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Defense powers Princeton to a 14–3 victory over Cornell

Football player catches ball with both hands overhead while in the air
Junior wide receiver Luke Colella finished the game with 3 catches for 44 yards and a touchdown.
Photo courtesy of @PrincetonFTBL/Instagram.

In a matchup between two teams tied for first place atop the Ivy League, Princeton football (4–3 overall, 3–1 Ivy League) defeated Cornell (3–4, 2–2) 14–3 in another strong defensive showing. With the victory, the Tigers are tied for first place in the conference with three games left in the season. 

Princeton came into the matchup with a victory over previously undefeated Harvard (6–1, 3–1), backed by a dominant defense that limited the Crimson’s prolific offense. This weekend's game was no different for Princeton, as their defense consistently stepped up to contain Cornell quarterback Jameson Wang, coming up with two critical takeaways.


The Tigers set the tone on defense just four minutes into the game with a fourth down stop on the first drive. Cornell kept the offense in the game for a fourth-and-6 at Princeton’s 36-yard-line, but a blitz and pressure by senior linebackers Ozzie Nicholas and Liam Johnson forced Wang to turn the ball over on downs.

“I thought our defensive coaches and players had great balance in the game plan which is something we strive[d] to achieve,” said head coach Bob Surace ’90 in an interview with The Daily Princetonian.

Cornell went into the game with momentum after they dismantled Brown’s defense for 36 points and 434 total yards of offense, but the Tigers prevented a repeat performance, limiting them to three points despite 330 yards.

On the offensive side of the ball, all it took was one play to get onto the scoreboard. Coming off a three-and-out on their first drive, the Tigers rebounded quickly at their next opportunity. On a first down at their own 23-yard-line, senior quarterback Blake Stenstrom rolled out to his right and launched the football to a wide-open man, junior wide receiver Tamatoa Falatea, who took the ball to the endzone for a 77-yard touchdown. The throw was the longest in Stenstrom’s collegiate career.

Cornell responded with a drive that ended in a field goal, helped by a roughing the passer penalty on Wang after a 30-yard completion to tight end Matt Robbert.


With a little over a minute left in the first half, Princeton looked to add to their score. Starting at their 26-yard line, Stenstrom completed a short, seven-yard pass to junior wide receiver Luke Colella. Following an incompletion that stopped the clock, Stenstrom launched a deep ball to junior receiver AJ Barber, who was able to draw a passing interference flag on Cornell linebacker Damon Barnes to set up the Tigers at midfield. Four plays later, with only 11 seconds left on the clock, Stenstrom found Colella on a crossing route, who then cut through an entourage of defenders for Princeton’s second touchdown of the day.

Princeton’s aerial offense has improved notably since the beginning of the season. After just three touchdowns in his first four games, Stenstrom has thrown six in his last three games. 

“I think game experience has played a big part in helping our offense get better,” stated Stenstrom. “As we get more games under our belt, our offense will continue to fine tune and get better.”

Princeton’s 11-point lead at halftime would remain throughout the second half, which turned out to be a defensive stalemate. Cornell came out of the locker room with renewed energy on both sides of the ball, forcing Princeton’s offense to punt on their first drive. The Big Red was then once again able to drive into Princeton territory after a seven-yard gain on a quarterback draw by Wang. However, the Tigers’ defense halted their progress on a fumble recovery by senior linebacker Nicholas Sanker after the ball was forced out by defensive lineman Ryan Ives.

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The Tigers only managed seven first downs and 110 yards of offense in the second half, a stark contrast from the 208 yards they put together in the first half. Princeton fans watching in Ithaca and at home could not help but remember the team’s second-half collapse against Brown two weeks ago, where the Tigers held a 21–7 lead up until the fourth quarter. 

However, the Tiger defense would not allow another comeback to happen in this game. Time and time again, Princeton defenders flew around the field, breaking up passes and creating negative plays for Cornell’s offense. With 14 minutes left in the game, Cornell attempted a trick play in the red zone that resulted in a nine-yard loss. Wang tossed the ball to running back Ean Pope, who then handed it off to wide receiver Samuel Musungu. Before Musungu could make a play, however, Sanker and sophomore linebacker Marco Scarano brought him down for a loss. The drive would culminate in a missed field goal attempt by Cornell kicker Jackson Kennedy.

An interception by junior defensive back Mason Armstead seven minutes later would all but seal the game for Princeton.

“We need to work on not committing penalties that stall our offensive drives,” wrote Stenstrom to the ‘Prince.’ “Seemingly little mistakes compound and end up stalling drives. Our defense has done a great job this year so far, but we need to score more points if we want to achieve our goal."

Princeton has three more conference games left in its season. The Tigers travel to face Dartmouth (3–4, 2–2) on Friday night before returning home  to play Yale the following week. 

“The message [stays] consistent,” stated Surace. “Prepare to the best of our ability, win the edges in our recovery, compete at practice, and enjoy the journey.” 

With a 3–1 conference record right now, the Tigers are vying for their first Ivy League title since 2021.

Peter Wang is a contributor to the Sports section of the ‘Prince.’

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