The football team clinched a share of the Ivy League title and brought Princeton its second consecutive bonfire with a 59-23 victory over Yale Saturday.
A warm, sunny fall day brought with it the largest crowd Powers Field has seen in years, which started the day by honoring the members of the Class of 2014, who would be playing their last game at Princeton Stadium.
“The support was fantastic today, definitely the biggest crowd I’ve ever played in front of, which was awesome,” senior linebacker Phillip Bhaya said. “Even having both sides filled with orange and black was great, and, as players, we feed off of that.”
The Tiger (8-1 overall, 6-0 Ivy League) offense struggled early, going three-and-out on the first two drives of the game. Junior quarterback Quinn Epperly did not complete a pass until the third drive of the game, midway through the first quarter.
Yale (5-4, 3-3) scored first, finding the end zone to take a 6-0 lead, but sophomore running back Dre Nelson broke a 42-yard run for the first of his two touchdowns on the day on the next drive, giving the Tigers a 7-6 lead. They would never again trail in the game.
“I thought there were some really good adjustments throughout the season,” head coach Bob Surace ’90 said. “We’re going to pick on every mistake so we correct them.”
The contest was even early on. Epperly found junior wideout Connor Kelley in the end zone on the next drive to give the Tigers a 14-6 advantage, but the Bulldogs quickly cut the lead back to one point with a touchdown of their own.
The Tigers only began to pull away after a botched onside kick by Yale was fielded and returned 46 yards for a touchdown by junior cornerback Jakobi Johnson for a dramatic special teams contribution to the Tiger offensive effort.
“Just had to be ready for it,” Johnson said. “[The] ball popped up, and I saw an opportunity so I took it.”
Another Epperly touchdown — a short pass to sophomore running back DiAndre Atwater followed by a nice run and a dive into the end zone — and a field goal from sophomore kicker Nolan Bieck gave the Tigers a 31-16 lead going into halftime. The field goal came after the Bulldogs blocked Bieck’s first attempt, but the play was nullified because Yale had called a timeout prior to the snap.
Senior defensive back Phillip Bhaya also contributed to the scoring effort with a pick-six in his last game on Powers Field. The score broke the Ivy League single-season scoring record set by Harvard in 2012, making this the highest-scoring offense in Tiger history. Epperly’s final touchdown of the day, a completion to senior wideout Roman Wilson, put the Tigers over the 400-point mark for the season.
“Obviously we didn’t have too much success in the beginning [four years ago], but we’ve come a long way. We stayed together as a group, and I’m so proud of my teammates, so humbled to be a part of this class,” Bhaya said. “To go out like this really is something special.”
Senior defensive lineman Greg Sotereanos, senior defensive back Elijah Mitchell and junior linebacker Mike Zeuli each added a sack. Freshman defensive back Dorian Williams led the team with 12 tackles.
The Tigers will finish their season at Dartmouth next Saturday at 1:30 p.m. in Hanover. A win would earn them sole possession of the Ivy League title, as would a Harvard loss to Yale.
“We do not want to share this title in any way or form,” Epperly said after the game. “I think there’d be no better way to send these seniors out of a season like this, but that’s been the goal since day one — to win a championship — and I think it would leave a bitter taste in everyone’s mouth if we had to share that. So we’re going to enjoy tonight, but tomorrow we’re going to come ready to work and prepare to win.”
The 26th “Big Three” bonfire celebrating the sweep of both Harvard and Yale will take place Sunday night on Cannon Green.