The No. 15 Princeton football team played with fire all season, and on a cold, rainy day in Ithaca, the Tigers were finally burned. Princeton had won three games already this season when losing the turnover battle, but a trio of turnovers were too much to overcome against a determined Cornell squad, which ended Princeton's undefeated streak at seven games with a 14-7 win at Schoellkopf Field.
The Tigers had also come back from second-half deficits in four wins this season, and they looked in position to come up with a fifth Saturday afternoon. Trailing 14-7 with 2:29 remaining, senior quarterback Jeff Terrell engineered a drive that began at Princeton's own 15-yard-line. He completed a pair of first-down passes to R.C. Lagomarsino, then another to Jake Staser that put Princeton in Cornell territory for the third time of the fourth quarter. Passes to Brendan Circle and Rob Toresco put the ball at the Big Red 25-yard-line, but Terrell's next pass was picked off by Matt Grant at the Big Red 8-yard-line with 22 seconds remaining.
That was the third turnover of the day for Princeton, and each cost the Tigers dearly. The first was an interception that was picked off by Tim Bax and returned to the 1-yard-line, where Cornell scored one play later. The second came off a Big Red blitz, when Terrell was hit from the blind side and fumbled in Cornell territory during the frustrating fourth quarter.
Princeton outgained Cornell 328-274, thanks in large part to a solid performance by Lagomarsino. He rushed 10 times for 80 yards and caught two passes for 25 yards. Toresco added 46 yards rushing and Princeton's lone touchdown, while Staser led all receivers with 73 yards on four catches.
Unfortunately for Princeton, the offensive star was Cornell running back Luke Siwula, whose bruising carries kept drives alive and took valuable time off the clock. He led all players with 98 yards rushing, and many of them came after the first Princeton defender got to him. Quarterback Nathan Ford added 125 yards passing and a touchdown, while receiver Zac Canty caught seven passes for 93 yards and a score.
The Princeton defense was led by Tim Boardman, who made a Princeton season high 15 tackles in the loss. Both Tom Methvin and Jon Stem recorded eight tackles apiece, while Doori Song added six tackles and one for loss. Tim Strickland recorded his third interception of the season to go along with a pass breakup and a tackle for loss.
While disappointed by the defeat, Princeton knows it will head into November with a championship in sight. The Tigers are now 3-1 in the Ivy League and trail unbeaten Yale by one game. The Bulldogs defeated Columbia 21-3 this week and will travel to Brown next week. If Princeton wins its final three games (home against Penn, at Yale, home against Dartmouth), the Tigers will be 6-1 and claim at least a share of the Ivy League title. Harvard is the only other one-loss team in the Ivy League, and it will host Yale the final week of the season.
"I'm disappointed with our performance today, but I have to congratulate Cornell for a well-executed gameplan against us," head coach Roger Hughes said afterwards. "I told the team afterwords that we have about 10 hours to mourn this one, and then we get back to work. We're still right in the middle of the Ivy League race."
Both defenses held firm early, although Cornell had the early advantage in time of possession and yards gained. The Big Red moved into
Terrell’s first completion went to Adam Berry, a pass that went to midfield and at least tilted the field position battle in
The Cornell defense made sure the Big Red would get points on the board in its next possession. On third-and-long, Terrell’s pass was intercepted by Bax and returned 41 yards down the right side of the field to the 1-yard-line. Siwula took it in on the first play, and Cornell took a 7-0 lead with 4:10 remaining in the first half.
Princeton moved the ball into Cornell territory on its final drive of the first half, but a sack and an incompletion killed the effort and sent
The deficit doubled in the first eight minutes of the second half, as Cornell completed a 7-play, 89-yard touchdown drive with a 40-yard touchdown pass from Ford to favorite target Canty. After running a determined Siwula up the middle for much of the series, Ford caught Canty running alone down the left sideline after his defender slipped. Ford made a perfect pass and Canty was able to stroll into the end zone for the score.
Desperate to get back into the game, the Tigers got a 48-yard run on a draw play to Lagomarsino. Toresco followed it up with a run up the middle for 15 yards, and Terrell got
Cornell picked up a pair of first downs on its next drive, but the defensive line for the necessary surge on third-and-short to stop Siwula and force a punt, which was downed on the
The Big Red looked like it had plenty of yards on a perfect screen pass to the weak side, but a clipping penalty brought it back and set up a third-and-3 from the
Terrell opened the drive with a 36-yard seam pass to Staser, who dragged a defender five yards before being tripped up. Two short rushes and an incompletion brought up 4th-and-6, and Cornell got the ball back when Terrell’s pass to Toresco was just out of reach. With 9:28 remaining, it was up to the defense to make another stand.
Princeton's next chance came after the Tiger defense stopped Siwula on 4th-and-1 at the Princeton 31-yard-line. Terrell hit a 28-yard pass to Brigham and an 8-yard pass to Toresco before missing a slant to Circle. Princeton went for a quarterback draw on third-and-short, but Terrell was hit in the backfield by Jeff Dicks and fumbled the ball. Doug Lempa recovered it near midfield, giving Cornell the ball with 3:56 remaining.
The defense held but was forced to use its timeouts, and Nick Maxwell was able to pin Princeton at its own 15-yard-line with a low, line-drive punt. That set up Terrell's final drive, one which fell just short of yet another remarkable comeback.
The Tigers will welcome Penn to Princeton Stadium next Saturday at 1 p.m. On the strength of three touchdown passes from Terrell,