After a nearly two-year absence due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Princeton football (2 – 0) welcomed fans back to Powers Field on Saturday with a thunderous 63–0 victory over the Stetson Hatters (2–1).
The game was the Tigers’ first at Powers Field since Nov. 16, 2019, which was a tough 51–14 loss against Yale.
For the second week in a row, the Tigers were able to open up a big lead in the first half that gave them a comfortable cushion for much of the game. After going three-and-out on their first offensive drive, the Tigers scored on nearly every drive in the game.
The Tigers were also able to pressure the opposing quarterback throughout the game, coming up with multiple sacks.
Early on, two rushing touchdowns from senior quarterback Cole Smith, a pair of first-year kicker Jeffrey Sexton field goals, and a two-point conversion allowed the Tigers to jump out to a 21–0 lead.
Before the half, last week’s leading receivers senior Jacob Birmelin and junior Andrei Iosivas picked up one receiving touchdown each to give the Tigers a 35–0 lead, capping off a 25-point quarter.
Birmelin now has 206 yards and two touchdowns through the first two games of the year. After the game against Stetson, the ‘Prince’ spoke to Birmelin about his previous experience playing with Smith, which has allowed the pair to get off to such a hot start.
“We came in in the same class. We both took the year off, so we’ve been getting reps together since JV football, and that was five years ago,” Birmelin said. “I’ve always known Cole is the man, and our chemistry is just great right now.”
The Tigers came out firing on all cylinders in the second half, marching down the field with ease. Wide receiver senior Dylan Classi capped off the drive with a 15-yard receiving touchdown. Classi caught a screen pass from Smith at the Stetson 17 yard line, and despite making contact with a Stetson defender at the 11, was able to will his way into the end zone with a boost from a number of Tiger offensive linemen.
“Dylan Classi is just a playmaker,” Smith told the ‘Prince’ after the game. “He can get separation and come down with catches that are absolutely jaw-dropping.”
A number of backups got the chance to play in the second half, with both first-year running back John Volker and sophomore quarterback Blake Stenstrom scoring on the ground to give the Tigers a 56–0 lead. Junior running back Chiago Anyanwu added a rushing touchdown in the closing minutes to bring the final score to 63–0.
The win was the Tigers’ biggest since their 66–0 victory over Cornell in October 2018, and nearly doubled their margin of victory from last week, when they beat Lehigh 32-0 in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. Quarterback Cole Smith finished with 225 passing yards and four touchdown passes. He now has 637 yards and 7 touchdowns on the season.
“Last week, it felt good to get a win but there were a lot of points left out there on the field,” Smith said. “Even early on, with a couple field goals, we wanted to make those touchdowns, and we came out swinging pretty good in the second quarter, and things started hitting.”
Although the Tigers’ offense has been clicking to start the year, scoring an average of 47.5 points per game, the defense has been on fire too, having yet to allow a single point. It was Stetson’s first time being shut out since 2014.
After the game, the ‘Prince’ spoke to junior defensive lineman Michael Azevedo about the biggest key to their hot start.
“Everybody is winning one-on-one matchups,” Azevedo said. “We had seven sacks today, and allowed negative rushing yards. That all comes down to the guys up front being able to do their job because the guys at the back are doing their job. We’re getting sacks because we have great coverage, but at the same time, we have great coverage because we have great pressure.”
The Tigers begin Ivy League play at home against Columbia next Saturday, Oct. 2 at 1 p.m.. Princeton is 8–1 in its last 9 matchups against the Lions.
“Having another goose egg is awesome, but obviously we need to clean up a few small things, myself included,” Azevedo added. “But, we feel confident going into the next one. Every week is important in the Ivy League.”
After the Columbia game, the Ivy League preseason poll-winning Tigers will take on Monmouth and Brown on the road before returning home to face Harvard on Oct. 23, at the back end of fall break.
Wilson Conn is a staff writer for the 'Prince' sports section. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on twitter at @wilson_conn.