After two consecutive losses put a damper on a season with a 7–0 start, Princeton football (8–2, 5–2 Ivy) managed to finish the year the way it wanted. On Saturday, in Philadelphia, the Tigers scored 28 unanswered points and rushed for 283 yards to triumphs 28–7 over rival Penn (5–5, 3–4 Ivy).
The game represented the second straight year in which Princeton faced Penn in the final week of the season as part of the Ivy League’s initiative to finish the season with regional rivalry games, and it was Princeton’s second straight victory.
“It’s a rivalry game; we’re not necessarily fond of Penn,” said junior running back Collin Eaddy, who rushed for 174 yards and two touchdowns. “But we really just wanted to send the seniors out on a good note, and the fashion we did it [in] was impressive.”
Despite the win, the Tigers fell one game short of Ivy League co-champions Dartmouth and Yale, who beat Brown and Harvard, respectively, to secure one-loss seasons.
The Tigers struggled establishing the run in the past two weeks against Yale and Dartmouth, but they had little trouble doing so against Penn. In addition to Eaddy’s 174 yards on 30 carries, senior running back Ryan Quigley contributed 92 yards, and senior quarterback Kevin Davidson picked up important yards with his legs several times.
“The [offensive line] got it going today,” Eaddy said. “When they start rolling, I don’t feel like we can be stopped. If we can get efficient runs and stay ahead of the chains, that’s a big thing, and I feel like we did that well today.”
“They ran hard,” head coach Bob Surace ’90 said about the Princeton running backs. “I felt like the word of the week was ‘finish’ … That really helps your run game, getting the extra yard.”
Meanwhile, the Tiger defense didn’t allow any points after the 6:56 mark in the first quarter. Penn was able to move the ball down the field, recording 446 yards of offense, but Princeton stopped six of seven Penn fourth-down conversion attempts, including three inside the Princeton 10-yard line.
“Our theme of the week was finish and fight, and that really showed up on the field, getting those stops on third down [and] fourth down,” said junior defensive back Delan Stallworth, who led Princeton with 11.5 tackles. “We took two tough losses, and how we bounced back from that and how we fought in those critical situations was really good.”
After Penn scored the first touchdown of the game midway through the first quarter, Princeton responded on its next possession with an 11-play, 92-yard drive capped off with an Eaddy three-yard run to tie the score at 7–7.
A pass deflection by Stallworth on a fourth-and-two play from the Princeton six-yard line helped Princeton keep the Quakers off the board for the rest of the first half, and Princeton kicked a field goal with less than a minute remaining in the half to take a 10–7 lead into halftime.
The second half started frightfully, as sophomore running back Trey Gray was part of a hard collision and was down on the field for several minutes before being taken off the field in a stretcher with a head injury. Surace said that, while Gray will spend the night in the hospital, the team had received encouraging news about his status.
Princeton’s first drive of the second half resulted in Eaddy’s second touchdown; he reached the end zone from two yards out to give Princeton a 17–7 lead. After the Tigers got the ball back from another Penn turnover on downs, Princeton kicked a field goal to go up 20–7.
Penn had a chance to make it a one-possession game early in the fourth quarter, but on a fourth-down play from the Princeton five-yard line, Penn quarterback Nick Robinson overthrew a receiver in the back of the end zone. Princeton took over and promptly marched 95 yards in 13 plays and nearly eight minutes to take a commanding 28–7 lead with under seven minutes to play, and the game ended with that score.
Entering Saturday, Princeton needed both Dartmouth and Yale to lose to have a shot at an Ivy League title. Midway through the afternoon, it looked like that was a possibility. Dartmouth trailed Brown by nine points after the third quarter in Providence, and Yale trailed Harvard 15–3 at halftime in New Haven. Both teams came back to win, forcing Princeton to settle for a third-place finish.
With the win, Princeton’s record over the past two seasons sits at 18–2. Perhaps fittingly, that record is the reflection of the 2–18 record Princeton posted in Surace’s first two seasons in 2010 and 2011. But fresh off a victory to cap a successful season, he isn’t focused on grand narratives just yet.
“Today is about beating Penn, in my opinion,” Surace said. “To me, it’s the process, the way our seniors and these juniors have led. We didn’t win every game, and we’ll continue to work to get back to that point, but the other stuff is just awesome. I love coming to work, and I think they love coming to practices, and meetings, and lifts.”