Oct. 25, 2003
CAMBRIDGE, Mass. - As the members of the Princeton football team quietly walked into their locker room following Saturday's 43-40 overtime loss to Harvard on a thrilling Saturday afternoon, a man was there to greet them and tell them they deserved to win the game. The man was Harvard coach Tim Murphy, whose Crimson stayed perfect by escaping a game Princeton squad with a four-yard touchdown pass to Rodney Byrnes on the final play of the game.
For Princeton, it was its second Ivy League loss of the season, both coming on the game's final play. The touchdown pass to Byrnes erased a three-point deficit in overtime on a 36-yard field goal by Derek Javarone. Earlier in the year, Columbia beat Princeton with a 49-yard bomb on the final play.
"I'm proud of these guys and the way they played today," head coach Roger Hughes said afterward. "The reason it hurts so much is because we left everything we had on that field. At the end of the game, somebody needs to step up and make a play." While nobody made the critical play at the end, there were a ton of plays made on both sides. Junior Jon Veach shattered his career high in rushing with 205 yards, and ended the game with 285 all-purpose yards, sixth best ever for Princeton in a single game. Junior quarterback Matt Verbit had his best day as a starter, completing 18 of 34 passes for 354 yards and three touchdowns. Senior wideout Blair Morrison caught five passes for 148 yards and one touchdown, while tight end Jon Dekker also caught five passes for 73 yards.
Three different players recorded 10 tackles apiece, including Justin Stull, the Ivy League's leading tackler. Freshman J.J. Artis made his first career interception, which gave Princeton a chance to win the game in regulation, but a 42-yard field goal attempt by Javarone sailed left.
Javarone would get a second chance in overtime, and he kicked a 36-yard score to open a 40-37 lead. Harvard got the ball and turned its fate into the hands of freshman running back Clifton Dawson, who rushed the ball 40 times for 183 yards and three scores. He ran it four times to get it to the Princeton 4-yard line. On 3rd-and-goal, quarterback Garrett Schiers found Byrnes on a crossing pattern and hit him in stride for the game winner.
Princeton wasted no time showing Harvard it was going to open its offense up, throwing a 58-yard flea flicker to from Verbit to Blair Morrison that got Princeton down to the 25-yard line. After two runs by Branden Benson gained a total of two yards, free safety Chris Raftery picked off a slant pass by Verbit and looked to have open field to the end zone, but the junior quarterback made an open-field tackle to save the score.
Princeton held Harvard after a pair of first downs and got the ball at its own 3-yard line after a perfect punt by Adam Kingston. The Tigers, who scored on a 99-yard touchdown reception by Clinton Wu last weekend, moved the ball 97 yards on seven plays, highlighted by three big runs by Jon Veach. The junior tailback got Princeton some breathing room on the first play of the drive with a run to the 14-yard line. He gained another first down, and then took the ball off the right side of the line, picked up a number of key blocks and ran 49 yards for a touchdown.
Princeton handed Harvard a chance to even the score deep in its own territory. On a punt attempt, upback Kyle Wenski went into motion to block on the left side of the line. Snapper Tim Releford sent the ball into play while Wenski was moving and hit him in the thigh. Harvard recovered at the Princeton 16-yard line and score two plays later on a 14-yard pass from Schires to Rodney Byrnes. The Crimson failed to even the score though, as Jim Morocco sent the extra point wide right.
The Princeton punt team turned the tables on Harvard, as freshman Brigham Walker came around the right side of the line and blocked Kingston's punt, giving Princeton the ball at the Crimson 26-yard line. Once again, Veach carried Princeton into the end zone, as he opened the drive with a 12-yard run and closed it with an 11-yard touchdown reception on a middle screen. The play came on 3rd-and-7, and saw Veach make a move past one linebacker and then carry another over the goal line. Freshman Will Simons made his second extra-point attempt, opening a 14-6 lead.
