First-Place Tigers Rally Past Penn, Stay Unbeaten In Ivies With 38-26 Win
To unseat the reigning Ivy League champion, you better be ready for everything. Penn, winners of three of the last four Ivy titles, gave Princeton everything today during its Homecoming game at Franklin Field.
Princeton took it, and then took a little bit for itself.
Six turnovers, including a 59-yard interception return for a touchdown by Elijah Mitchell, and an efficient second half by the Tiger offense, led Princeton to a 38-26 comeback win over Penn Saturday afternoon in front of 21,214 at Franklin Field. The win keeps Princeton alone in first place in the Ivy League, though Harvard remains one game back with two games to go.
Trailing 23-17 at the half, Princeton outscored Penn 21-3 in the final 30 minutes to claim its first win over the Quakers since 2006. Junior quarterback Quinn Epperly, who completed 32 of 45 passes for 268 yards and two touchdowns, rushed for a pair of one-yard scores and hit Connor Kelley on a 14-yard post for the back-breaking final touchdown in the 12-point win.
The Tigers trailed 16-0 early in the second quarter in a game highly reminiscent of the Week 5 win at Brown, when Princeton trailed 17-0 and then scored the final 39 points in a decisive victory. There was no panic on a Princeton sideline that believed both sides of the ball would execute far better for the rest of the game.
And execute they did.
Princeton’s top four receivers each had at least five catches, including a career-high 12 grabs for 68 yards by senior Roman Wilson. Both Wilson and junior Matt Costello (5-40) went over the 100-career-catch mark in the game, though it was Kelley and fellow junior Seth DeValve who scored touchdowns and grabbed several crucial third-down conversions for the Tigers.
Princeton was held under 100 yards rushing for the first time all season, though Epperly still managed 53 yards on 13 carries and a pair of scores. His second, which opened a 31-23 lead early in the fourth quarter, was set up when DeValve made a leaping 24-yard catch just along the Princeton sideline.
The Princeton offense was able to take control of the game in the second half because the defense simply didn’t allow Penn to grab full control in the first half. Mitchell’s return for a touchdown was the highlight of six turnovers, three of which led to scores and a fourth that ended Penn’s final drive.
Princeton also got interceptions from Anthony Gaffney and Mike Zeuli. Senior Jason Ray recovered a pair of fumbles, while Zeuli recovered a third. Senior safety Phillip Bhaya led Princeton with seven tackles, while both sophomores Matt Arends and John Hill had six apiece. Both Mitchell and senior All-America defensive lineman Caraun Reid recorded sacks for a defense that raised the pressure significantly in the second half. During the final 30 minutes, the Princeton defense forced as many turnovers (three) as it allowed points; a lone field goal was all Penn mustered in the decisive half.
The first half, however, was one of the wildest of the season, and certainly not one of Princeton’s best. A penalty on the opening kickoff triggered an extended run of lousy field position, and that ultimately ended with a holding call in the end zone that gave Penn a game-opening safety.
Princeton was able to rebound and drove later in the quarter in search of a lead, but an Epperly pass to the sideline was tipped by Sam Chwarzynski, who caught the deflection and raced away from both Epperly and Kelley for the 61-yard score.
A six-yard touchdown run by Penn’s Kyle Wilcox gave the Quakers a 16-0 lead less than three minutes into the second quarter, but the Tigers were able to settle and regain some momentum before the half. Epperly engineered an eight-play, 71-yard drive on the ensuing possession, and he finished it with a 10-yard scoring pass to DeValve, who pulled the ball in just inside the left sideline.
Zeuli recovered a fumbled handoff inside Penn territory, and Princeton converted on a pair of fourth downs to set up a 27-yard field goal by sophomore Nolan Bieck, who got the Tigers back within five points.
Penn started to move again, but a pressured Billy Ragone threw a pass right to Mitchell, who followed a host of blockers for a 59-yard return for a touchdown. It was Princeton’s first defensive score of the season, and it gave the Tigers a temporary lead, though Ragone capped an impressive drive with a 34-yard scoring pass to Ryan Mitchell with 12 seconds remaining before halftime.
Princeton got off the field quickly to start the second half, and Epperly engineered a 15-yard scoring drive that he ended with a two-yard touchdown run. Quarterbacks Connor Michelsen and Kedric Bostic all played big roles on the drive, though the biggest play was a 12-yard catch by Connor Kelley on 3rd and 11. He added his 1-yard score early in the fourth quarter to open an eight-point lead, and following a field goal by Penn, Princeton ran off a 12-play, 63-yard drive for Kelley’s clinching touchdown.
Princeton will honor a senior class that spent its first two years mired in a pair of 1-9 seasons next weekend when it hosts Yale Saturday at 1 pm for Senior Day. Those seniors, who have helped the Tigers to their first seven-game win streak since the 1995 season, can walk off Powers Field one final time with at least a share of the program’s 10th Ivy League title if it could win against an improved Yale squad, which scored late to defeat Brown Saturday.
The task won’t be easy, as everybody loves to ruin a good story late in the season.
But Princeton hasn’t shied from an obstacle yet this season, including a championship-leve obstacle Saturday.