Led by senior quarterback Jeff Terrell, who set the fourth-highest single-game passing total in Princeton football history, the 21st-ranked Tigers won the wildest game in the wildest season in a long time. Princeton rallied from three 14-point deficits and one 11-point deficit with 10:52 remaining to stun Yale in New Haven, Conn. The wildest thing of all comes out of the win; the Princeton football team, picked to finish sixth in the Ivy League preseason poll, is now one win away from its ninth Ivy League title and its first since 1995.
Jeff Terrell threw for 445 yards and three touchdowns, including a season-long 57-yard strike to Brian Brigham with 7:36 remaining that gave the Tigers their first and only lead of the game, and rushed for a fourth touchdown. Twelve of his passes, including two of his touchdowns, went to Brendan Circle, who recorded 178 receiving yards and added a two-point conversion in the fourth quarter. Brigham added six catches for 121 yards, but it was his final one that will long be remembered by the Princeton faithful. His out-and-up, which opened a Princeton drive in the middle of the fourth quarter, caught the Yale defense by surprise and left Brigham wide open. Terrell floated a perfect pass to him, and Brigham streaked into the end zone untouched.
"It was a play we had in the first half, and I tried to be too perfect with it," said Terrell, who has been near perfect for two straight weeks, when he has accounted for eight Princeton touchdowns. "This time, I just put air under it and let Brigham go get it. At halftime, we just said that we had been in this position before. It was no different, we just needed to go out and get the job done."
The job was to rally from a devastating first half, when Yale controlled the game with its talented sophomore running back, Mike McLeod. He ran for 151 yards and four touchdowns in the first half alone, but the Princeton defense limited him to only 30 yards in the second half. That allowed the Princeton offense to get the score to a manageable number and put the ball in Terrell's hands with the game on the line.
Trailing 28-14, the comeback started with a 15-yard strike from Terrell to Circle on a deep corner with 1:25 remaining. It capped a seven-play, 41-yard drive that was extended on a fourth-down conversion run by, who else, Terrell. Following a lost gain on a running play. Terrell took the snap, got time and lofted a pass that only Circle could catch. The junior brought it in and stayed inbounds to cut the deficit to eight points (the point after was unsuccessful).
Yale was stopped in three plays and Princeton got the ball back, but Kyle Hawari tipped a pass at the line of scrimmage and picked it off. He got the ball to the 21-yard-line, but the Princeton defense made sure it kept Yale out of the end zone. A 20-yard field goal by Alan Kimball was successful, giving Yale a 31-20 lead.
Terrell got the ball back and went into surgeon mode, dissecting the Yale defense on five straight pass plays. Circle for 20. Brian Shields for 9. Rob Toresco for 5. Adam Berry for 23. Circle for another eight, this time in the back of end zone for his second touchdown of the game and his seventh in the last six games. A failed two-point conversion attempt left the score at 31-26, but a sizable Princeton cheering section, which included a raucous nine busloads of students who came up Saturday morning, started to believe.
Yale went 3-and-out on its next possession and got off a short punt that was downed at the Princeton 43-yard-line. It was then that Terrell and Brigham connected for the go-ahead score. Terrell added a two-point conversion pass to Circle, opening a stunning 34-31 lead and silencing a majority of the 43,406 in attendance at the refurbished Yale Bowl.
Yale got one first down on its ensuing drive, but a pair of incompletions and a short run by McLeod forced a Yale punt. Even worse for the Bulldogs, they had to burn two timeouts on the drive, leaving them with only one remaining in hopes of getting the ball back.
Runs by Lagomarsino and Terrell got Princeton one first down, and with the precious seconds ticking away, one more first down would be all that was necessary. Toresco ran for five yards and Toresco ran for two, but a false start sent Princeton into a 3rd-and-8 spot. With the game on the line, as well as control of its position in the Ivy League race, the Tigers went back to the connection that has worked so well all season. Terrell rolled left and hit Circle for a 13-yard, game-ending play. A pair of kneels ended the game and sent the Princeton students into a frenzy; they jumped from the stands and celebrated the win with the Tigers, who ended a four-year losing streak to the Bulldogs.
Besides maintaining control of the Ivy League race, and more on that in a bit, Princeton will celebrate its first sweep of Harvard and Yale since 1994 with a Thursday night bonfire, starting at 9 p.m. More information will be available during the week at GoPrincetonTigers.com.
As for the Ivy League race, Princeton got some help from Penn, which knocked off Harvard 23-14 in Philadelphia. Princeton will clinch at least a share of the Ivy League title with a win next Saturday at home against Dartmouth (1 p.m., Patriot Media TV, WBUD 1260-AM, GoPrincetonTigers.com), and can win the title outright with a win and a Harvard victory over Yale, which will be played in Cambridge. Princeton would miss out on the title with a loss to Dartmouth and a Yale win.
"As I told the team afterwards," head coach Roger Hughes said after leading Princeton to its 15th win in 19 games, "our focus when we get home must be on Dartmouth. We are in a one-game playoff now for the Ivy League title, and we have to be ready for them. This was a great win, but it's not the end."
It was a win that few believed would happen after watching the first 30 minutes.
Yale took a 7-0 lead with two seconds remaining in the first quarter. McLeod’s 1-yard touchdown run capped an impressive 12-play, 99-yard drive that featured several third-down conversions and a 33-yard run by Matt Murray that got Yale to the 3-yard-line.
Following a 4th-down stop against
In desperate need of a response, Terrell engineered a much-needed scoring drive, albeit another one with a crazy touchdown. A long crossing pass to Brendan Circle moved Princeton into Yale territory, and then three touches by Toresco, including a 9-yard run and a first-down conversion reception, got
Yale didn’t waste any time moving the ball right back down the sidelines. Again relying on McLeod and some critical third-down passes, Yale got the ball to the 26-yard-line. Polhemus dropped back, saw nothing except green to his right and took the ball 20 yards to the
Terrell took the offense right back down the field with his typical no-huddle effectiveness. Connecting on two passes to Circle and a third to Brian Shields, Terrell moved the ball inside the 10-yard-line. Rolling left, Terrell got his only defender to bite on a pump fake and ran in untouched from six yards out. It completed a 5-play, 67-yard drive that only took 1:20 off the clock.
McLeod would add a fourth touchdown in Yale’s final drive of the first half, and one last attempt at points ended when time ran out on a short Princeton pass play in Yale territory.
Princeton came out renewed in the second half and allowed Yale only one third-down conversion in the second half. Improved tackling, gap coverage and timely breakups by Tim Strickland, who made three in his 39th straight start, kept Yale from scoring outside of its field goal following the turnover. Led by Brig Walker's eight solo tackles, including two for a loss, and seven stops apiece by Strickland and Kelleher, the Princeton defense did what it was asked to do. Keep the score manageable long enough for No. 4 to get one more chance.
The defense did it, and Terrell paid it off with one of the greatest performances in the grand tradition of Princeton Tiger football.