The pyrotechnics before kickoff weren’t the only fireworks on display for the home crowd Friday night, as a number of explosive plays from the Princeton football team (5–0, 2–0 Ivy) carried them to a 35–19 victory over conference opponent Brown (2–3, 0–2).
Although the matchup didn’t quite rise to the entertaining spectacle of last year’s 56–42 Princeton win in Providence, fans were nonetheless privy to a competitive, back-and-forth first half. Brown opened the game with the ball, and manufactured an eight-minute field goal drive to open the game with a 3–0 lead.
The drive was a strong statement against a Princeton team that entered the game with the top scoring defense in the FCS, giving up fewer than 10 points per game on average. The Bears’ field goal also snapped a 171-minute stretch during which the Princeton defense had not given up a single score.
The Tigers wasted no time responding on their first drive, as a 34-yard completion from junior quarterback Blake Stenstrom to senior wide receiver Andrei Iosivas set up a one-yard touchdown run for first-year running Ryan Butler, giving Princeton a 7–3 lead.
After the game, Head Coach Bob Surace ’90 praised Stenstrom’s work on the field. “His poise, and his decision making, he just leads so well,” he said. “It's really fun to watch.”
After the teams exchanged scoreless possessions, Stenstrom found a rapport with another senior wideout, Dylan Classi, to build the team’s second touchdown drive late in the second quarter. The drive ended with a receiving touchdown for sophomore wide receiver A.J. Barber and a 14–3 Tigers lead.
“A.J. Barber really stepped in, and his confidence is gonna soar,” Surace said after the game.
Brown would not go down without a fight, though, and their final drive of the first half provided their first touchdown of the game. Bears receiver Wes Rockett made a tip-toe catch in the the front right corner of the end zone with just six seconds left, which was initially called an incomplete pass but overturned to a touchdown upon review.
While the Tigers did not have a chance to respond to this momentum swing prior to the halftime whistle, an 89-second touchdown drive to start the second half proved a satisfactory response to the home crowd. Classi and Stenstrom continued connecting as they had towards the end of the first half; this combination continued to be common as the game progressed.
“Blake is a hell of a player,” Classi told The Daily Princetonian in a postgame interview. “He’s a phenomenal worker and he’s bought in. He’s got great commitment to this team and this program. I love playing with him — he’s a special player.”
Just minutes later, Stenstrom found Classi for another touchdown of 22 yards, giving the Tigers a commanding 28–10 advantage. Classi would finish the game with career-highs in both receptions (nine) and receiving yardage (169), while also surpassing the 100-reception mark for his career.
The Bears refused to fade, though, and a field goal, successful onside kick, and gritty touchdown by running back Allen Smith brought the score to 28–19 with 3:58 remaining. Attempting the two-point conversion to bring the deficit to seven, Brown quarterback Jake Willcox rifled a pass down the middle, which deflected off of the hands of a Princeton defender before falling into the cradling arms of a Brown receiver in the back of the end zone. However, a holding penalty on Brown brought the play back, and a mishandling of the snap by the Bears’ holder on the ensuing extra point attempt kept the score at 28–19.
Princeton picked up the next onside kick. On their first snap of the possession, 12 seconds after Brown’s score, first-year running back Ryan Butler took the ball 49 yards for a touchdown that brought the stadium to its feet, clinching the victory. The win puts the Tigers at a 5–0 record for for the fourth consecutive season, the first time Princeton has done so since 1904–1907.
Butler and the Tigers will look to keep this energy rolling into what will be their toughest matchup of the season so far on Friday night in Cambridge, Mass. against Harvard (4–1, 2–0). Aside from the usual bad blood between the two rivals, the Crimson will have an extra edge in the game, as they look to avenge a controversial 18–16 loss suffered after five overtimes at Princeton’s homecoming game in 2021.
Wilson Conn is a co-head editor for the Sports section at the ‘Prince.’ He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at @wilson_conn.
Hope Perry is the Head Podcast Editor at the ‘Prince’ who has covered USG, U.S. politics, and student activism. She can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter @hopemperry.