On a cold, windy, and even snowy Saturday afternoon at the Yale Bowl, Princeton picked off Yale — literally — to clinch a share of the 2018 Ivy League title and the first bonfire since 2013. Three Princeton players rushed for more than 100 yards, the defense forced four interceptions, and Princeton cruised to a 59–43 win over Yale, the highest score ever for the two teams in their historic rivalry.
One might have wondered whether Princeton would be ready for the game after an emotional and gritty win over Dartmouth. They answered that concern quickly as sophomore running back Collin Eaddy scored rushing touchdowns on the first two Princeton offensive plays with an interception by sophomore linebacker Jeremiah Tyler in between. Fifty-four seconds in, the Tigers were already up 14–0.
“I told my son [Eaddy] was going to have 150 yards rushing today,” said Princeton head coach Bob Surace ’90. “After the first play, I told [Eaddy]: halfway there.”
As Yale drove the ball on the ensuing drive, the defense would stand tall again, forcing a pick. Tyler tipped the pass by Yale quarterback Griffin O’Connor — making his second career start — and linebacker Tom Johnson came away with the interception. Just a few plays later junior Ryan Quigley burst up the middle and waltzed in for a 38-yard run. The best offense in the FCS was rolling on the ground and up 21–0 not even five minutes into the game.
“They were so ready to walk into this historic stadium and play,” said Surace about his team’s fast start. “We had a really good gameplan, and we executed some plays.”
The game was full of career performances for both teams. O’Connor, only a freshman, broke the single-game Yale record for passing yards with 465, at times hitting seam routes with NFL-quality precision. Had it not been for those early interceptions, this game may have been totally different. For the Tigers, making his first career start in place of the injured Charlie Volker, Eaddy had 265 yards and 3 touchdowns slicing through the defense and steamrolling defenders near the goalline.
“The offensive line did incredible,” said Eaddy. “Nothing special by us, that was really all them.”
Junior running back Ryan Quigley, who ran for 113 yards himself, agreed.
“All the credit to the O-line, we were just doing our jobs,” he said. “When the O-line makes holes like that, we’re just going to run as fast as we can.”
Midway through the second quarter showed just how powerful — at times unstoppable — this offense could be. After being stopped on 3rd and goal, Surace didn’t hesitate to leave the offense out on the field. Naturally, he turned to senior quarterback John Lovett — perhaps the NCAA’s newest “Johnny Football.” Lovett took the QB power and walked in for the score, putting the Tigers up 35–7. It was the 19th straight game with a rushing touchdown for Lovett, tying an Ivy record. Later Lovett showed off his arm, hitting senior receiver Jesper Horsted on the deep post, with Horsted doing the rest to score. At halftime, Princeton held a commanding 42–14 lead.
Yale opened the third quarter with some incredible catches, as the Bulldogs used the lack of a Princeton pass rush to stretch the field. O’Connor hit back to back plays of over 40 yards, one being an incredible catch by Yale receiver Reed Klubnik. After the Princeton traded a touchdown for a field goal, O’Connor drove the Bulldogs into Tiger territory again, hitting Klubnik for 50 yards. But on 4th and 6, he could not find his receiver along the sideline and after video review, the play stood as an incomplete pass.
In a game that even featured snow at one point, Yale refused to give in to the Ivy League’s best team. After another Lovett run to put the Tigers up 59–28 early in the 4th quarter, Yale buckled down on defense and made Princeton work to attain its title. O’Connor hit Klubnik on another seam route, and running back Alan Lamar plunged into the end zone for the first score. Three minutes later, O’Connor would hit Klubnik and his other receiver JP Shohfi for a two point conversion. Suddenly, this game was 59–43 and Princeton couldn’t seem to move the ball.
“We didn’t get any pass rush,” Surace said about the defense’s second-half struggles. “We’re going to have to go back and watch the video and see how we can be better this week.”
After Lovett was sacked with 4:42 to go, Yale had one more chance to score. However, senior linebacker Mark Fossati came up with a clutch interception, giving the Tigers the ball back with four minutes to play. From there, the offensive line and running backs did their job, knocking Yale down and out for the count.
Defense was certainly at a premium in this game, as the teams put up a combined 1129 yards in the game. However, Princeton won the game in the turnover battle, just another way this team has shown it is able to beat opponents. Yale’s freshman quarterback dazzled in his team’s near-comeback in the second half, but his four interceptions proved too much to overcome.
“It’s not just his arm strength and accuracy, it’s his poise and maturity,” said Surace in praise of O’Connor.
Princeton deservedly clinched its 12th Ivy League title exactly one year after Yale celebrated a title of their own in Princeton. It has a chance to clinch the League outright with a home game against Penn next Saturday. While there will be no playoff games due to athletic rules set by the University, if the Tigers win, they win would finish undefeated and recognized as one of the best teams in the FCS. Before this game, they climbed up to 11th in the NCAA FCS coaches poll; a statement win like today’s may be enough to move them into the top 10 for good.
There is clearly still work to be done in the Princeton football season. Lovett will continue to drive defensive coordinators crazy, while the defense will look back on today as a learning opportunity.
Princeton has cause to celebrate, but the team still has one more game to prepare for, next week’s finale against Penn.
“It’s really hard to win an Ivy League title, and I know the work they’ve put into it,” Surace said. “Enjoy it today, but then tomorrow we’re back to work.”
“It feels great,” Quigley added. “But we’re not really focused on the bonfire, we’re focused on Penn.”
Yet today, the Tigers took care of business and have guaranteed to give Princeton’s campus something they've been anticipating since 2013: a bonfire. So start gathering that wood, because this is going to get exciting.