are accountable,” said Surace. “If anything, they are leaders.”