Sports » Football
The football team continued its best season in recent memory Saturday, pulling through in the second half to overcome Lafayette by a score of 42-26. The Tigers (3-1 overall, 1-0 Ivy League) have now scored 40 or more points in three straight games for the first time since 1950.
The Tigers have not had a record this good through four games since 2006, when they went 4-0.
The Leopards (1-4, 1-0 Patriot League) racked up 20 points in an action-packed first quarter which ended 20-11. It took a group effort from Princeton’s offense, led by junior quarterback Quinn Epperly, to make up the deficit.
Epperly got the Tigers on the board first on the first drive of the game with a seven-yard touchdown pass to Wilson. Lafayette answered back with a touchdown in the form of a 69-yard ramble by tailback Ross Scheuerman. The defense had trouble dealing with Scheuerman again on the next drive, surrendering an 18-yard touchdown run. Scheuerman ended the quarter with 106 rushing yards and three touchdowns, the first time since 2010 that a player has scored three rushing touchdowns against Princeton in a single game.
“That start to our game, for our defense, was not what we had anticipated,” head coach Bob Surace ’90 said.
“That’s a pretty sick feeling,” he added, regarding the 69-yard touchdown.
Down 20-11, the Tigers began their comeback midway through the second quarter, as Epperly passed and ran the offense down the field, once again capping it with a touchdown toss to Wilson.
The defense, finally getting time to rest, stopped Lafayette on the ensuing drive, and on the next Princeton possession it was junior quarterback Connor Michelsen who led the team down the field. Michelsen hit Wilson, junior receiver Matt Costello and junior receiver Connor Kelley, the latter for 22 yards, before the drive stalled on the 30 and Surace made the unexpected decision to call in the field goal unit.
Despite issues early in the season, sophomore kicker Nolan Bieck sent the ball sailing through the uprights for a 40-yard field goal, the longest of his career.
“That was huge,” Surace said. “I’m sure everybody in the stands was holding their breath, but he’s been kicking the ball so well in practice.”
Surace said that the kick did wonders for the team’s morale and confidence.
“It was like we’d scored a touchdown on an interception return, the sideline was so jubilant,” he said.
After the kick, the Tigers went into the half with a one-point lead.
“I was so excited going into halftime,” Surace said. He added that senior nose tackle Caraun Reid, who blocked Lafayette’s first extra point attempt, gave the halftime speech.
After a few short possessions, sophomore cornerback Anthony Gaffney made up for two penalties that had helped Lafayette score in the first half by intercepting Leopard quarterback Andrew Dzurik. The pick put the Tigers at the Leopards’ 20, and Michelsen and Epperly combined to move the ball 20 yards quickly, with Kelley making the grab in the endzone.
Lafayette answered back with a perfectly executed flea-flicker, catching Princeton’s defense off guard. Sophomore safety Matt Arrends knocked down the pass on the two-point conversion attempt, allowing the Tigers to the lead. From then on, the Leopards would not score.
“I’d say we weren’t being as physical as what we could have been [at the beginning of the game],” Arrends said. “Once we saw we could just take it to them up front and at the second line, we just hit it.”
Arrends finished the day with 10 tackles.
“We just really started to be relentless,” Reid said of the defensive line, which kept pressure on Dzurik throughout the second half, sacking him twice.
After struggling to create turnovers through their first three games, the Tigers had three turnovers on two picks and two forced fumbles, one of which they recovered.
“I think the biggest thing is we knew [turnovers] were coming, it was just when they were going to come,” Arrends said. “And they came today, they came in bunches, which is what we’d been talking about.”
As the defense closed in on Dzurik and Scheuerman, the offense continued to produce. Michelsen found Kelley on fourth and five for a 29-yard completion. Kelley made an impressive jump to come down with the conversion, and he noted that it was especially sweet because the corner had beaten him on third down.
“The corner got me the play before on press coverage,” Kelley said. “I speed released him and Connor gave me a chance to win, I got up and I won that time.”
“I think the quarterbacks, if you ask them, they feel confident throwing to anybody,” Surace said of his receivers. “There’s a lot of trust we have right now.”
Later that drive, senior tight end Des Smith had a nice one-handed touchdown catch and Epperly dove for the touchdown that put Princeton up 42-26. He and a plethora of running backs ran out the clock.
Sophomore running back Di Andre Atwater had 57 rushing yards, junior running back Will Powers had 45 and Michelsen and Epperly combined for 61 more, but the Tigers scored most of their points through the air, as Epperly threw for four touchdowns for the second game in a row.
Surace warned reporters after the game not to expect any more blowouts as the Tigers enter the second half of their schedule, but he and his team are confident going into Ivy play. They will head to Providence next weekend to take on Brown and will play Harvard in Cambridge the week after that in a game which could have major Ivy championship implications.