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Football stuns Columbia 10–7 in thrilling Ivy League opener

Man in orange and black waits with others for football with arms stretched out.
Senior quarterback Blake Stenstrom waiting for snap against Columbia. 
Tessa Mudd / The Daily Princetonian

Facing rainy conditions for their third game in a row, Princeton football (2–1 overall, 1–0 Ivy League) emerged victorious in their Ivy League opener against the Columbia Lions (1–2, 0–1). The Tigers edged out the Lions with a final score of 10–7, giving Princeton a crucial head start in the Ivy League conference standings.

The first half saw only one scoring drive by either team, with the Tigers' junior kicker Jeffrey Sexton knocking through a 28-yard field goal in the first quarter for a Princeton 3–0 lead. Princeton managed to hold this narrow lead going into halftime.


Columbia overtook Princeton early in the third quarter, with defensive lineman Justin Townsend intercepting Princeton senior quarterback Blake Stenstrom at Princeton’s two-yard line. Townsend’s pick six would be the only points Columbia scored throughout the game, elevating the Lions to a 7–3 lead.

The pivotal moment for the Tigers came during an electrifying 20-play drive early in the fourth quarter. Princeton started the drive at their own 19-yard line with 12:14 left on the clock. Stenstrom and the Tigers charged down the length of the field, successfully converting three fourth-downs along the way. Stenstrom threw to junior wide receiver Luke Colella on two of these fourth-down conversions. 

Colella recorded seven receptions for a total of 53 receiving yards throughout the game. Stenstrom noted how essential Colella was in moving the chains on that final drive. “Luke has done a great job stepping up this year," Stenstrom told The Daily Princetonian. "That fourth-and-six where he reached out and picked it up just barely off the ground, it was amazing,” in reference to a play on Columbia's 29-yard line with less than ten minutes left in the game.

The Tigers finished the drive with a one-yard rush up the middle by junior running back John Volker. Volker’s touchdown came in a nerve-wracking fourth-and-goal situation on Columbia’s two-yard line, giving Princeton a 10–7 lead. 

“All night we had been really close in a lot of our drives. We had just shot ourselves in the foot on a number of them,” Stenstrom noted. “[During] the last drive, the whole team across the board did a great job… Ultimately, it came down to one yard. John Volker ran through somebody and made a great play.” 

“[The team] had the fire in their eyes late in the game when things weren’t going that great offensively. It was just awesome to see the guys believe and have one final drive to win the game,” Stenstrom continued.


The Tigers handed the ball back to Columbia with just 2:07 left in the game. The Lions threatened with two fourth-down conversions and a 21-yard completion to wide receiver Bryson Canty, placing the Lions at the Princeton 45-yard line.

Princeton’s high-powered defense put a quick stop to Columbia’s momentum. Tiger sophomore linebacker Sekou Roland sacked Columbia’s quarterback Caden Bell for a 22-yard loss. Bell lost the ball on the play, with Princeton’s senior defensive lineman Ryan Savage recovering the fumble with 16 seconds left to seal the game for the Tigers.

The game featured two of the Ivy League’s top-rated defenses, as Columbia’s scoring defense ranks first in the conference, while Princeton comes out on top in total defense. Both teams showed off their defensive prowess throughout all four quarters.

Princeton’s defense overpowered Columbia’s offense, allowing no points throughout the night. They limited the Lions to only 179 total yards and successfully shut down the passing game by allowing only 71 passing yards. Senior linebackers Ozzie Nicholas and Liam Johnson recorded 19 combined tackles for the Tigers.

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“An elite defense wins championships at the end of the day," said sophomore defensive lineman Bakari Edwards about the defense’s outstanding performance in Friday's game. "We had to go out there and do our part, get some turnovers. We got a turnover at the end, a lot of fumble recoveries. It was just a great win overall.”

“We have a great senior class, and they really lift us up… Liam [Johnson] and Ozzie [Nicholas], those are the greatest leaders we have,” Edwards added.

Princeton head coach Bob Surace ’90 echoed Edwards’ sentiments.

“The speed on our rush is doing really well. Whether it's Bakari [Edwards], Sekou [Roland], Nicholas [Sanker], or the linebackers,” Surace said. “[Senior associate head coach and defensive coordinator] Steve Verbit is doing a great job,” Surace continued. “He’s got some tremendous unique athletes that he’s blitzing, dropping, making it hard for the quarterback to hit his first screen.”

Princeton’s offense also displayed its forcefulness throughout the game. The Tigers’ offense recorded 271 total yards, and Stenstrom finished the game with 191 passing yards.

After an overtime loss against Bryant University last Saturday, this crucial win gave Princeton some much-needed energy as they look toward the rest of the season. 

“It was a punch in the gut last week, a wake up call for a lot of the guys,” Stenstrom continued. “I think we did a really good job this week in practice focusing up. I was really proud of how our team responded from that.”

Princeton will look to build on their momentum next Saturday as they host a non-conference game against Lafayette (4–1 overall, 1–0 Patriot League conference).

“We have tomorrow off. We all need to self-reflect,” Surace added. “There is hopefully going to be growth each week.”

Sarina Sheth is a contributor to the Sports section at the ‘Prince.’ Please direct any corrections requests to corrections[at]