Yes, last Saturday was plenty of fun for all associated with Princeton football. But it was not the final day of the 2012 season. And for a team that just dealt with the quarterback heroics of Harvard's Colton Chapple, here's a scary thought for Halloween Week: Chapple is only second in the Ivy League in passing yardage.
Cornell's Jeff Mathews, the reigning Ivy League Offensive Player of the Year, is first. He has averaged 352.3 passing yards per game at Schoellkopf Field over the last two seasons, and he has a gaudy 19-4 ratio of touchdowns to interceptions over that stretch.
While Mathews is making a quick move up the career passing ranks in the Ivy League, Princeton has made a stunning jump to the top of the Ivy League standings. Projected to finish last in the Ivy League, Princeton currently stands alone in first place for the first time since the Clinton Administration.
By the way, that would be his first term. It's been a while.
It has been a four-week stretch like few others in the last two decades of Princeton football, but the next four weeks will really tell the story of the 2012 Princeton Football season. Yes, it is exciting right now. Yes, it's still fun to relive those last 29 points on Saturday.
Yes, there is still a long way to go this season. And the Cornell-Princeton series has its history of incredible endings for both sides (see the bottom of this story).
After last weekend, would it shock anybody to see another?
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All-Time Series: Princeton 57-35-2
Last Year: Cornell 24, PRINCETON 7
Last At Site: CORNELL 21, Princeton 19 (2010)
Last Five Years: Princeton 3-2
Last Princeton Win: PRINCETON 17, Cornell 13 (2009)
Current Streak: Cornell 2
A New Position
Princeton’s stunning 29-point fourth-quarter last weekend has moved the Tigers to an unexpected position in the Ivy League standings. For the first time in 165 weeks of Ivy League football, dating back to the final game of the 1995 season, Princeton is currently alone in first place in the league. Even during its 2006 Ivy League championship season, Princeton either shared first or trailed Yale every week of the season.
Princeton is the lone unbeaten in the league with a 3-0 mark, while Harvard, Dartmouth and Penn all share 2-1 records. Dartmouth and Harvard meet in Hanover this weekend, while Penn hosts Brown.
Before anybody gets ahead of themselves, there is still four weeks remaining in this Ivy League season, and Princeton faces four teams it has gone a combined 0-8 against over the last two years.
Over the last eight years, the Princeton-Cornell games have been decided by an average margin of 5.6 points per game. During that span, both teams have won four games, with Cornell taking both of the last two. Six of those games were decided by five points or fewer, including three of four at Schoellkopf Field. In 2010, Cornell edged Princeton 21-19.
In the last six Princeton-Cornell games at Schoellkopf Field:
• three Princeton losses were affected by missed extra points (2000, 2004, 2010)
• Princeton scored 22 points in the 4th/OT to win in 2002
• each were decided by seven points or fewer
The last time Princeton started an Ivy League season with a 3-0 record was 2006. The next weekend, the Tigers went to Ithaca and dropped a 14-7 game to Cornell. The game, which featured three Princeton turnovers, was the Tigers’ only loss of the season.
With 12 minutes remaining in the fourth quarter last weekend, Princeton trailed unbeaten Harvard 34-10. From that point forward, seven different players scored either a touchdown or a two-point conversion in a run of 29 unanswered points for a 39-34 victory.
Last season, Princeton scored a grand total of 37 points in all 10 fourth quarters it played.
The last time Princeton won four straight Ivy League games was 1995, when the Tigers won the first five en route to their last outright league championship.
Sophomore quarterback Connor Michelsen entered the fourth quarter last weekend with zero career touchdown passes. He threw three in the final 12 minutes against the Crimson, and added a two-point conversion throw to Tom Moak, to ignite the 39-34 comeback win. The effort earned him the Ivy League Offensive Player of the Week award.
Michelsen’s honor gave Princeton at least one individual award for each of the last four weeks. Anthony Gaffney have won two Rookie honors, while both Mike Catapano and Caraun Reid have won Defensive Player honors. Nolan Bieck has a Special Teams honor.
