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Princeton football produces five turnovers to destroy Cornell in Homecoming game

<h5>Junior linebacker Liam Johnson streaks down the field for a touchdown late in the win over Cornell.</h5>
<h6>Courtesy of <a href="https://twitter.com/PrincetonFTBL/status/1586712244951343111/photo/3" target="_self">@PrincetonFTBL/Twitter</a>.</h6>
Junior linebacker Liam Johnson streaks down the field for a touchdown late in the win over Cornell.
Courtesy of @PrincetonFTBL/Twitter.

Riding the high of last week’s sound defeat of the Harvard Crimson (5–2 overall, 3–1 Ivy League), Princeton (7–0, 4–0) continued their undefeated season and beat Cornell (4–3, 1–3) in a dominant 35–9 victory on Powers Field.

“It takes 11 guys to win any game on defense,” senior linebacker Matthew Jester said after the game. “Everyone is making plays, and everyone shares the burden of making plays. I can always count on the other guys, and I hope that they can always count on me.”

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The Cornell Big Red won their first Ivy League matchup of the season last week against Brown and were looking to snatch a road win in New Jersey in an effort to secure their first .500 season since 2011. Princeton head coach Bob Surace ’90 knew the strength of Cornell’s team, offensively and defensively, going into the game.

“They are good. Every game they have played, but one, has come down to the last minute,” Surace told The Daily Princetonian. “They are one of the more physical defenses. They give a lot of looks that can be confusing, and they got us a few times. They control the clock, they limit possessions, and their quarterback is tremendously athletic.”

Key to their victory, the Tigers’ defense managed to force four interceptions out of Cornell quarterback Jameson Wang. Prior to this game, Wang had thrown only one interception.

“I think we are selfless, and I think we play our role very well,” Jester said, referring to the Tigers’ defense. “I think guys play for each other, guys play with heart and passion and out of love for the guy next to them. I really just love the team chemistry that we have.”

Right from the start, Princeton defense came out with a bang. The Tigers held Cornell to only four yards on  Cornell’s first drive and forced a three-and-out. The Tigers’ offense then took over with a drive down the field, culminating in a 47-yard field goal attempt by sophomore kicker Jeffrey Sexton. However, Cornell tight end Chukwuemeka Adebi blocked the field goal, leaving the scoreboard blank after each team’s first possession.

Cornell responded with a ten-play drive all the way down to the Princeton four yard-line. Princeton’s defense laid on the pressure, leading to senior defensive back Michael Ruttlen intercepting Wang in the back of the end zone to keep the Big Red scoreless.

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Though Princeton’s next drive ended in a punt, the possession saw senior wide receiver Andrei Iosivas make an eight-yard reception, becoming the 17th player in Tigers program history to earn 100 career receptions.

“I honestly did not know about it until after,” said Iosivas. “I just kind of go — I just play. It is a nice mark to hit, but I am always looking for the W.”

Iosivas has been receiving a great deal of national attention based on this season’s performance. He currently leads the Ivy League in receiving yards and touchdown catches, and was recently added to the 2022 Stats Perform FCS Walter Payton Award watch list.

“It is really great — I mean it is just like a culmination of all the work that I have put in,” Iosivas continued. “And, obviously, the coaches help me to be in that position and all the players around me, but I kind of just focus on the game. When I go into the game, I just know what I can do, and everything else will just sort of fall into place.”

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With less than 30 seconds left in the first quarter, Cornell pushed towards the end zone, but, once again, Wang was intercepted, this time by senior CJ Wall at the Princeton 30 yard-line.

With the Tigers now in possession of the football, junior quarterback Blake Stenstrom connected with Iosivas for a 26-yard sideline pass to close out the first quarter, leaving the score at 0–0. Throughout the season, the chemistry between Stenstrom and Iosivas has only continued to improve.

“He’s a great guy — he puts the ball in places where only I can get it,” Iosivas said about his quarterback. “He trusts us and that is the biggest thing between a receiver and quarterback. He trusts me, I trust him, and so we just got to go out there and make plays.”

