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Football looks to clinch championship title in closer against Penn

<h5>The Tigers celebrate a win against Yale.</h5>
<h6>Mark Dodici / The Daily Princetonian</h6>
The Tigers celebrate a win against Yale.
Mark Dodici / The Daily Princetonian

The Tigers managed to keep their dream of the championship alive as they beat out the Yale Bulldogs 35–20 last Saturday. With this win, their record advances to 8–1 (5–1 Ivy League), tying them with Dartmouth for the number one seat in the conference. Both teams will seek to secure their spot at the top as they move into their final games for the season. Both Princeton and Dartmouth are heavily favored in their final matchups, facing off against Penn and Brown, respectively. Penn and Brown sit at the bottom of the league table, with identical records of 2–7 overall and 1–5 Ivy League. If either Princeton or Dartmouth loses their final games, they lose the championship. If both win, they will share the title. 

Last Saturday, the Tigers secured their second bonfire since 2013. The bonfire, which traditionally occurs when Princeton football defeats Harvard and Yale in the same season, last took place in 2018. 2019 saw Princeton fall to Yale 51–14, but this year, the Tigers flipped the script, even after the game was delayed by 90 minutes due to lightning. 

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When asked about the game, Head Coach Bob Surace ’90 said, “We were counting on it to be a tremendous game. You know, I’ve been around football my entire life and I’ve never experienced a lightning delay. And although it was out of our control, I thought our guys were terrific. We stayed relaxed. We knew at some point that the lightning would clear and we’d be allowed to go back out on the field.”

He added, “There were some things we struggled with. Penalties that we haven’t had all year long, containing their quarterback, being more precise in our pass rush lanes, avoiding special teams errors, things we’re gonna need some practice with. But on the whole, it was a really good effort and I was really pleased with the majority of the things we did.”

The victory was meaningful for more than one reason, though. On the last home game of the season, senior players — along with their families — were honored for their career achievements in a celebration known as Senior Day.

“The season goes by so fast,” said Surace. “We just had Senior Day and this year, we’ve had to say goodbye to a huge group of seniors who’ve given so much to the program and to Princeton.”

When asked how he was feeling about the end of the season, Surace said, “As coaches, we’re always in routine and the routine doesn’t change. Whether it’s the first or last game, it’s still Sunday, dark out, and 5:30 in the morning. I’m asking [the players] to stay in the present but I’m trying to stay in routine too. And I think when you do that, it does help with some of the emotions because you wind up relying on habits instead.”

The Tigers will take on Penn for their last game of the season on Saturday. The last time the two teams met in 2019, Princeton defeated Penn 28–7. Although the Tigers will be looking to do it again, they are not taking anything for granted.

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“The last game is always a very emotional game and Penn is always a tough opponent,” Surace said. “Even though their record isn’t quite what I think they would have foreseen, they’ve played everybody tough. Their Harvard game was about as evenly played as possible. They played Yale to the wire. They’re playing really good football. They’re a physical team and it’s gonna be a great last test for us.”

Although the Tigers showed a tremendous effort on Saturday, the game was still an intense, high-scoring showdown between the two offenses while Princeton’s defensive efforts were not enough to stop Yale from scoring. At the moment, Princeton averages about 33.33 points per game, while their defense has allowed an average of 17.78. This has been relatively consistent for the Tigers throughout the season.

“I want to continue correcting some of the errors we had in the last game,” Surace said. “Some of those things were very uncharacteristic for us, and we have to go back to the fundamentals to see why and where we’re making those mistakes. Having to gain 15 yards to get a first down is tough sledding against the really good defenses that Penn has. So that’s going to be as important as anything.” 

“And we struggled to contain the quarterback in the Yale game. Penn’s quarterback is very similar. Both of them are very good athletes and elusive, and we’re gonna have to do a much better job this week in that area.”

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With every game that goes by, the championship gets closer and closer. But, as always, Surace and his team only want to think about the controllables. 

“You know, I played on a team that was too worried about things that happened the week before,” Surace said, “We had a great team but we were so busy celebrating the win that we didn’t practice well enough for the next game and it showed in our last game.”

“For us, the biggest key is to stay in the present,” he said. “The only thing we’re thinking about is Penn.”

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

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