Bolstered by its best defensive effort of the season, the Princeton football team nearly pulled off a remarkable victory at the Yale Bowl in the 133rd meeting between the two schools. The Bulldogs, however, stayed in the Ivy race with timely plays late in a 14-13 win over the Tigers.
Senior linebacker Jon Olofsson led the Tigers with 14 tackles, including 13 solo stops, and had both a forced and recovered fumble for a defense that allowed only one touchdown. Princeton forced three turnovers, limited Yale to four third-down conversions in 17 attempts and held the Bulldogs to only 62 yards rushing.
Sophomore Andrew Starks followed Olofsson with seven tackles and a fumble recovery, while junior Blake Clemons recorded six tackles and a pass breakup. Freshman Ross Cadman continued his strong play with five tackles, including a sack, and two pass breakups. The Tigers had a season-high five sacks, including ones from Olofsson, junior Dan Fitzsimmons and seniors Matt Boyer and Keola Kaluhiokalani.
Unfortunately, a defensive touchdown for Yale early in the game would prove critical late. Geoff Dunham stripped Princeton tailback Meko McCray early in the first quarter and returned it 57 yards for a touchdown.
The Tiger offense, which got contributions from seniors and freshmen alike, would battle back and get the lead in the second quarter. Following a fumble recovery from Andrew Starks, who had seven tackles in the game, junior kicker Patrick Jacob connected on a 33-yard field goal to cut the deficit to 7-3.
After a 3-and-out, the Princeton offense produced its best drive of the game. With freshman Connor Kelley at the quarterback position, the Tigers recorded first downs on two passes to Trey Peacock and a third to Matt Zimmerman. After a seven-yard run by freshman Brian Mills, Kelley found Peacock in one-on-one coverage and hit him with a perfect pass into the right side of the end zone.
Peacock, the leading receiver in the Ivy League, ended the game with nine catches for 73 yards and his sixth touchdown reception of the season. Kelley was 13-for-17 for 122 yards and a touchdown, and he led the rushing attack with 10 carries for 45 yards. Sophomore Akil Sharp had six rushes for 30 yards, while Zimmerman had a combined 41 all-purpose yards.
Princeton’s 10-7 lead wouldn’t last long, as Yale capitalized on a good return and drove 59 yards on four plays to take a 14-10 lead. Bulldog quarterback Patrick Witt threw a well-blocked screen pass to Chris Blohm, who scored along the home sideline.
Princeton cut the deficit to one point with a 35-yard field goal from Jacob in the third quarter. After another 3-and-out, Princeton caught a break with a four-yard Bulldog punt and took over on the Yale 40. A 12-yard rush by Kelley was the key play in getting Jacob in field goal range.
Both defenses tightened from there. Princeton’s two best opportunities came in the fourth quarter, but neither resulted in points. An eight-play, 26-yard drive midway through the quarter moved the Tigers into Yale territory, but a pass to Mills was tackled well short of a first down.
Princeton punted and got another defensive stand; a sack by Fitzsimmons was the key in stalling the Bulldog drive. The Tigers got the ball back at midfield, but a holding call left them in a tough position. A 3rd-and-13 pass went for five yards, and with all three timeouts remaining, head coach Bob Surace decided to punt with 3:25 left on the clock.
Unfortunately, Yale got the two first downs it needed to run out the clock. After a 13-yard run by Alex Thomas, Yale faced a 3rd-and-9 with less than two minutes remaining. Junior Mike Catapano, who led a defensive line that got terrific pressure all game, surged into the backfield and nearly had Witt down, but the Yale quarterback fought it off and found Jordan Forney for a game-clinching first down.
Princeton will conclude its season Nov. 20 at 1 p.m. with a Senior Day showdown against Dartmouth. The Tigers have won six straight against Dartmouth, including a 28-10 home win two seasons ago when Jordan Culbreath rushed for 276 yards and two touchdowns.