When In Roman
Junior wideout Roman Wilson missed most of his first two seasons with a variety of injuries, and he has more than made up for it this year. He had the biggest play in the last six years with his 36-yard touchdown catch to beat Harvard last weekend, and he leads Princeton in receptions (20), receiving yards (371) and yards per catch (18.5). He is Princeton’s only receiver with multiple touchdown catches this season; both of his have come from Quinn Epperly, and both were more than 30 yards.
Three Princeton players scored their first career touchdowns last weekend, and each did so in the fourth quarter. Freshman Dré Nelson and sophomores Matt Costello and Seth DeValve each caught TD passes from Connor Michelsen during the comeback.
In each of the last two games, sophomore Will Powers has rushed exactly 14 times for 57 yards.
Powers leads Princeton with 240 rushing yards this season, and he has played the bulk of the last two games while teammates Akil Sharp and Di Andre Atwater have dealt with injury. Powers scored a rushing touchdown against Brown.
From the start of the second quarter against Brown through halftime of the Harvard game, Princeton had 18 offensive drives: 13 ended in punts, two ended at either halftime or the end of the game, two ended in turnovers and one resulted in a touchdown.
Princeton had seven drives in the second half against Harvard: five resulted in touchdowns (including the final four), one ended in a field goal and one ended in a turnover.
Tale Of Two Games
Princeton has won its last two Ivy League games in extremely different ways. On Oct. 13, the Tiger defense snapped an Ivy League record 162-game scoring streak by Brown in a 19-0 victory. Last weekend, the offense scored five touchdowns, the most it has in a single game this season, for a 39-34 victory.
Princeton came into last weekend having allowed only one passing touchdown in the first five weeks of the season. The Tigers allowed five to Harvard’s Colton Chapple last weekend.
This weekend, the Tigers face reigning Ivy Offensive Player of the Year Jeff Mathews. The Big Red junior leads the Ivy League with a passing average of 354.2 yards per game. Mathews threw for 224 yards at Princeton last season, his lowest total in a 2011 Ivy League game. Of course, it was the only game he played in a nor’easter; the conditions at Princeton Stadium that day were the worst in the stadium’s 15 seasons.
The Butler Did It
Princeton will be looking to help one of its own this weekend. Jeff Mathews is currently sixth on the all-time Ivy League passing list, and he needs 376 yards to move past Princeton career leader Doug Butler (7,291) and into fifth place.
Mathews is on pace to break the all-time Ivy League passing record, which means he would ultimately need to pass Princeton offensive coordinator James Perry, who set the record with 9,294 passing yards for Brown between 1998-2001.
The Cornell passing attack will face a pair of defensive linemen who are having standout seasons on their own.
Senior co-captain Mike Catapano leads the Ivy League with 7.5 sacks, and he has recorded at least one in four of the last five games. In Princeton’s last road game, a 35-14 win at Lafayette, he had eight tackles, including three for loss, and 2.5 sacks; he was named Defensive Player of the Week.
One game later, senior Caraun Reid recorded six tackles, including four for loss, and added 2.5 sacks and a safety in leading Princeton to a shutout of Brown.
Tackling The Issue
Senior linebacker Andrew Starks ranks fifth in the Ivy League with 9.0 tackles per game, and he has ranked in the top five in tackles over each of his last two seasons. He led Princeton with 11 tackles in the 24-7 home loss to Cornell last season.
Last week, sophomore Mike Zeuli set a career high with 12 stops; the last came on third down on Harvard’s final possession to force a punt.
Princeton has scored as many fourth-quarter points this season (68) as it has allowed in the second, third and fourth quarters.
Since trailing Lehigh (still unbeaten and ranked seventh nationally) 17-0 in the first half of the season opener, Princeton has outscored its opponents 160-75.
In 2011, Princeton ranked eighth in the Ivy League and 114th nationally in turnover margin (-15). This season, Princeton leads the Ivy League and ranks seventh nationally (+8). Pass defense has been a key factor in the turnaround. After only intercepting three passes all of last season, the Tigers have eight interceptions already this season.
Freshman Anthony Gaffney, who has started every game this season, shares the Ivy League lead with three picks this season.
Special teams played a huge role in the comeback win over Harvard last weekend. Princeton blocked three kicks in the game, and the last two were during the fourth quarter.
