After coming off of a historic victory over Harvard last weekend, Princeton football (6–0) will face the Cornell Big Red (1–5) on Friday.
Last weekend, the Tigers managed to pull off a gutsy 18–16 win against the Crimson to stay undefeated. This win was the fourth year in a row that Princeton succeeded in conquering Harvard, with their last loss occurring in 2016. The game was a defensive battle that came down to five overtime periods. In the fifth, senior quarterback Cole Smith converted a two-point conversion attempt to senior wide receiver Jacob Birmelin while senior defensive back Trevor Forbes then knocked away the potential tying attempt to give Princeton a gripping win in front of a crowd of 10,033 at Powers Field.
“It lived up to its billing. Two really good teams in a terrific, intense struggle,” said Head Coach Bob Surace ’90. “I’m so proud of our guys and their resiliency and how they continue to battle. But I have to credit Harvard. They were a terrific team. ”
The win was not without controversy. In the third overtime, Harvard appeared to have scored what would have been the game-winning conversion, but it was eventually overturned as field officials confirmed that Surace had called timeout before the snap occurred. The Ivy League later released a statement, explaining that “the timeout should not have been granted and the play should have resulted in a successful two-point conversion.” The outcome of the game still stands as a win for Princeton.
“You know I sent them a text when I heard about that,” said Surace, when asked about the official review, “I told the team, you know, we don't have to look at statements. We won the game and that's the bottom line. You earned it and you move forward to the next game. We’re going up against Cornell in less than a week.”
The win puts the Tigers solely at the top of the Ivy League standings. The team hopes to continue their hot streak with a win in Ithaca. Meanwhile, the Big Red will be looking to secure the second Ivy League win of the season.
“Their record doesn’t reflect their strength,” said Surace. “It doesn’t reflect that they were beating Harvard for most of the game until they lost or that their game against Yale came down to the last few seconds.”
Surace expects yet another great game from Cornell.
“In 2019, we played them on a Friday night and it was a great game that we hung on to win 21–7. But they have the biggest senior group in the conference. Fifty-one if I counted right. They’re a veteran team and they’ve got really good athletes and big physical linemen on both sides. It’s going to be a test.”
The Tigers’ defense has allowed, on average, only 15.5 points per game. During the Harvard game, Princeton’s defense shined yet again, giving up 234 yards and just 13 downs. Harvard was 4-of-20 on third down and 0-of-3 on fourth down.
“I think we’re really doing a great job being disciplined and running to the ball,” said Surace. “That Harvard offense was one of the faster offenses that I can recall, and I thought we matched their speed really well. We’ve had a few blips here and there, but I think we’ve really been really good at our tackling and that’s so key to playing good defense.”
Offensively, the Tigers average 37.33 points per game. After a week of career days for multiple Tigers, Princeton’s offensive line took a hit during the Harvard game. Smith completed half of his passes against the Crimson defense and ended the game with four interceptions and zero touchdowns.
“I think our guys have really been so mature. There’s been some ups and downs during the course of our games and our guys have been terrific with that. And even in that game, we had a lot of positives going throughout the game offensively but they also held steady when things weren’t going our way. It was a great look. As a coach, that makes you feel good,” said Surace.
That is not to say that the Tigers are content with where they are. With several negative plays and four turnovers on offense against Harvard, Surace said the Tigers have to be better going forward.
“There’s a lot of good players, and I have to do a better job at putting them in better positions,” Surace said. “So while I would have loved us to do better [in the Harvard game], there’s respect for the opponent. Now, we just have to go back and iron those things out.”
As far as Surace is concerned, the ironing out started the minute the Harvard game came to an end: “I was on an adrenaline high after the game on Saturday, and I just couldn’t go to sleep when I got home. So I pulled an all-nighter and started watching some of the Cornell games.”
“I felt like a student again. And this is my midterm week,” he said.
The Tigers will take the test on Friday, Oct. 29 at Schoellkopf Field at Cornell.
Sreesha Ghosh is an Associate Sports Editor at the ‘Prince’. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at @sreeshaghosh.
Arav Jagroop is a contributor to the ‘Prince’ sports section. He can be reached at email@example.com.
Editor’s Note: This story previously referred to the Big Red as the Cornell Bears. The ‘Prince’ regrets this error.