A furious fourth-quarter comeback, highlighted by a 92-yard touchdown pass from Andrew Dixon to Trey Peacock, fell short for the Princeton football team Saturday afternoon in Ithaca, N.Y. A late interception by Cornell’s Emani Fenton clinched a 21-19 victory for the Big Red.
Down two points with less than four minutes left, Princeton drove to the Cornell 24 with a nice mix of runs and short passes. With the wind blowing against Princeton and more than 30 seconds remaining, head coach Bob Surace felt the field goal wasn’t a sure thing and looked for another connection between Dixon and Peacock.
Dixon launched a deep ball to the near pylon along the Princeton side of the field, but Peacock’s feet got tangled with Fenton’s and the Tiger standout ended up falling. Fenton kept his balance, and both feet inbounds, while securing Cornell’s first victory with an interception with 23 seconds remaining.
It was another standout day for Peacock, who caught seven passes for 136 yards and two touchdowns; he has scored four touchdowns against Cornell in the last three seasons. Dixon completed 19 of 38 passes for 215 yards and two touchdowns, while senior Matt Zimmerman led the rushing attack with 76 yards on 11 attempts. Jordan Culbreath was a first-half standout with 54 yards on five rushes, but he was injured two rushes into the second half. Freshman Brian Mills split carries with Zimmerman for the rest of the half, and Mills scored his first career touchdown.
Senior linebacker Jon Olofsson led Princeton with 15 tackles, while Mandela Sheaffer added a career-best 10 tackles. Princeton forced two turnovers, including a late fumble recovery by Tim Kingsbury that gave the Tigers their final shot at victory. Junior Matt Wakulchik returned from his opening-game injury to make eight tackles, while Weston Palmer recorded nine tackles, including one for loss. Andrew Starks added seven tackles, including two for loss.
Dan Fitzsimmons made the first impact play of the game, ending Cornell’s first drive in Princeton territory. After a 4th-and-1 inside rush got the Big Red just outside the Tiger 30, Cornell quarterback Jeff Mathews saw his pass get tipped at the line of scrimmage and picked off by Fitzsimmons. Though Princeton wasn’t able to convert on the turnover, Otavio Fleury pinned the Big Red at the 15.
The Big Red built off the momentum from its first drive and moved the ball 85 yards on 11 plays to go ahead 7-0. Cornell had four plays of more than 10 yards, including a 23-yard pass to Ryan Houska that got the ball to the Tiger 9. On 3rd-and-goal at the 2, Mathews found Kurt Ondash in the end zone to give Cornell the lead. It marked only the second time this season that Princeton did not score first.
Princeton gained only 38 yards in the first quarter, but it turned up its offense significantly in the second. The Tigers opened with a 12-play, 48-yard drive, but freshman Connor Kelley was picked off at the Cornell 6 to end the drive.
Two series later, Princeton got on the scoreboard. A Culbreath run and a Shane Wilkinson catch got the Tigers to the Cornell 25, and a Brian Mills 8-yard run brought Princeton into the red zone. Three plays later, Dixon rolled right, avoided a pair of onrushing defenders and lobbed a pass across his body to Peacock, who was well ahead of two Big Red defensive backs. He made the catch for his fourth touchdown reception of the season and his third career score against the Big Red; he had both of Princeton’s touchdowns in a 17-13 victory in 2009.
Kicker Patrick Jacob missed the extra point, leaving Princeton down 7-6 at the half. Princeton has had multiple bad memories recently with missed extra points at Schoellkopf Field; both the 2000 and 2004 losses at Cornell were by one point, and both included late extra point misses.
Cornell built the lead to 14-6 on its first drive of the third quarter, taking the ball 64 yards on eight plays and scoring on a 4-yard pass from Mathews to Luke Tasker. The son of long-time Buffalo special teams standout Steve Tasker, the Big Red sophomore got inside position at the 1, caught the ball and fell over the goalline for the first touchdown of his career.
Princeton got a defensive stand on its next drive, but Cornell punter Drew Alston forced a fair catch on the 10. That field position would prove costly two plays later, as Cody Roberts sacked Dixon and forced a fumble, which rolled towards the Tiger goalline. Freshman defensive lineman Kevin Marchand picked up the ball at the 2 and went in untouched for the touchdown.
In desperate need for points early in the fourth quarter, Princeton drove the ball 87 yards on 13 plays in less than four minutes and got a two-yard rush from Mills, his first collegiate touchdown.
After a stop, Princeton created a little of the magic expected in this series. Dixon dropped back and launched a deep post to Peacock, who got past his man in single coverage, broke an ankle tackle and sprinted for a 92-yard touchdown. It was Princeton’s longest scoring play in more than six years, when Matt Verbit hit Clinton Wu for a 99-yard touchdown at Brown. The two-point conversion pass was broken up, leaving the Tigers down 2 with less than six minutes remaining.
Cornell drove to inside the Princeton 20 and looked in position to score when Tasker caught a pass at the 3, but the Tigers came up with a huge defensive play; Wakulchik drilled Tasker and forced the ball loose, and Kingsbury beat a pile of both teams’ players to the ball inside the 5. That set up the Tigers 13-play, 73-yard drive against both the wind and the clock, but Fenton’s final play secured the Cornell win.
Princeton returns home next weekend to take on reigning Ivy League champion Penn for a 3:00 start on Powers Field. The game will be televised live on the VERSUS Network.