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Football suffers first loss of season at Yale, 24–20

<h5>The Tigers will have a chance to win a share of the Ivy League title next weekend against Penn.&nbsp;</h5>
<h6>Connor Odom / The Daily Princetonian</h6>
The Tigers will have a chance to win a share of the Ivy League title next weekend against Penn. 
Connor Odom / The Daily Princetonian

On Saturday afternoon, Princeton football (8–1 overall, 5–1 Ivy League) fell to Yale (7–2, 5–1) in a 24–20 battle in New Haven. This was the Tigers’ first loss in their otherwise undefeated season and it cost Princeton their first-place ranking in the Ivy League. Yale and Princeton are now tied on top of the Ivy League standings with a 5–1 conference record each.

The game was one of the most anticipated of the season as the Princeton-Yale rivalry is the second-oldest in college football. Having already defeated the Harvard Crimson (6–3, 4–2) in Cambridge in October, Princeton looked to secure their second consecutive bonfire with a victory over Yale in the 144th all-time matchup between the schools. 

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Coming into this game, however, more than the bonfire was on the line, as the winner of every Princeton-Yale game since 2016 has gone on to win at least a share of the Ivy League title, while the loser has missed out on the championship. A Princeton win would have ensured that the Tigers would at least tie for the 2022 Ivy League Championship, while a Bulldogs victory would keep Yale’s chances to clinch the championship alive.

“I think students talk about all that; it’s not something we talk about,” Princeton head coach Bob Surace ’90 said about the extra nerves on the team due to the rivalry and Ivy League Championship implications. “You know, watching the last couple of games Yale played, we study it well, and that is what you concentrate on.”

Throughout the season, the Yale offense has demonstrated strength, leading the Ivy League in scoring offense, total offense, and rushing offense. However, the Princeton defense currently leads the Ivies in all three defensive categories, which promised a tough contest. 

“[Yale] just won their last game 69–17, so we expected a dogfight,” Surace told The Daily Princetonian.

Right from the start, the teams were evenly matched. Princeton kicked off the first quarter with a messy, penalty-heavy 13-play drive down the field. After an offside call on Yale and two penalties on Princeton for illegal formation and holding, the drive ended with Yale defensive back Brandon Benn intercepting junior quarterback Blake Stenstrom on the Yale 24 yard-line to give the Bulldogs possession.

Yale responded with a similar drive down the field to the Princeton 32-yard line, which ended in junior linebacker Ozzie Nicholas intercepting Bulldogs quarterback Nolan Grooms, leaving the score at 0–0 after each team’s first possession.

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Princeton was unable to convert their turnover into points, failing to gain a first down and quickly handing the ball back to the Bulldogs. Yale took over at the 50 yard-line and put together a 12-play drive that resulted in the first points on the scoreboard. Yale running back Joshua Pitsenberger ran the ball one yard into the end zone to make the score 7–0.

The Tigers responded with a quick, five play, 75-yard drive down the field that culminated in Stenstrom connecting with senior wide receiver Michael Axelrood for a 42-yard touchdown that tied the game at 7–7.

Princeton football did not have to wait long to strike again, as Yale gained only seven yards on their three-play drive before handing the ball back to the Tigers at the Princeton 31 yard-line. The Tigers successfully drove back down the field with two long passes from Stenstrom to senior wide receiver Dylan Classi, one for 18 yards and a first down and the other for 28 yards and a touchdown.

With the score now 14–7, Yale attempted to drive down the field. After a four minute, 10-play drive, the Bulldogs made it to the Princeton 37-yard line. The Tigers’ defense then made a stop and forced a punt, only to respond with a quick, four play possession ending with a punt as time ran out in the first half.

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To start the second half, both Yale and Princeton went three and out on their first possessions, punting back and forth. The Yale offense then picked up, starting their next possession with a 49-yard run by Grooms, which set up a 14-yard touchdown pass to Bulldogs wide receiver Chase Nenad on the second play of the drive, making the score tied at 14–14.

Princeton’s next drive featured an 11-yard run by Stenstrom for a first down, but the Tigers were unable to move the chains a second time. After Princeton made an unsuccessful 4th down attempt, Yale regained possession on the Princeton 43-yard line. Starting in Tiger territory, the Bulldogs’ kicker Jack Bosman kicked a 44-yard field goal after only a 17-yard drive, giving Yale the lead at 17–14. 

The Tigers then regained possession, but once again, the Yale defense prevented Princeton’s offense from gaining much. Eight plays and 18 yards later, the Tigers had punted the ball back to the Bulldogs.

The Yale offense once again charged down the field. This six-play, 59-yard drive ended in Grooms running for a 19-yard touchdown, extending the Bulldogs lead to 24–14, and making it a two-score game at the end of the third quarter.

“Their quarterback is a tremendous athlete,” Surace told the ‘Prince’ in reference to Grooms. “He gave us fits at times. We were prepared for what they showed, but when two good teams play, it is going to come down to small things, and they got us.”

Princeton and Yale each punted back to each other once before the Tigers offense showed some life, largely due to the strong chemistry between Stenstrom and Classi, who connected for a combined 41 yards on this drive. To cap off the drive, Stenstrom completed a 22-yard pass to senior tight end Carson Bobo for a touchdown, but the Yale defense blocked sophomore kicker Jeffrey Sexton’s point after touchdown (PAT), bringing the score to 24–20.

On the ensuing Yale drive, Princeton defense held the Bulldogs to a punt, giving the Tigers another chance to close the gap. After several short pass completions by Stenstrom, Yale defensive linemen Alvin Gulley Jr. and Clay Patterson both sacked Stenstrom on back to back plays for a combined loss of 10 yards. Momentum shifted towards the Bulldogs defense, and Benn intercepted Stenstrom for the second time this game.

With 3:20 left in the game, Yale regained the ball thanks to the interception. The Princeton defense attempted to stop the Bulldogs, while preserving enough time on the game clock for them to score a touchdown. The Tigers succeeded in this endeavor, but with only 1:35 left on the game clock to score by the time the offense got the ball back. 

While fans nervously glanced between the dwindling game clock and the field, Stenstrom completed quick, successive passes, targeting Classi, Bobo, and senior wide receiver Andrei Iosivas on the sidelines to drive down to the Yale 15-yard line. The time ran out with an incomplete pass shot over Classi’s head in the end zone, and the Bulldogs’ 24–20 victory was final.

“It was a great game. It comes down to a play at the end,” Surace said. “We made our mistakes, and we have to correct them and get better for next week.”

Princeton fans will have to wait until next season for another chance at participating in the bonfire tradition, but the season is not over yet. A Princeton victory next weekend over Penn (7–2, 4–2) would ensure the Tigers get at least a share of the Ivy title, the 14th in program history, and their second consecutive, having shared the title with Dartmouth last season. A Yale victory over Harvard would do the same for the Bulldogs, but should Princeton win and Yale lose, the Tigers can win the title outright, and vice-versa.

“We always focus on stopping things teams do well,” Surace said, looking ahead to next week’s Penn game. “We did a good job defending deep balls and things of that nature. We did not do a great job on the running game, and we are going to have to tighten that up.”

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

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