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Football focused on details ahead of Ivy League opener against Columbia

<h5>The football team prepares to enter the field in their game against Stetson.</h5>
<h6>Wilson Conn / The Daily Princetonian</h6>
The football team prepares to enter the field in their game against Stetson.
Wilson Conn / The Daily Princetonian

In their first conference game since Fall 2019, Princeton football (2–0) will take on Columbia (2–0), on Saturday, Oct. 2. 

The Tigers shut out their first two opponents of the season for the first time since 1965: 32–0 against Lehigh and 63–0 against Stetson. Though the team has made the game look easy so far, the matchup on Saturday is likely to prove a challenge.

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The Daily Princetonian spoke to head coach, Bob Surace ’90, about the team’s much-awaited return to Ivy League play.

“The best part [about coming back] is always the people. We’re in a relationship business at the end of the day, and although we adjusted the best we could, it’s not the same when you're on Zoom, and it’s not the same when you’re thousands of miles away from each other,” he said.

Surace’s team is likely to agree with him — 17 seniors and 10 juniors on the football team chose to take a gap year during the pandemic when the 2020 Ivy League season was canceled. Now, they’re back and ready to make up for all the time they’ve lost.

“I think they were just so happy to be back,” Surace said. “I don’t think any of them ever took playing for granted — but when something’s taken away that you really enjoy doing, and you get to do it again, there’s a greater appreciation for that.”

“We opened up later than some of the other teams, so I had our team go to the first open event on campus — the women’s soccer game back in early September, and to see that team smiling and playing with joy made me feel really good,” he added. “So the best part is definitely seeing the joy my own players have when they come out to practice and they’re all together.”

Both the Tigers’ offense and defense are on a roll, with offense scoring an average of 47.5 points per game, and defense having yet to allow a single point. But Surace takes nothing for granted. 

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“I thought in both games against Stetson and Lehigh, we came out with a lot of energy. We’ve executed well and we're getting closer to being precise. But as we head into league play this week against Columbia, we have to tighten some things out and be a bit more exact with what we’re doing,“ he said. “I saw our effort and our energy — and we just have to keep growing, and focusing on the things that demand more precision.”

Historically, games against Columbia have been close calls. This time two years ago, Princeton defeated Columbia 21–10, but not without a fight. 

“Going up against Columbia, through the years, and more so recently, since Coach Al Bagnoli took over the program, have been mostly physical one-score games,” Surace said. 

“So it comes down to the details, it comes down to the small things: executing in third downs, red zones, special teams. In a 60-minute game, you don’t know what three or four players are going to make the difference, but you do know that it’s going to come down to a few plays against them. Typically, our games against [Columbia] have been nail biters and really competitive challenges. We’ve won some, lost some. The ones we’ve won, we’ve won by a margin, because of those details.”

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Sreesha Ghosh is an Associate Sports Editor at the 'Prince.' She can be reached at sreeshag@princeton.edu or on Twitter at @sreeshaghosh.

Matt Drapkin is a contributor to the ‘Prince’ sports section. He can be reached at mattdrapkin@princeton.edu.

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