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Princeton dominates Penn to secure 13th Ivy League title in program history

<h6>Mitchell Shields / goprincetontigers.com</h6>
Mitchell Shields / goprincetontigers.com

Needing one more win to secure a fourth Ivy League title in eight seasons, the Princeton Tigers (9–1) were able to deliver a massive performance against the Penn Quakers (3–7), closing out the highly anticipated 2021 season as champions.

While the final score of 34–14 reflected a dominant outing for the Tigers, it did not begin that way, as a slow first quarter for both teams kept the game wide open. After subsequent three and outs by Princeton and Penn, the Tigers were able to put points on the board during their second drive, with senior punter George Triplett notching a 31-yard field goal. Following that drive, Princeton was held scoreless for the rest of the quarter, as Penn’s physical defense looked to spoil the Tigers’ hopes of a championship. The Quaker’s offense also seemed to gain some momentum, capping an eight-play, 75-yard drive with a touchdown to go up 7–3 at the end of the first.

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Just three minutes into the second quarter, the Tigers were able to answer, with a five-yard rushing touchdown from sophomore quarterback Blake Stenstrom, putting Princeton ahead 10–7 and allaying some of the uneasiness that had set in. However, with only a slim three point lead in this high stakes game, the Tigers were still searching for the play that would change the course of the game. Luckily, the search did not last long as senior defensive back Matthew Winston made a house call and returned an interception for a touchdown, making the score 17–7. The pick six immediately helped the Tigers gain momentum on both sides of the ball, with the defense forcing Penn to punt on their next drive and the offense adding an 18-yard touchdown through the air to freshman running back John Volker on a double reverse. Throughout the rest of the second quarter, Princeton did not let up. Senior quarterback Cole Smith logged a two-yard rushing touchdown to give the Tigers a 31–7 lead, and the Quakers were held scoreless for the remainder of the first half.

While the Tigers only managed to score three points in the second half, their defense was able to hold Penn to just seven. The damage done in the second quarter proved to be enough to put the Quakers away.

During this passionate team win, the seniors of the team truly played the game like it was their last. Smith, behind a dominant offensive line built of all seniors, completed 20 of his 28 passes for 214 yards and tallied 69 yards and a touchdown on the ground, rounding off a brilliant season. Senior defensive linemen Samuel Wright II had three sacks, senior linebackers Jeremiah Tyler and James Johnson combined for 11 tackles, and senior defensive back Christian Brown recorded an interception. Senior receivers Jacob Birmelin and Dylan Classi also made strong contributions, with six catches on the day for Birmelin and Classi showing off his versatility with a touchdown pass to Volker. Senior long snapper Ryan McNeil finished with yet another perfect game to set up multiple field goals and extra point attempts, keeping his error-free career unblemished. Finally, it was a senior that made the game changing play for Princeton, as Winston’s pick six gave the Tigers assurance that there would be no upset.

After a year filled with uncertainty and waiting due to the COVID-19 pandemic, this season has shown Princeton to be a team full of fight. Even with their title odds appearing shaky after a tough loss to Dartmouth, the Tigers were able to bounce back with a statement win. 

“It's been such a journey. Going through the good, keeping the faith when we didn't know what would happen. It's just a testament to their character and resilience,” said head coach Bob Surace ’90.

The team’s 13th Ivy League title in program history and their triumphant victories against Harvard and Yale will be celebrated with the campus-wide bonfire, marking a picture perfect ending to the season.

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Post-game, Tyler expressed the emotions of the team. 

“This is crazy. This is why we took the whole year off,” he said. “I'm just glad our hard work has come to fruition. All the time, all the sweat, blood and tears that we shared have paid off. There's no better feeling than right now."

Eric Lee is a staff writer for the 'Prince' sports section.' He can be reached at ericlee@princeton.edu, or on Instagram at @airic.lee.

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