No. 17 Princeton’s (7–0 overall, 4–0 Ivy League) game Saturday against Cornell (3–4, 2–2) had the appearance of a classic “trap” game for the undefeated Tigers. Sandwiched in Princeton’s schedule between a hard-fought win against rival Harvard (3–4, 1–3) and a looming showdown against fellow Ivy unbeaten No. 20 Dartmouth (7–0, 4–0), Cornell entered the weekend playing better than their 3–3 record indicated, with losses against strong FCS opponents and stellar performances in recent weeks. It became quickly evident that Princeton would not fall for the trap. Instead, spectators saw the biggest blowout in a Princeton season full of lopsided wins. On a cold, rainy day, Princeton’s defense forced three interceptions in just the first quarter, its offense scored 45 first-half points, and the Tigers cruised to a 66–0 win.
“They stayed focused all week,” head coach Bob Surace ’90 said about the team. “It showed in how we played and how we executed.”
The Tigers’ win and Dartmouth’s 24–17 triumph over Harvard this afternoon set up a long-awaited home game next weekend against the undefeated Big Green.
Cornell’s offense started the game with the ball and picked up a few quick first downs, but turnovers quickly hindered their progress. Sophomore cornerback Trevor Forbes ended Cornell’s first drive with an interception on a fourth-and-10 play from the Princeton 40, and junior defensive tackle Joey DeMarco tipped a ball leading to an interception by sophomore linebacker Jeremiah Tyler on Cornell’s second possession. Later drives in the first quarter also ended in disaster for Cornell, including a botched snap leading to a blocked punt by first-year tight end Harrison Caponiti and a pass breakup by sophomore cornerback Delan Stallworth falling into the hands of junior safety TJ Floyd for the third interception of the quarter.
“We stress every week, one of our keys to victory is getting the ball out,” said senior linebacker and defensive captain Tom Johnson. “We’ve had a couple of drops in the past few weeks, and [the secondary’s] been working to get the ball.”
Given Cornell’s sloppiness with the ball early in the game, Princeton began many of its drives with favorable field position. The Tiger offense did not let many of those opportunities go to waste. After the second interception, senior quarterback John Lovett broke off a long run to get into the red zone, and senior running back Charlie Volker punched it in from the goal line with a one-yard touchdown run. That script replayed itself several times in the first quarter. After the blocked punt, Princeton capped off a short drive with another Volker one-yard touchdown, and after the third interception, Princeton made the score 21–0 on a four-yard touchdown run on a reverse play by senior wide receiver Jesper Horsted.
“They were able to produce turnovers early,” Lovett said about the defense. “That really helped us get our momentum going.”
Things would continue to go the Tigers’ way in the second quarter, as Princeton added three more touchdowns coming on a Lovett touchdown run, Volker’s third one-yard touchdown run of the game, and a touchdown reception by senior tight end Graham Adomitis. Sophomore kicker Nico Ramos booted a 37-yard field goal into the wind as time expired in the first half to make the score 45–0, and the game was essentially over as the teams entered the locker room for halftime.
In the adverse weather conditions, Princeton relied less than usual on deep passes to its tall wide receivers. Lovett attempted just two deep passes in the game, both to Horsted — the second of which was picked off in the end zone early in the second half for Lovett’s first interception of the season. Instead, the Tigers leaned heavily on their ground game, rushing the ball 32 times for 207 yards in the first half, with Lovett accounting for 17 of these attempts for 151 yards.
“We’ve had practices this year in those conditions or worse,” Lovett said. “The weather’s the same for both teams.”
Princeton’s defense certainly found the windy and rainy weather advantageous. The unit intercepted Cornell quarterback Dalton Banks four times, with the final interception coming from Floyd, his second of the game and sixth of the season. Princeton’s defensive reserves finished Princeton’s first shutout of the season by holding Cornell scoreless in the second half, an exciting result for a defense that had come close to the milestone several times this season.
“We wanted [the shutout],” Johnson said. “We’ve been close a couple times, and it’s great to see our younger guys get out and contribute.”
With backups in the game for most of the second half, Princeton failed to maintain its first-half offensive output. The touchdowns the team did score fired up the Princeton sideline, as senior fullback Cody Smith — a staple of the starting offense as a blocker — scored his first career touchdown, and reserve quarterbacks Zachary Keller and Cole Smith both ran for touchdowns in the fourth quarter.
As the tension-free second half dragged on and as it became clear that Dartmouth would defeat Harvard, the looming showdown between the two undefeated Ivies next weekend became increasingly imminent. Given that no other Ivy League team has fewer than two losses, next week’s winner will all but guarantee at least a share of the Ivy League title and a good shot at an undefeated season. Though the stakes may be higher and the opposing team tougher, the Tigers have yet to give much thought to Dartmouth and won’t treat them differently from any other opponent.
“We’ll approach it like any other week,” Lovett said.
“Tomorrow we’ll start talking about Dartmouth,” Surace added. “One of the reasons we are where we are is because we’ve stayed with tunnel vision every week.”