Nov. 5, 2005
PHILADELPHIA - It takes something special to end nine years of frustration. The Princeton football team entered Saturday's showdown with Penn at Franklin Field having lost nine straight to the Quakers, but the Tigers found something special in its own special teams. Three huge plays set up a dominant fourth quarter that led Princeton (6-2, 4-1) to a 30-13 win over Penn (5-3, 3-2). The win gives Princeton a share of first place in the league with Brown, which won at Yale Saturday.
It wasn't only the special teams that led to one of the program's biggest victories over the last decade. The offense was both balanced and effective, and quarterback Jeff Terrell played his finest game as a Tiger. The defense shut down the Penn running game and forced a 3-and-out on two critical possessions in the second half.
But it was the special teams that made the most memorable plays. Brig Walker blocked a point-after attempt following Penn's first touchdown, which was picked up by Luke Steckel and ultimately returned for Princeton's first ever defensive extra point. Tim Strickland, who picked off two Quaker passes in the first half, blocked a field goal in the first half, and Jon Stem recovered a fumble on a Penn kickoff return that led to the final touchdown of Princeton's day.
"Obviously I am very proud of this team," head coach Roger Hughes said after his first career win against Penn. "The character of this team showed through today. The defense hung in there and found ways to keep points off the scoreboard. I told the team we would need three things to win. We would need two big plays on special teams. We would need to shut down their run and we would need to get our inside game going on offense." The offense was as balanced as it has been all season. The Tigers ran for 187 yards and threw for 193 yards. Terrell completed 16 of 25 passes for 193 yards and three touchdowns, including a career-long 60-yard touchdown pass to Derek Davis and a 33-yard crossing pass to Jon Dekker that opened Princeton's fourth-quarter lead to 10 points. Rob Toresco led the rushing attack with 70 yards and a touchdown on 16 carries, and he added a seven-yard touchdown reception.
The defense loaded men in the box to limit Penn's run game, and the secondary responded to the challenge of single coverage with four interceptions. Besides Strickland's two interceptions, both McCareins and J.J. Artis added one apiece. The interception for McCareins ensures that he will end his career with at least one interception against every Ivy League team.
Senior linebacker Abi Fadeyi continued his career year with nine tackles, including one for a loss, and classmate Rob Holuba added eight tackles and a sack. Both Nate Starrett and Justin Stull had seven tackles apiece, giving the senior quartet of linebackers a total of 31 tackles. Penn was limited to 84 yards rushing, almost 70 yards less than its season average.
Princeton's opening possession yielded three first downs before a sack and a batted pass forced a punt from midfield. The Tiger defense allowed one first down on a Sam Mathews rush, but it held up and forced a Penn punt, which was tipped by Justin Stull and bounced to a stop at the Tiger 40-yard-line. A fired up offense took the field and wasted no time building on the positive special teams play. With two receivers running downfield routes, Terrell found the open one, Davis, on a downfield post pattern. He hit with a missile that kept the speedy wideout running on stride, and Davis took it into the end zone for a 7-0 lead.
Both defenses went to work from there, forcing matching 3-and-outs before a favorable bounce on a Colin McDonough punt gave Penn good field position at its own 45-yard-line. The Princeton defense made sure the only place Penn went was backwards, as a short rush by Mathews was followed by a sack by Rob Holuba. A 3rd-and-long pass was caught out of bounds, and the Princeton defense ran off the field after three plays for a second straight time.
A good return by Fields gave Princeton the ball at the 30-yard-line, and Kirkland took the first rush up the middle for 20 yards. A crossing pass to Jon Dekker gave Princeton 12 yards and another first down, and an option run to Kirkland on 3rd-and-short gave Princeton 1st-and-10 at the Penn 19-yard-line. Kirkland went three yards up the middle on first down and another five on second down to set up 3rd-and-2 at the 11-yard-line. The Tigers shifted four receivers right and threw a short pass to Dekker, who followed hi blockers to the 7-yard-line. On 2nd-and-goal, Toresco rolled right and found Toresco open at the 1-yard-line. The fullback took the pass, absorbed a hit at the spot and reached the ball over the goal line for the 14-0 lead.
"We have gotten off to slow starts against two good teams over the last two weeks," Penn head coach Al Bagnoli said. "You can't get behind 14-0 and always expect to get back."
In need of some offensive positivity, Penn put together a long touchdown drive by consistently recording 3rd-down conversions on passes by Pat McDermott. His last one took Penn to the Princeton 25-yard-line, and Mathews did the rest, bursting through the line and finding space on the right side. He had an angle on two Princeton defenders and raced into the end zone, which appeared to cut the deficit to one score.