To kick off the second quarter, the Tigers’ offense put the first points on the board. After a seven-play drive for 53 yards, Stenstrom connected with Iosivas for a 15-yard touchdown pass. The Cornell defense blocked sophomore kicker Sam Massick’s conversion attempt, making the score 6–0 as Cornell regained possession.

Cornell responded with another three-and-out due to strong Princeton defense and a Cornell holding penalty. Princeton quickly scored again, as Stenstrom completed his second touchdown pass of the day to Iosivas. The 36-yard completion, combined with a failed two-point conversion, made the score 12–0.

After the ensuing 11-play, 52-yard drive during which the Big Red offense showed some life, kicker Jackson Kennedy missed a 40-yard field goal attempt and Cornell remained scoreless with two minutes left in the half.

However, Cornell got another chance to score before time ran out due to a quick Tigers three-and-out. The Big Red offense drove down the field, allowing Kennedy to kick a 42-yard field goal to put Cornell on the board. The score was 12–3 as both school’s bands took the field for halftime.

Princeton got possession to start the half and was able to extend their lead with Stenstrom running three yards for a touchdown. This time, Massick made the extra point, making the score 19–3.

The Cornell offense responded with a strong, 15-play, 81-yard drive culminating in an eight-yard touchdown pass from Wang to wide receiver Nicholas Laboy. The Big Red made an unsuccessful two-point conversion attempt that was intercepted and returned to the Cornell end zone by Jester, making the score 21–9 at the end of the third quarter.

“Turnovers are always the goal,” said Jester when asked about his interception. “Five of them, that was a really awesome feeling. Half of those turnovers do not happen if the other 10 guys on the team are not doing their job. It is always a team effort.”

Jester not only intercepted Wang, but he also hurdled the quarterback to get access to the sideline and break free to the end zone for two points.

“Heat of the moment, I guess that is what I decided to do,” Jester said.

On Cornell’s next drive, Wang threw his third interception of the day. This time, it was senior defensive back Dawson De Iuliis who forced the turnover and gave Princeton possession at the Cornell 36-yard line. Princeton turned this possession into points with a one-yard rush touchdown by freshman running back Ryan Butler to make the score 28–9.

With this being his 10th touchdown of the season, Butler earned the record for freshman rushing touchdowns. Last week, Butler was named to the 2022 Stats Perform FCS Jerry Rice Award watch list and has earned the Ivy League Rookie of the Week honor four times in the first six weeks of the season.

During Cornell’s next drive, Princeton’s defense once again demonstrated their strength. Princeton junior linebacker Liam Johnson intercepted Wang at the Princeton 25 and ran for a pick-six, making the score 35–9.

Cornell once again attempted to drive down the field, even going for a run on fourth down at their own 32-yard line, but the Princeton defense stopped them, and the Tigers got the ball back in Big Red territory. Princeton’s possession was short-lived, and Cornell drove the ball down to the Princeton six-yard line, with the clock running out before they could reduce the deficit.

Despite the victory against Cornell, Surace noted room for improvement, especially looking towards the final three games of the season. Still, Surace celebrated the high energy that his players bring to each game.

“I did not think we were as precise as we could be,” Surace reflected after the game. “I think there are things that we are going to have to look at coaching-wise, we can put the players in better positions. But, when you play with that effort, win or lose, you are proud of your guys and you can feel good about yourself.”

Princeton will face Dartmouth next week in Princeton Stadium. The Big Green, coming off a home defeat against Harvard, sit at 2–5 overall and will look to gain their second conference win.

“Every game we just look to go 1–0,” said Iosivas about the Dartmouth matchup. “We have definitely had some great battles with [Dartmouth]. We come into every team thinking the same way: find out ways to beat them, come out with some passion and heart, and come out with the W hopefully.”

“They have a tremendous coach and a tremendous team,” Surace added. “We are going to have to have a great week this week and buckle down. We start tomorrow.”

Nishka Bahl is a contributor to the Sports section at the ‘Prince.’ Please direct any corrections requests to corrections@dailyprincetonian.com.

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