Though the Ivy League title was lost, Princeton football (5–5 overall, 4–3 Ivy League) was still fighting. The Tigers dashed the Quakers’ (6–4, 3–4) hopes of ending with a positive conference record in a 31–24 victory and confirmed a fourth-place finish for themselves in the Ivy League standings.
Both Princeton and Penn came into this game having lost out on a chance for the championship. The Tigers’ loss to Yale in double overtime last week eliminated the Penn matchup from being a championship game. Princeton, however, managed to triumph and allowed their seniors to end their Princeton football careers on a positive note.
It was also a fitting way for the impressive Princeton defense to end their season, as Princeton forced seven turnovers — three fumble recoveries and four interceptions. Princeton ends the season ranked 11th in the FCS and first in the Ivy League for total defense, and they came fifth in the FCS for rushing defense with 93.8 yards allowed per game.
These turnovers made the game for Princeton. While they were outgained 500–277 in offensive yardage and 28–17 in first downs, they managed to score 24 of their 31 points off of turnovers.
Offensively, Princeton couldn’t come up with much to start the game and three consecutive punts gave Penn the ball with 3:14 to go in the first quarter. From the Princeton 37-yard line, Penn quarterback Aidan Sayin looked up to find wide receiver Jared Richardson for a touchdown as he ran through two Princeton defenders and into the endzone.
Princeton took their time to get going offensively, but late into the second half, after a 45-yard field goal by junior kicker Jeffrey Sexton and a three-and-out by Penn, Princeton found themselves at their own 41 with three minutes on the clock.
The Tigers marched up the field, completing three consecutive first downs before senior quarterback Blake Stenstrom fired a pass from Penn’s 11-yard line to junior tight end Connor Hulstein, who dove on the pylon to complete the touchdown. The kick was good, and the half ended 10–7 Princeton.
Penn started the second half strong as they did the first, with a three-minute, 75-yard drive up the field to convert a touchdown. The decisive play on this drive was a 59-yard reception by Penn wide receiver Jared Richardson. Evading Princeton’s defense once again, Richardson’s touchdown flipped the score to 14–10 Penn after the kick was good. A wide receiver screen on the right of the field allowed Richardson to sprint down the sideline unopposed by the Tigers.
Princeton soon responded with two consecutive touchdowns scored following two interceptions.
Sophomore defensive back Nasir Hill prompted the first interception after pressure by senior linebacker Will Perez forced a floating ball straight into the hands of Hill. The Tigers capitalized on the momentum, pushing up Penn’s half of the field with two consecutive first downs. They sealed the touchdown with two rushing plays to sophomore running back Dareion Murphy followed by a three-yard push into the endzone by junior running back Jiggie Carr.
The Tigers allowed just one completed pass before stealing the ball back with their second consecutive turnover and interception. Senior defensive lineman Jack DelGarbino tipped the ball into the air with an outstretched palm, and fellow defensive lineman junior Collin Taylor leaped up and fell to the ground with the ball in hand to give Princeton possession.
On the ensuing possession, Princeton needed just two plays to increase their lead. On the second play of the drive, Stenstrom threw the football to the far right sideline where junior wide receiver AJ Barber was waiting, and Barber ran into the endzone to claim a third touchdown for the Tigers. With the kick good, Princeton found themselves up 24–14 after three quarters.
The Stenstrom-Barber combination has been a frequent one all season as the connection between the two players has grown with each game. Barber has spoken early on about this link, but it has become more and more obvious with each game. Barber and junior wide receiver Luke Colella lead the team in both receptions and receiving yardage, a sign of good things to come for the Princeton offense next season.
A fumble recovery by senior defensive lineman Ryan Savage on a poor snap gave Princeton another opportunity to grow their lead. Yet again on the ensuing possession, Princeton needed just two plays as Stenstrom handed off the ball to Murphy who drove through the middle and eased into the endzone for a five-yard touchdown.
Princeton continued the game with relative ease after yet another fumble recovery by the Tigers. But with two minutes on the clock, Penn had the ball back and gained 88 yards in just one minute and twenty seconds to get their final touchdown of the night, making it 31–24 to the Tigers. With 18 seconds to go, Hill ensured the Tigers win with his second interception of the game.
Notably, head coach Bob Surace ’90 won his 78th game as Princeton head coach in his 13th season, and is now tied for second all-time for Princeton football victories — he needs 11 more for Bill Roper’s record.
“The game was a great team effort on all sides of the ball and was a great way to finish out the year as a team, with a win," senior offensive lineman Jalen Travis told the Daily Princetonian. “I am extremely proud of everything that this team has overcome and our willingness to keep fighting. This last game exemplified that.”
The leadership of the four senior captains — Travis, Stenstrom, and senior linebackers Liam Johnson and Ozzie Nicholas — will be sorely missed next season, but undoubtedly they, with the rest of the senior members of the team, will be onto even greater things.
Travis, himself, is a NFL prospect, with teams undoubtedly looking closely upon his last two performances which helped earn the Princeton offense 28 and 31 points respectively.
Although these seniors did not depart with this year's Ivy League title, the legacy of this group of players will live on through their impact on the rest of the team and Princeton football going forward. The rest of the squad will be looking to next season and looking to move into these leadership roles on and off the field, as the team looks to fill the shoes of Travis, Johnson, Nicholas and Stenstrom.
Princeton football will be back next year for what is sure to be another thrilling season. Whilst it is too early to think about where Princeton might end up, undoubtedly there are bright stars in this team ready to carry the Tigers to another great season of Ivy League football.
Alex Beverton-Smith is a contributor to the Sports section of the ‘Prince.’ Please send corrections to corrections[at]princeton.edu.