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Princeton football cruises to 34–16 downpour win in Ithaca, remains undefeated

<h5>Senior linebacker Jeremiah Tyler had a 36-yard fumble return for a TD in Princeton's 34-16 win over Cornell.</h5>
<h6>Courtesy of GoPrincetonTigers.com</h6>
Senior linebacker Jeremiah Tyler had a 36-yard fumble return for a TD in Princeton's 34-16 win over Cornell.
Courtesy of GoPrincetonTigers.com

The Princeton Tigers kept their undefeated season going in Ithaca on Friday, defeating the Cornell Big Red (1–5, 0–3 Ivy) in a critical conference matchup.

The Tigers, ranked 15th in the FCS, came into the game just six days removed from a controversial homecoming win over the then 17th-ranked Harvard Crimson, which saw them emerge victorious after five overtimes by a score of 18–16. The Big Red, meanwhile, had just suffered a brutal 49–45 home loss to the Brown Bears. Cornell’s other two Ivy League games saw them lose by 14 to Harvard and by six to Yale.

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The matchup between Princeton and Cornell was the Tigers’ first game on national television this season, being broadcast on ESPNU (largely thanks to the Friday night timing). The night’s kickoff found the Tigers in colder conditions that they had been in so far this season, with a 48-degree temperature at kickoff. Conditions were further worsened by rain throughout the game.

Cornell used four quarterbacks in the first half last week against Brown, but longtime starting senior quarterback Richie Kenney took the first two snaps on the game’s opening drive. First-year Jameson Wang earned the opportunity to play much of the Princeton game under center for the Big Red after throwing for 121 yards and rushing for 101 against Brown. Wang broke off Cornell’s first big play, a 22-yard rush that brought the Big Red near midfield. However, the drive soon stalled and the Tigers stopped a Wang rush on fourth down to secure a turnover on downs.

The Tigers, who had the top-scoring offense in the Ivy League coming into the game at 34.5 points per game, began their first drive with a 10-yard pass from senior quarterback Cole Smith to senior receiver Jacob Birmelin. Smith found Birmelin again on a big fourth down conversion later in the drive, but he was replaced at quarterback by sophomore Blake Stenstrom soon after. Three consecutive rushes by Stenstrom brought the Tigers inside the Cornell 10 yard-line. On third and goal, the Tigers brought in their third quarterback of the drive, sophomore Niko Vangarelli, who rushed in for the touchdown from two yards out to give Princeton a 7–0 lead.

The defense, even without key starters junior Uche Ndukwe and senior Delan Stallworth, continued to impose their will on the opposing offense. On the second play of Cornell’s second drive, junior linebacker Matthew Jester forced a fumble from Cornell running back Eddy Tillman. 2019 All-Ivy first team senior linebacker Jeremiah Tyler then scooped up the ball and ran it back for a 36-yard score. With 6:04 remaining in the first half, the Tigers had jumped out to a 14–0 lead.

"I was just trying to run to the ball and one of teammates made a play," Tyler told Princeton Athletics after the game. "I wasn't sure if the ball came out or not, but I saw an object just scurrying along, I caught it and took off."

Cornell decided to bring out Kenney at quarterback for the next drive, who found receiver Alex Kuzy for a 14-yard completion on the first play. But on the next set of downs, senior linebacker Daniel Beard came up with an interception off of a deflection from defensive lineman James Stagg, who was replacing the injured Ndukwe. It was the Tigers’ second takeaway of the opening quarter, and their fourth interception of the season.

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As they had on their first possession, the Tigers used tempo and the running game to keep the Cornell defense on its heels. The drive, which lasted one minute into the second quarter, concluded in a 10-yard touchdown pass from Smith to senior tight end Carson Bobo, expanding the Princeton lead to 21–0.

Cornell got a big spark on their next possession as Kenney found Curtis Raymond III for a 40-yard completion down the right sideline. Another completion from Kenney to Kuzy brought the Big Red to the Tigers’ 24 yard-line. Kenney then found Thomas Glover, who had the Ivy League’s third-most receiving yards coming into the game, for a 20-yard gain to the Princeton 4 yard-line. Even though Cornell was backed up to the 19 yard-line by a penalty, they still ended the drive with a touchdown as Wang located Kuzy down the left sideline for a score, bringing the score to 21–7.