Harvard came back on its next drive, getting a good return on the kickoff and then moving into the Princeton red zone on a deep pass up the middle to Byrnes, who was matched up against linebacker Justin Stull. On 3rd-and-goal from the 2-yard line, Clifton Dawson surged up the middle for the score to complete a nine-play, 63-yard drive. The two-point conversion attempt was picked off by Tim Strickland in the end zone, keeping the Tigers up 14-12.
After the ensuing kickoff went out of bounds, Princeton again went on the move. On third down, Verbit hit junior wideout B.J. Szymanski on a deep corner for a 26-yard gain, and then Veach gained another first down when he came around the line and caught a pass alone in the middle of the field. The drive was stopped there, and Simons' 32-yard field goal attempt sailed wide right.
Schires engineered another drive deep into Princeton territory and, following a Princeton offsides penalty, threw a pass to Adam Jenkins at the 3-yard line. That was all the room Dawson needed, as he sprinted through the line and scored the go-ahead touchdown with 3:49 remaining in the half. Another two-point conversion attempt failed, as Dawson attempted to take an option run to the left side but was stopped by a trio of Princeton defenders.
Jon Dekker caught a career-long 37-yard pass where he bounced off a pair of Harvard defenders and ran down the right sideline. On the next play, the Tigers faked a reverse to Eric Walz and threw a 42-yard post pattern to Szymanski, who beat the coverage and jogged into the end zone untouched. Simons' point-after attempt hit the right post and bounced back, so the lead stayed at 20-18. He was the third different kicker to miss an extra point for Princeton in the last six quarters.
The defense settled to open the second half, as both teams were forced to punt early. Edwards nearly returned Princeton's first punt of the second half for a score, but punter Colin McDonough made an open field tackle at midfield. The Crimson took advantage, driving deep into Princeton territory and scoring on a 1-yard quarterback keeper. A long kickoff return and a key fourth-down conversion pass to Dekker set Princeton up at the 22-yard line, where Javarone nailed a 39-yard field goal into a stiff wind, matching his career long and cutting the deficit to one point.
Harvard jumped back into the lead on the ensuing drive, moving 70 yards in 13 plays, including a pair of third-down conversions that ended right at the marker. The Crimson scored on the first play of the fourth quarter, as Schiers hit Edwards on a quick slant that went for 35 yards. Amazingly, Harvard failed on its fifth consecutive conversion attempt; a bad snap cost the Crimson a chance to go ahead by eight points.
The track meet continued when Princeton got the ball back, as Veach used a good return and long run to get into Harvard territory, and a reverse by Eric Walz got the ball inside the 30-yard line. Once again, Princeton converted on a fourth down when Verbit found Dekker for an eight-yard gain, but a crucial holding call on a sweep brought Princeton back to its 30-yard line for a 2nd-and-19. Following an overthrow into the end zone, Verbit hit Morrison on a post pattern. The senior wideout broke one tackle and reached the ball just over the 11-yard line for a critical first down. Veach scored two plays later, again bouncing off tackle attempts to score. Javarone hit a crucial extra point to even the score at 30-30 with 9:58 remaining in the game.
Following a pair of crossing patterns that got Harvard into Princeton territory, Davis singlehandedly carried Harvard into the end zone. He broke tackles, converted on short third downs and ended it with a leap over the line into the end zone. Morocco hit on the extra point to give Harvard a 37-30 lead with 6:52 remaining.
Harvard made a key defensive stand on Princeton's next possession, but the Crimson failed to move the ball and had another punt blocked, this time by Abi Fadeyi. After one three-yard run by Verbit, Morrison caught a 43-yard pass for the game-tying touchdown. That score would hold until overtime, although Princeton would have a chance after Artis' intercepted a pass on Harvard's last drive in regulation.
Princeton returns home next weekend to play host to Cornell at 1 p.m. at Princeton Stadium. The Tigers' most dramatic win under Hughes was last season against Cornell, when Princeton rallied from 15 points down in the fourth quarter in a 32-25 overtime win. Morrison caught a touchdown pass from Verbit in the extra session and the defense held the Big Red scoreless to clinch the win.