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Preview: Football seeks to beat Columbia for the fourth consecutive season this Saturday

<h5>The Tigers topped Columbia 24–7 last season.</h5>
<h6>Photo courtesy of <a href="https://goprincetontigers.com/news/2021/10/2/football-tames-columbia-in-ivy-opener.aspx" target="_self">GoPrincetonTigers</a>.</h6>
The Tigers topped Columbia 24–7 last season.
Photo courtesy of GoPrincetonTigers.

Princeton football (2–0) will take on Columbia (2–0) in the Ivy League opener this Saturday, Oct. 1 in New York City. Coming off of their last two wins, the Tigers will look to continue their success in their first conference game of the season.

“The team is hungry, and you love to see that,” senior wide receiver Andrei Iosivas wrote in an email to The Daily Princetonian. “Everyone is super excited, Ivy League play always has a different type of energy to it.”

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When the teams clashed last year, the Tigers coasted to a 24–7 victory over the Lions. In last year’s game, the Tigers brought strong defense and a blocked field goal to keep Columbia off of the scoreboard in the first half. On offense, the Tigers had three rushing touchdowns, two of which were scored by now-graduated running back Collin Eaddy. 

Since last year’s game, the Princeton football team has undergone major changes, including losing quarterback Cole Smith and Eaddy; however, junior quarterback Blake Stenstrom has led a solid Tigers offense through the first two victories of this season against Stetson and Lehigh. Columbia has also seen a successful start to their season with wins against both Marist and Georgetown, so this year’s contest promises an exciting, well-matched game.

“Every year is a new year so we don’t spend time looking back,” Head Coach Bob Surace ’90 wrote to the ‘Prince.’ “But since Al Bagnoli came to Columbia they have been a well-coached and disciplined team, and this is his most athletic and talented team I have seen. I have been extremely impressed by how well they have executed their schemes.” 

Columbia Head Coach Al Bagnoli came to the Lions in 2015 and entered the 2022 season with 268 career coaching wins, ranking him as the second-winningest active football coach after Alabama’s Nick Saban. Under Bagnoli’s direction, the Lions have built a balanced offensive attack, averaging over 200 yards in both passing and rushing and averaging 40 points scored across their first two games. Junior quarterback Joe Green can be credited with much of their success, having already thrown for 4076 yards and four touchdowns this year.

In its first two games, Princeton averaged over 200 passing yards and more than 100 rushing yards per game. Already, Stenstrom has thrown for 547 yards and three touchdown passes to Iosivas, who has racked up 199 receiving yards himself.

“Having individual performances is nice but the W is always the goal,” Iosivas wrote. “For Saturday we just need to execute and do our jobs.”

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Freshman running back Ryan Butler and sophomore running back John Volker have also boosted Princeton’s offense, combining for five touchdowns thus far. On defense, junior linebacker Liam Johnson has been instrumental to the team’s success with 14 tackles, two forced fumbles, and one sack. Still, Surace notes room for growth.

“It was great to get the win, and I was impressed with our effort,” Surace wrote after last week’s Lehigh game. “It’s early in the year and we have a lot of room to improve, and, hopefully, we will continue to improve this week.” 

Princeton hopes to continue its winning streak against Columbia by learning from the errors in their first two games. Though Princeton beat Lehigh 29–17, the first half showed definite room for improvement. The second half of the game opened with Princeton and Lehigh tied at ten points each.

“We have to become more consistent on all three sides of the ball,” Surace wrote. “There are some outstanding plays, but we aren’t precise enough yet in any phase. I thought the second half at Lehigh we were getting closer to executing the details needed to play consistently and that was encouraging.” 

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Looking ahead, the Tigers are hoping their strong practices will lead to a strong performance on the field.

“I think our energy in both practices and games has been outstanding since we started training camp,” Surace wrote to the ‘Prince’ in anticipation of the Columbia game. “It’s been the most consistent area of our team so far. I think preparation is a habit, and I also think that it is something that we always hold ourselves to a high standard on a daily basis whether it’s a practice in August or an incredible challenge like playing Columbia.”

Princeton football has a 73–16–1 winning record versus Columbia all time, including winning the last three meetings. The Tigers and Lions will kick off at 1 p.m. this Saturday, Oct. 1, in New York. If you cannot attend this weekend’s game, you can stream it on ESPN+.

Nishka Bahl is a contributor to the Sports section at the ‘Prince.’ She can be reached at nishkabahl@princeton.edu or on Instagram @nishkabahl.

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