The Tigers responded immediately as Smith found junior receiver Andrei Iosivas down the right sideline for a 44-yard gain. The drive ended in a Jeffrey Sexton field goal, bringing the first-year kicker’s field goal percentage to 80 percent on the season and giving the Tigers a 24–7 lead.

A kick out of bounds by Sexton on the ensuing kickoff gave Cornell good field position, and a pass from Kenney to his favorite target Kuzy brought the Tigers to the Princeton 48 yard-line. The Cornell offense continued to find success in the passing game as the Tigers were unable to pressure the quarterback consistently. A few plays later, Cornell brought in kicker Scott Lees for a season-long 36-yard field goal attempt, which he made. The Princeton lead was cut to 14.

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The Tigers were forced to punt on their next drive, but a ‘roughing the kicker penalty’ on Cornell allowed the offense to return to the field. Later on the drive, Smith found senior receiver Dylan Classi on a 4th-and-7 to bring the Tigers to the Cornell 27-yard line with 0:21 remaining. Jeffrey Sexton wrapped up the drive (and the half) with a 39-yard field goal, giving the Tigers a 27–10 halftime lead.

The offensive statistics for both teams in the first half were nearly identical: Princeton managed 212 yards, while Cornell racked up 205. Both teams also each possessed the ball for roughly 15 minutes, but the big difference-maker in the first half was Cornell’s two turnovers, both of which led to Princeton touchdowns. The Tigers scored on all five of their first half possessions.

The Tigers started the second half with the ball, giving them an opportunity to make it six for six on scoring drives in the game. After senior running-back Collin Eaddy rushed for seven yards on the first play of the drive, Smith found Classi for a 67-yard completion, bringing the Tigers to the Cornell one yard-line. On the next play, quarterback Vangarelli picked up his second rushing touchdown of the game, bringing the lead to 34–10.

Cornell came out firing on offense, as a 13-yard run from Cornell running back Devon Brewer gave the Big Red a first down on the first play of their next possession. Richie Kenney then found Thomas Glover for 21 more yards to get the Big Red near midfield. However, the drive stalled and Cornell punted.

As the third quarter progressed, the rain began to fall heavier, and the offenses slowed down as the teams failed to score on the next nine possessions, six of which ended in punts, and one of which was a Cole Smith fumble.

On the tenth drive, Kenney located Glover three times for a total of 71 yards. The third of these three throws was a 27-yard touchdown toss. Cornell failed to score on a two-point conversion, leaving the score at 34–16. The final few minutes were uneventful, and the Tigers emerged with an 18-point win, bringing their record to 7–0, 4–0 in the Ivy League. It is the third consecutive season to begin 7–0.

Despite scoring 34 points, the Tigers produced a modest offensive performance, coming away with 327 yards compared to Cornell’s 357. However, Smith did not throw an interception after throwing four against Harvard in the previous week, completing 15 passes on 22 attempts for 191 yards and a touchdown. Classi was the leading receiver for the Tigers, with 4 catches for 92 yards, bringing him over 1,000 career receiving yards. Meanwhile, the defense which came into the game fourth in the FCS in total yardage allowed per game (250.3), was solid but still allowed over 100 yards more than their average. The Tigers also came in with the second-best rush defense in the nation (53.2 yards/game), but allowed 81 yards against the Big Red.

While it certainly wasn’t a perfect performance from the Tigers, they were in control of the game from wire to wire, and the win was never in doubt. The Tigers still sit atop the Ivy League with a 4–0 record. Princeton’s next two opponents, Yale and Dartmouth, sit behind the Tigers in the conference standings, each with 3–1 records in the league.

The Tigers will head to Hanover to take on Dartmouth next Friday, continuing the conference schedule. The Tigers will return home for the final time of 2021 to take on Yale on Nov. 13.

Wilson Conn is a staff writer for the 'Prince' sports section. He can be reached at wconn@princeton.edu or on twitter at @wilson_conn.

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