A brilliant team effort and the coming of age for a sophomore quarterback carried Princeton to an emotional and hard-fought 24-17 victory over Yale during Senior Day on Powers Field at Princeton Stadium.
Senior Kenny Gunter, who was told on Monday that he'd be receiving the bulk of the carries for an injury-depleted backfield, ran for 119 yards and a touchdown; it was Princeton's first 100-yard rushing game of the season, and it couldn't have come at a better time. Combined with the play of Wornham, who was nearly flawless with a 16-for-23 passing day and a 55-yard rushing day, the Princeton offense posted its biggest scoring effort of the season.
Part of the credit goes to the Princeton defense, which forced four turnovers and scored on most of them. Four players recorded eight tackles apiece, including Dan Kopolovich, who recorded an interception, two pass breakups and a game-ending fourth-down tackle just short of the first-down marker in the final minute. Cart Kelly and Glenn Wakam both recorded interceptions, while Keola Kaluhiokalani recovered a fumble after an athletic strip by Mark Ethridge.
But more than any individual statistics, the most glaring positive in the game was a team will that wouldn't be denied in the fourth quarter. From the moment both teams took the field before the coin toss and throughout a physical battle by both sides, Princeton played with a resolve that was inspired by a Friday speech from College Football Hall of Famer Cosmo Iacavazzi '65, the captain of the undefeated 1964 Ivy League champions that were honored at halftime. His speech was about the importance of heart and the historic rivalry against Yale.
His audience listened, and now they have something they will never forget.
The emotions spilled over before the first kick was sent in the air. After the senior class was introduced to an appreciative crowd, the captains went out for the coin toss. Following both sets of captains were the remainder of both rosters, each of whom formed huge huddles on their respective sides of the field. While there wasn't an altercation, it was immediately clear that this was no ordinary football game. Of course, few are in the second-longest rivalry in college football.
The Princeton defense struck first on Yale's opening drive. Bulldog quarterback Patrick Witt, who struggled with turnovers throughout the day, was picked off on a third-and-long by senior Cart Kelly, who returned the ball to the Yale 43. Princeton was effective immediately, with Wornham hitting Trey Peacock for one first down and then rushing for another one on a 14-yard keeper. With a third-and-goal at the 1, Gunter powered through the line for a 7-0 lead; it was the first rushing touchdown for a Princeton running back all season. It wouldn't be the last.
Another Witt turnover, this one on the fumble recovered by Kaluhikalani, led to a second straight scoring drive for the Tigers. Five straight runs set Princeton up with another third-and-goal at the 1, and this Yale was ready for Gunter's run up the middle. What the Bulldogs weren't ready for came next; after Gunter was tackled for a 1-yard loss, Princeton sprinted back to the line and called a quick snap, which Wornham kept for a two-yard bootleg touchdown into the right side of the end zone.
"We've had that play since day one," Wornham said. "When the call was made, we were stoked to run it."
Yale cut the deficit to 14-3 by halftime, but Princeton came out in the third quarter with renewed aggression. On its first drive, the Tigers went 76 yards in eight plays, culminating with a 30-yard touchdown run by Matt Zimmerman that went right through the middle of the line. Led by a trio of seniors, including captain Mark Paski, who started his 20th and final home game, the offensive line played its best game of the season and helped Princeton to 247 rushing yards. These 30 came after Zimmerman brushed off an arm tackle and sprinted past one final defender for the Tigers' biggest lead of the season.
A rivalry as important as Princeton-Yale rarely allows easy victories, and this certainly wouldn't be one for the home team. A 33-yard touchdown pass late in the third quarter got Yale within 11, and a Shane Bannon 1-yard rush cut the deficit to 21-17. Yale's next chance with the ball ended with a Glenn Wakam interception, a play that was a badly needed momentum switch in the fourth quarter. The offense converted with a 27-yard field goal, giving Princeton a 24-17 lead.
Yale drove to the Princeton 42 looking for a tying score, but a fourth-down pass was knocked down by Kopolovich. Princeton took over, and while it couldn't run the clock out, was able to pin Yale back to its own 15 with a punt. A huge sack by Joel Karacozoff left the Bulldogs in desperation mode, and a fourth-down hook and ladder was tackled by Kopolovich three yards short of the first down.
"I am very proud of this team," Hughes said. "We have been going through adversity all season, but we came out today with great emotion. It was important to our underclassmen to send the seniors out on the right note."