Freshman Dré Nelson blocked a punt that gave Princeton the ball on the Harvard 48; less than a minute later, Matt Costello caught a 29-yard pass to get Princeton within eight.
Harvard followed with a 52-yard drive to the Princeton 5, but Greg Sotereanos kept it to a one-possession game with his first blocked field goal. Linemate Caraun Reid added a blocked extra point earlier in the game.
Return To Sender
Freshman Anthony Gaffney not only leads the Ivy League in interceptions, but he also leads the league in kickoff returns. Gaffney averages 27.6 yards per kick return, and his 59-yard return in the fourth quarter last weekend set up the first points in Princeton’s 29-point fourth quarter.
Gaffney made quite the splash in his Ivy League debut; he returned the opening kickoff at Columbia 94 yards for a touchdown. The Tigers were either tied or leading for the next 188:44 of game action.
Head Of The Class
Senior Joe Cloud, a two-time All-Ivy League punter, has been named one of 147 national semifinalists for the 2012 NFF National Scholar-Athlete Awards. The 147 nominees also comprise the list of semifinalists for the 2012 William V. Campbell Trophy, endowed by HealthSouth, which recognizes an individual as the absolute best football scholar-athlete in the nation.
Cloud is one of only three Ivy League players who were named among the semifinalists.
The Crystal Ball
Princeton returns to Powers Field Nov. 3 to take on Penn at 1 pm. If you can’t make it, the game can be seen live on ESPN3 or heard on WPRB 103.3 FM or on GoPrincetonTigers.com.
Penn has won five straight in this series.
The Recent History Of The Princeton-Cornell Series
2000: Cornell 25, Princeton 24
Princeton’s Brian Danielewicz completes a 24-yard TD pass to Chisom Opara with 11 seconds remaining, but Taylor Northrop slips on the icy turf and his PAT was blocked.
2001: Cornell 10, Princeton 7
Taylor Northrop’s 57-yard field goal attempt with 5:53 remaining hits the crossbar and bounces back.
2002: Princeton 32, Cornell 25 (ot)
Princeton scores 22 points in the fourth quarter and overtime to rally from a 25-10 deficit. Jay McCareins forces overtime with a late INT and Blair Morrison catches the winning TD.
2003: PRINCETON 28, Cornell 6
Matt Verbit throws two touchdown passes in a 22-second span as Princeton rolls to the only lopsided win of the decade.
2004: CORNELL 21, Princeton 20
Cornell throws TD passes of 54 and 79 yards, and Derek Javarone’s PAT with 6:48 left in the 4th quarter gets blocked.
2005: PRINCETON 20, Cornell 17 (ot)
Jeff Terrell engineers an 18-play, 63-yard drive to set up the tying field goal, and Derek Javarone breaks the Ivy League record with his 42nd career field goal to win it in overtime.
2006: CORNELL 14, Princeton 7
Despite being outgained 328-274, the Big Red hands Princeton its only loss of the season when Matt Grant’s late interception ends the final Tiger drive.
2007: PRINCETON 34, Cornell 31
Princeton RB Jordan Culbreath, recording his breakout game on ESPNU, runs for 145 yards and two touchdowns, and Cornell kicker Peter Zell misses a 47-yarder in the final seconds.
2008: Princeton 31, CORNELL 26
Despite trailing by 12 with 45 seconds remaining, a late touchdown and an onsides kick allows Cornell to attempt a 20-yard pass into the end zone on the final play, but it falls incomplete.
2009: PRINCETON 17, Cornell 13
With Culbreath returning to the sideline for the first time since his aplastic anemia diagnosis, Princeton threw 2 TD passes to Trey Peacock, including the 78-yard game winner in the 4th quarter.
2010: CORNELL 21, Princeton 19
Princeton scores two TDs in the fourth quarter to cut a 15-point deficit to two points, but a late throw into the end zone is picked off by Cornell’s Emani Fenton to preserve the win.
2011: Cornell 24, PRINCETON 7
A nor'easter hit Princeton hours before, and the game was played in the worst conditions the 14-year history of Princeton Stadium. Princeton led for only 14 seconds in a snow-filled loss to the Big Red.