A bonfire, a blood feud, and an Ivy League title on the line: Princeton’s football team (4–4 overall, 3–2 Ivy League), could not have more to lose this Saturday as they take on the Yale Bulldogs (5–3 overall, 3–2 Ivy League) in what is the nation’s oldest football rivalry, dating back to 1873.
Princeton juniors and seniors will remember the last time the football team beat both Harvard and Yale in the same season, a feat the Tigers have only ever accomplished 29 times. After a homecoming win over the first-place Harvard Crimson on Oct. 21, the Tigers have a chance to now engage their underclassmen in a time-honored Princeton tradition: the bonfire.
When the football team reigns supreme over the “Big Three” by defeating their two oldest rivals, Harvard and Yale, the Undergraduate Student Government sponsors a school-wide bonfire on Cannon Green to be held on the Friday before the final game of the season. It is an event meant to serve as both a celebration and a pep rally and was last held in 2021.
If the Tigers come away with a win on Saturday, their season finale against the Penn Quakers will determine whether or not they earn their 14th Ivy League championship.
There is currently a four-way tie between Princeton, Yale, Penn, and Dartmouth for second place in the league, while Harvard sits a win ahead, alone atop the standings. A loss for Princeton or Yale, paired with a Harvard win against Penn this Saturday, would eliminate either team from title contention.
While the Tigers don’t control their own fate, a win keeps the dream alive.
Tiger fans will remember last year’s heartbreaking close to the season. Back-to-back close losses to Yale and Penn on the final weekends of the season saw the Tigers squander what seemed like a certain championship year.
Returners on the team will undoubtedly be trying to ensure that history does not repeat itself on Saturday.
The Daily Princetonian Sports staff made their predictions for this weekend’s contest.
Hayk Yengibaryan, Associate Sports Editor: Princeton 24, Yale 23
It’s hard to pick this Princeton offense, which did nothing to help the amazing Princeton defense against the Big Green. The offense gave up a pick-six and allowed Dartmouth to get amazing field positions on multiple occasions. The Tiger special teams unit also gave up a fake punt on a fourth down to put Dartmouth in the red zone.
The Yale offense will be the best the Tigers have seen since they played the Crimson three weeks ago. The Bulldogs have scored an astounding 150 points in their past five games, good for an average of 30 per game. The Tigers will need to contain quarterback Nolan Grooms — the reigning Ivy League Offensive Player of the Year who has over 1500 passing yards with 19 touchdowns this season. His favorite receiver, Mason Tipton, has over 600 receiving yards with 10 touchdowns.
However, there have been ways to limit Yale’s offense. Last week, Brown forced Grooms to throw three interceptions with the Bears’ secondary making life difficult for Yale. Penn, by applying pressure on Groom and sacking him on multiple occasions, forced the senior quarterback to make a decision quickly, something he does not excel at.
The key for Princeton in this game will be limiting mistakes. There is no recipe for success if the offense has another abysmal performance this week. As good as the Tiger defense is, Grooms and Tipton will find success. Offensive Coordinator Mike Willis has rightfully been facing backlash this entire season. With the share of the Ivy League title on the line, it is his time to step up and help this offense succeed.
I’m not confident in the Tigers, but I believe the defense will save them once again. Expect the Tigers to come out motivated to get back in the win column and keep their title hopes alive on national television. Whatever the result is, questions need to be asked about this Princeton offense moving forward to ensure long-term success for this program.
Diego Uribe, Associate Sports Editor: Princeton 13, Yale 14
The story has been the same for the Tigers all season: a defense that looks like it could compete with Power 5 teams, and an offense that is frankly tough to watch.
Expect more of the same in a low-scoring bout. The All-Ivy linebacker duo of Ozzie Nicholas and Liam Johnson will do their best to contain the Bulldogs’ dual-threat quarterback Nolan Groom, but he’ll get free for some big runs and get into the endzone early.
Offensively, the Tigers will start slowly. They’ll try to throw the ball too much on the first couple drives without establishing the run. The Bulldog defense will sell out to the pass and shut down the Tiger’s passing attack. Senior quarterback Blake Stenstrom will produce some scoring drives that end in field goals, but the Tigers will trail at the half.
In the second half, the Tigers will look to their running backs to get big first downs and carry them down the field. They’ll score a late touchdown, but it’ll be too little, too late. The Tigers will lose a close one, and Yale will go on to win the Ivy League.
