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Down 34-10 with less than 12 minutes remaining, the Princeton football team put on a show that few will ever forget. The Tigers scored 29 unanswered points to stun the nationally ranked and formerly unbeaten Harvard Crimson 39-34 to move alone into first place in the Ivy League.
A seven-yard touchdown pass to Dré Nelson, followed by a two-point conversion pass to Tom Moak, made it 34-18 with 11:19 remaining. A 29-yard touchdown pass to Matt Costello, followed by a two-point conversion pass to Shane Wilkinson made it 34-26 with 7:43 remaining.
And then it got crazy.
Harvard, which had won 14 straight games by double-digit totals, drove the ball to the Princeton 5, but a tackle by Matt Arends on senior tailback Treavor Scales forced a field goal attempt. Junior nose tackle Greg Sotereanos blocked the kick on a surge up the middle, and suddenly Princeton had the ball in a one-possession game.
The Tigers drove 79 yards in eight plays, the final being a 20-yard touchdown pass from sophomore quarterback Connor Michelsen, who had a career day, to classmate Seth DeValve. With 2:27 remaining, the Tigers needed a two-point conversion for the tie, but the pass was broken up in the end zone, and Princeton still trailed by two.
And then it got crazier.
Harvard started the ensuing drive on its 40 and managed nine yards on three plays. A third-down pass to tight end Kyle Juszczyk, who had 192 receiving yards and three touchdowns on the day, was stopped short on the 12th tackle of the day from Mike Zeuli. The Crimson tried to draw Princeton offsides on fourth, but elected to punt and pinned Princeton at its own 10 with 1:57 to play and no timeouts.
A 15-yard pass to Shane Wilkinson gave Princeton breathing room, and a four-yard rush by Michelsen gave Princeton a first down at the Princeton 37. Michelsen was sacked on the ensuing play, but an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty gave the Tigers a first down at the Princeton 45.
The sack knocked Michelsen out of the game, but sophomore Quinn Epperly came in and moved the Tigers to the 36, where they faced a 3rd-and-2. Running a play that worked for a touchdown at Columbia, Epperly rolled towards the Harvard sideline and lofted a deep ball to junior Roman Wilson, who was in single coverage with the Crimson's Chris Splinter.
Wilson got position along the sideline and brought the pass in for the go-ahead score with only 13 seconds remaining. Harvard's last-ditch effort resulted in an incomplete pass and left Powers Field filled with celebratory players, coaches, alumni and fans.
The win, coupled with Penn's loss at Yale, leaves Princeton alone in first place in the Ivy League. The Tigers, who have won four in a row, are 3-0 in league play, while Harvard, Penn and Dartmouth are all 2-1.
Michelsen completed the day with 237 passing yards and three touchdowns, all of which came in the final quarter. Wilson caught five passes for 111 yards and a touchdown, while seven other players caught at least one pass. Sophomore Will Powers had 57 yards rushing, while Epperly had the Tigers lone rushing touchdown on the day.
The defense may have allowed a season-high in yards (624), but they pitched a shutout in the final 13 minutes and allowed the offense a chance for its stunning comeback. Zeuli had 12 tackles, while junior linebacker Alex Polofsky added 11. Senior co-captain Andrew Starks had two of Princeton's four tackles for loss, while Phillip Bhaya both forced and recovered a fumble to end one Harvard drive in Princeton territory.
Senior Mandela Sheaffer added an interception in the end zone in the first half, when Harvard had the ball inside the 10.
Both of those plays ended Harvard drives inside Princeton territory during a first half that the Crimson owned. At the time, they may have seemed like nothing more than keeping the scoreboard respectable.
In the end, joined with one of the most amazing offensive quarters in Tigers' history, it helped Princeton to one of its greatest wins in the Ivy League era.
• This was Princeton's first victory over Harvard since 2006, which is also the last year that Princeton won the Ivy League title. The Tigers came back to win that game as well, throwing a touchdown pass with less than four minutes remaining.
• Princeton has now won four straight games for the first time since 2006, a run that included the 34-31 comeback win over Harvard. The next weekend, Princeton lost 14-7 at Cornell.
• Wilson became Princeton's first 100-yard receiver since the 2011 Harvard game, when Shane Wilkinson
had 108 yards receiving.
• Princeton entered the fourth quarter with three touchdown passes, but threw four in the fourth quarter alone.
• Princeton was outgained 634-419 in total offensive yards for the game. Harvard quarter Colton Chapple set a Harvard single-game record with 448 passing yards, and he threw for five touchdowns.