Appeared, until Brig Walker busted through the line and blocked Zoch's attempt, which was picked up around the 25-yard-line for Luke Steckel, who looked first for his blockers and second for McCareins. After avoiding one tackle, he found McCareins racing up the left sideline. Steckel made the pitch and McCareins easily crossed the field and went into the end zone untouched for the first ever defensive extra point in Princeton football history. The only one ever recorded in a Princeton game was made by Penn at Princeton Stadium, but this time it was the Tigers who made the play and opened a 10-point lead.
"I started to stumble when I got the ball, so I knew people were catching up," Steckel said. "We work on this play, and I knew J-Mac was going to be on my left. Once you get the ball in his hands, good things usually happen."
Penn recorded a stop and went back on the move, again converting on several third downs and getting inside the Princeton red zone. Facing 3rd-and-short, Matthews was stopped for a 1-yard-loss, which forced a 28-yard attempt by Zoch. This time it was Strickland who found the gap and blocked the field goal attempt. Strickland made sure that Penn wouldn't get any more points that half, picking off a McDermott pass at the Princeton 30-yard-line with two minutes remaining and then another at the 25-yard-line with five seconds remaining.
Both teams got stops on the first drives of the second half, but Penn went on the move through the air on its second drive of the half. A long pass gave the Quakers 1st-and-10 on the Princeton 23-yard-line, but two short rushes yielded two yards and set up 3rd-and-8 at the 21-yard-line. McDermott rolled right on the play and found Dan McDonald positioned at the 5-yard-line. McDonald brought the pass in and eluded one tackler before getting into the end zone. Zoch's extra point was good, and Princeton's lead was trimmed to 16-13 with 5:39 remaining in the quarter.
The ensuing kickoff proved disastrous, as a short kick was failed to be caught, and the bounce went directly to a pair of charging Quakers, who were first on the ball in the middle of a full pile of players. Penn held on to it in the scramble and got the ball at the Princeton 32-yard-line. The Tigers allowed only four yards to set up a 46-yard field goal, which Zoch sent wide left.
Needing to move the ball to give its defense a break, Terrell converted first downs on outs to Brendan Circle and Brian Brigham, and on 3rd-and-3 at the Penn 39-yard-line, Terrell avoided a rush and got outside the pocket for a 7-yard gain. The drive stalled outside of Javarone's range, and McDonough's punt sailed into the end zone to set Penn up from its own 20-yard-line. While the drive didn't score points, it did allow the defense to get its wind. Penn moved the ball towards midfield before McDermott was intercepted by McCareins at midfield.
Princeton drove six plays, all rushes, to get to the Penn 1-yard-line. Toresco took the hand off and tried to reach the ball over the goal line, but it was stripped and recovered by Michael Johns at the 1-yard-line. It seemed like another major change of momentum, but the Tiger defense trotted out to the field and allowed Penn to go one yard before forcing a punt, which Greg Fields returned to the 35-yard-line.
Two plays later, Princeton had its two-possession lead. Running the same play that scored the first touchdown against Cornell last weekend, Terrell waited for Dekker to release late, away from where most of the Princeton receivers were running, and hit him on a perfect crossing pass. Dekker turned on the jets and made it to the pylon just before a Penn player tried to force him out of bounds.
Needing a score to get back in the game, the Penn offense didn't get a chance. Sandberg fumbled the kickoff, and Stem's recovery at the Penn 31-yard-line set Princeton up with a perfect scenario. The Tigers could run the clock down and try to make it a three-possession game. Terrell opened the drive with a 14-yard run, and following two more Toresco runs, the junior quarterback carried the ball to the 5-yard-line. Toresco took the ball on the next play and would not be stopped this time, driving through the line for the final points in the biggest win in the Roger Hughes era. A late J.J. Artis interception ended Penn's final drive and allowed Princeton to run the clock for the final 4:34 and ice the game.
Princeton will return home for its final game at Princeton Stadium next Saturday at 1 p.m. against the Yale Bulldogs. It will also be the final home game for the Class of 2006. The Tigers have lost three in a row to Yale, including a double-overtime heartbreaker two seasons ago at Princeton Stadium. The game can be seen locally on CN8 or heard live on WHWH 1350 AM, 103.3 WPRB FM or on GoPrincetonTigers.com. If Princeton wins, it assures itself a chance to play for the Ivy League championship in its season finale at Dartmouth. But a league title is not in these players' sights right now; their one-game-at-a-time philosophy has worked all season, and you can rest assured that the only focus for Princeton this week will be the Yale Bulldogs.
Just as it was the Penn Quakers last week.