When Princeton football began preparing for its 150th birthday, the initial plan was to schedule a game against Rutgers, Princeton’s opponent in the first-ever college football game in 1869.
The two programs made progress in negotiations, but after Rutgers replaced its football head coach and athletic director in late 2015, the talks stalled.
In the meantime, officials from the New York Yankees began to show interest in an alternative proposal: playing a game at Yankee Stadium to commemorate the anniversary. After coming to an agreement, Princeton chose to play the game on Nov. 9, 2019, because it was the Saturday after Nov. 6, the day in 1869 when Princeton and Rutgers faced off for the first time.
In retrospect, that decision worked out well. The opponent for this weekend happens to be No. 13 Dartmouth (7–0, 4–0 Ivy), who, along with No. 9 Princeton (7–0, 4–0 Ivy), will enter the game undefeated. Saturday’s game will thus not only represent a celebration of the team’s sesquicentennial anniversary in a special venue, but also a matchup between two of the best teams in the FCS, with significant Ivy League title implications.
If the Tigers are to extend their 17-game winning streak and put themselves in a strong position for a second consecutive Ivy championship, they’ll have their work cut out for them. The Big Green rank near the top of the country both offensively and defensively and have outscored their opponents by an average of 27 points per game. Prior to last week’s win over Harvard on a Hail Mary as time expired, they had won every game by double digits.
Last year, Princeton narrowly beat Dartmouth in another matchup of unbeaten teams, and many of the Big Green players from that game are back.
“Of their 22 starting offensive and defensive players, 17 of them are seniors,” said Princeton head coach Bob Surace ’90. “They’ve always been efficient, but [this year] it’s not just their efficient plays. They’re hitting more big plays, and you see it every game.”
On defense, Dartmouth is led by Isiah Swann, a senior defensive back who was named the Ivy League Defensive Player of the Year last year after leading all Division I with nine interceptions. At 5.42 this year, the Big Green have allowed the fewest yards per passing attempt in the FCS.
“[Swann] is elite, but they have a secondary and group of linebackers in coverage that have done a great job,” Surace said. “Where their play offensive tape is really long, they don’t give up a lot of big plays. They force teams to have to drive the field, which is challenging against a team that’s that good.”
Luckily for Princeton, the Tigers have a quarterback who’s playing pretty well, himself. Senior Kevin Davidson is second in the FCS in completion percentage at 70.3 percent and has thrown for 291 yards per game. Princeton’s deep receiving corps, with three players averaging more than 50 yards receiving per game, may allow them to avoid throwing the ball Swann’s way as much as possible.
There is uncertainty around the status of Dartmouth starting quarterback Jared Gerbino, who left Dartmouth’s game against Harvard with an injury and didn’t return. Dartmouth’s second quarterback, Derek Kyler, has received playing time throughout the season and threw the Hail Mary pass to lift Dartmouth over Harvard with seconds remaining.
Whoever gets the snaps at quarterback for the Big Green will have the benefit of throwing to two stellar receivers in Hunter Hagdorn and Drew Estrada, whom Surace compared to Princeton’s star duo last season: Jesper Horsted ’19 and Stephen Carlson ’19.
Despite the big stage and the tough opponent, Princeton will look to stick to the same principles that have gotten them to this point undefeated.
“I meet with the captains early in the week, and one of the things we talked about was just keeping the same routine, and that really came from them,” Surace said. “Dartmouth is awesome. They have a great team, so what we have to do is focus on putting out our best.”
The game is scheduled to begin at 3:30 p.m. and will be broadcast on ESPNU and WPRB 103.3 FM.