JP Ohl, Sports Contributor: Princeton 23, Yale 20
In the last four out of five games, the Yale Bulldogs have scored over 30 points against their foes. The Bulldogs’ high tempo and systematically paced offense will be a challenge for the Tiger defense to contain. The Tiger defense has been the keystone to Princeton’s success this year. After a lackluster loss to Dartmouth last weekend, Princeton will remain eager and tenacious to firstly, keep their Ivy Championship chances alive, and secondly, gift the Princeton community a bonfire.
Princeton’s Defensive Coordinator Steve Verbit and his defense will be ready for the challenge and prevent the lightning-fast Yale offense. Ultimately, Offensive Coordinator Mike Willis and the Princeton offense will decide the outcome of the game. The Princeton offense needs to set the tone early and demonstrate offensive poise. Everything is on the line for the Tigers this Saturday. I am confident they will capitalize on their fate. Expect a classic and close football game, with a large fan turnout that will propel the Tigers to victory.
Harrison Blank, Staff Sports Writer: Princeton 17, Yale 13
With a bonfire on the line, the Tigers will come out of an absolute slugfest against the Yale Bulldogs with a season-preserving win. Expect early scoring from both sides, as turnovers provide scoring opportunities. However, the nationally first-ranked Tiger defense (by FCS) will stuff the recently high-scoring Bulldog offense for the entirety of the second half.
Bulldog quarterback Nolan Grooms will challenge the Tigers with his dual-threat ability. He is coming off of a 220 passing yard and over 100 rushing yard performance last week against Brown. The Bulldogs will use his legs to place Tiger linebackers and safeties in conflict during run-pass options play, or RPOs. Lucky for the home team, they have the best linebacking tandem at the FCS level, Liam Johnson and Ozzie Nicholas.
Princeton will rely on a three-headed running back monster of John Volker, Jiggie Carr, and Dareion Murphy, to slow down the tempo of the game and control the line of scrimmage. The Tigers will get a touchdown from Volker and Carr as the running game secures a Princeton victory and a bonfire on Cannon Green.
Alex Beverton-Smith, Sports Contributor: Princeton 14, Yale 13
This game is crucial for defining Princeton’s success this season. The Tigers, having come close last season, will be desperate to give themselves a fighting chance for the Ivy League title this year and for a Princeton bonfire. I believe Princeton will find the ability somehow, and just edge out Yale in an undoubtedly close contest coming down to the final minutes.
Princeton will once again be reliant on their strong defense who were powerless to stop offensive errors that cost the Tigers plenty of points in the loss to Dartmouth 23–21. This defense will again be commanded and led by senior linebackers Ozzie Nicholas and Liam Johnson.
Expect there to be long periods of tense waiting in the game with both defenses not letting up against strong offensive players, and the game coming down to one or two plays which will define each team’s season. Princeton should come out on top, however, as senior quarterback Blake Stenstrom will succeed in getting his team the desired points for a bonfire in what will be his last season with Princeton.
Peter Wang, Sports Contributor: Princeton 27, Yale 24
It’s bonfire season in Princeton. Coming off a disappointing loss at Dartmouth, the Tigers look to bounce back at home in a tough matchup against Yale. The Bulldogs are coming off of a two-game win streak with victories over Columbia and Brown, scoring 35 points or more in each matchup and generating 410 yards of offense last week. However, Princeton’s vaunted defense should be able to contain Bulldog quarterback Nolan Grooms.
Though the Tigers struggled to stop Dartmouth from generating points last week, they only let up one offensive touchdown, with the other touchdown being a defensive pick-six in the first quarter. The Tigers’ biggest challenge will be containing Grooms’ dual-threat ability, as he has over 500 yards rushing this season, good for best in the conference among quarterbacks. In its favor, Princeton was able to limit Harvard’s quarterback Charles DePrima to just 10 rushing yards on 17 carries three weeks ago, so the team certainly has the tools to replicate such a performance.
On the offense, look for quarterback Blake Stenstrom to continue relying on junior receivers Luke Colella and AJ Barber to create plays down the field. Princeton will come away with the win after a late, game-winning drive by Stenstrom.
Diego Uribe is an associate editor for the Sports section at the ‘Prince.’
Hayk Yengibaryan is an associate editor for the Sports section at the ‘Prince.’
Harrison Blank is a staff writer for the Sports section of the ‘Prince.’
JP Ohl is a contributor to the Sports section of the ‘Prince.’
Alex Beverton-Smith is a contributor to the Sports section of the ‘Prince.’
Peter Wang is a contributor to the Sports section of the ‘Prince.’
Please send corrections to corrections[at]princeton.edu.