In their first Ivy League game of the season, the Princeton Tigers outlasted the Columbia Lions in a physical and attritional contest on Powers Field, winning by a score of 24–7.
“We knew they were going to be a really physical team, it’s the same way every year when we play these guys,” Tigers senior running back Collin Eaddy told The Daily Princetonian after the game. “We call them the ‘city boys.’ There was a lot of chatter, a lot of extra stuff on the pile, but we stuck to our guns and played smart.”
The victory brings the Tigers’ record to 3–0 on the year and gives them a 1–0 start in Ivy League play. The win was Princeton’s ninth in their last 10 tries against Columbia and follows a 21–10 victory that the Tigers secured over the Lions in their last matchup in 2019.
The Tigers were not able to start as hot offensively as they had in the other two games this season. On the first drive, senior quarterback Cole Smith was intercepted by Columbia’s defensive back Fara’ad McCombs. Columbia’s ensuing drive stalled. Princeton still found a scoring opportunity later in the quarter as Smith found senior wide receiver Andrei Iosivas for a 30-yard completion, which set up a field goal for first-year kicker Jeffrey Sexton.
Throughout the remainder of the first half, the Tigers controlled the pace of the game, keeping the ball on the ground and playing stifling defense. This strategy culminated in freshman running back Ja’Derris Carr’s one-yard rushing score midway through the second quarter, which gave the Tigers a 10–0 lead. The drive ate up over seven and a half minutes of clock, as the Tigers marched 67 yards in 16 plays.
The teams exchanged punts for the rest of the quarter, until Columbia’s final drive of the first half, when they were able to work into Princeton territory. With the ball at the 20-yard line and with 13 seconds remaining in the first half, junior defensive lineman Uche Ndukwe was able to sack Columbia quarterback Joe Green.
“I was running a little stunt with [junior defensive lineman Michael] Azevedo, he did all the work and I just got all of the glory,” Ndukwe told the ‘Prince’ after the game.
Unfortunately, the euphoria was short-lived. A delay of game penalty called on the Tigers gave Columbia a chance to attempt a 45-yard field goal before the half.
“After that sack, it was a pretty overwhelming moment, so I needed to sit down for a second. And then I just saw some penalty, I’m not even sure what happened,” Ndukwe recounted.
“We were on the phones, and I said if we sack him here, the half is going to end,” head coach Bob Surace ’90 told the ‘Prince’ after the game. “We sacked him, and in the celebration, somebody knocked the ball away, and they called a delay.”
The Tigers managed to block the field goal attempt, maintaining a 10–0 advantage as they headed into the locker rooms for halftime.
“The sideline erupted. It was a great response,” Surace noted.
Coming out of the half, Columbia marched down the field and scored a touchdown on a 19-yard pass from Green to tight end Luke Painton, making the score 10–7. The Lions used 11 plays to go 66 yards in four minutes, 14 seconds. Instead of doing damage through the run game, as Princeton had in the first half, the Lions attacked through the air, with 56 passing yards on the drive.
The Lions got the ball back again after the Tigers stalled on the ensuing offensive possession, driving inside the 20 before a sack forced them into a 47-yard field goal attempt, which Columbia kicker Alex Felkins missed wide left.
As the third quarter drew to a close, the Tigers drove into Columbia territory but were stopped on 4th and 1 at the 30-yard line, giving the ball back to the Lions. The run game was effective through three quarters, though, with Eaddy having 17 carries for 78 yards, and Smith having 14 carries for 53 yards.
Unfortunately for the Tigers, the success on the ground didn’t help open up much in the air. Smith and his receivers struggled to make a successful play, with a slough of incompletions and a few near-interceptions telling the story of the second-half passing game. With 11 minutes, 39 seconds remaining in the fourth quarter, Smith was just 6-for-15 for 64 yards and an interception.
“It wasn’t the greatest throwing day. They played a lot of men, we struggled trying to break away,” coach Surace said. Smith finished with nine completions on 20 attempts for 119 yards.
“Shoutout to the defense,” Eaddy added. “Sometimes you’ll hit lows on offense and the defense picks us up in those times.”
Through three quarters, while the Princeton offense struggled, the defense held Columbia well under 200 total yards of offense, allowing just 48 rushing yards. The Tigers have only yielded seven points to opposing offenses through three games.
“How close we are and how much we trust each other is going to make the difference in close games,” Ndukwe said of the relationship between his defensive teammates and himself. “I don’t think a lot of teams have the same heart and same chemistry that we have.”
After the defense once again came up with a key stop, the next offensive drive started with a 14-yard rush by Smith. Plays later, a pass interference penalty by the Columbia defense and a 23-yard catch by senior tight end Carson Bobo gave Princeton first and goal from the 3-yard line. On second and goal, Eaddy rushed in for a two-yard touchdown, and the Tigers’ lead was back to 10 at 17–7.
The touchdown was the 20th of Eaddy’s career.
“It’s always nice to get in the end zone, but I credit the offensive line. They were moving guys all day,” Eaddy said.
The Tigers’ offense continued to cook on the ensuing drive. After a big connection of 22 yards through the air between Smith and senior wide receiver Jacob Birmelin, Eaddy threw defenders off of his back en route to a hard-fought 17-yard rushing touchdown, his second of the day. He finished with 103 yards, breaking the 2,000-yard mark for his Princeton career and becoming the 7th in Princeton football history to do so.
“The defensive end crashed down … I thought I was wrapped up, but I dropped my shoulder and he fell off,” Eaddy recalled. “Then I walked into the end zone. It was a lot of great blocking, especially from [senior wide receiver] Dylan [Classi] on that play.”
“That run was just amazing, I don’t know how he [stayed up],” Surace added.
The touchdown expanded the Princeton lead to 24–7, and the final minutes ticked away, ensuring a Tiger victory.
“The first two games, we didn’t really have to show our heart. It was a walk in the park,” Eaddy said. “This was a good test for us.”
The Tigers are now tied atop the Ivy League with Dartmouth, who are 1–0 in Ivy play and 3–0 overall following their 31–7 victory over Penn on Friday night. Yale and Harvard, who, along with Dartmouth and Princeton, rounded out the top half of the Ivy League preseason poll, each won out-of-league games Saturday. Yale beat Lehigh 34–0, while Harvard topped Holy Cross 38–13. Yale is 2–1 on the year and Harvard is 3–0.
Next Saturday, the Tigers will travel to Monmouth for an out-of-conference road matchup. The teams have only met once previously back in 2018 for a game that saw Princeton win 51–9 at Powers Field.
After the Monmouth game, the team will be heading to Brown to resume Ivy League play on October 16th. The Tigers’ next home game will be against Harvard on Oct. 23rd.
Julia Nguyen is a staff writer for the news and sports sections at the 'Prince.' She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on instagram at @jt.nguyen.
Wilson Conn is a staff writer for the 'Prince' sports section. He can be reached at email@example.com or on twitter at @wilson_conn.