Epperly Breaks NCAA Record, Guides Football To First Place In 53-20 Win
In a season that was already approaching historic numbers, Princeton junior quarterback Quinn Epperly helped the Tigers take sole possession of first place in the Ivy League with some NCAA history of his own. He completed his first 29 straight passes, a Division I record, to lead the Tigers to a 53-20 victory over Cornell on a day when Princeton honored its greatest player ever, the late Dick Kazmaier '52, at halftime.
Epperly, who also set a Princeton record with 31 straight completions over a two-game stretch, completed 32 of 35 passes for 325 yards and three touchdowns. He also rushed 11 times for 69 yards and three touchdowns, giving him back-to-back games where he accounted for six touchdowns in an Ivy League victory.
The victory, combined with Brown's 27-0 home win over Penn, moves Princeton into the top spot in the Ivy standings by itself. The Tigers will look to maintain that position next Saturday when they travel to Franklin Field for a noon showdown at the home of the reigning Ivy champion Penn Quakers.
While Epperly will be the main story coming out of the Cornell win, it took a full team effort to end a three-game losing streak to the Big Red. The Tiger defense limited Jeff Mathews, the all-time Ivy League passing leader, to only one touchdown pass and 230 yards, less than 45% of the yardage he put up on Princeton in a 37-35 win last season.
The Princeton defense, which only allowed one touchdown — the other Big Red score came via the defense — recorded seven sacks for the second straight game. Freshman Ty Desiré had two, while both Matt Landry and Elijah Mitchell had 1.5 sacks apiece. Sophomore safety Matt Arends had a team-high 10 stops, while junior linebacker Garrit Leicht has eight tackles and a sack.
While the defense was pressuring Mathews throughout the game, the offense efficiently moved up and down the field. Princeton gained 605 total yards in the win, including 248 on the ground. Epperly led the ground game with 11 rushes for 69 yards and three scores, while Dré Nelson added 12 for 55 yards.
Junior Seth DeValve led the receivers with eight catches for 81 yards, 12 of which came on a touchdown in which he hurdled a defensive player just inside the sideline. Senior Roman Wilson caught seven passes for 79 yards and two touchdowns; he now has 14 career touchdown receptions, third most in Princeton history.
Wilson also has 98 career catches, and he can become the ninth player in Princeton history with 100 career catches next weekend. Or he could become the 10th, as junior Matt Costello (six catches, 71 yards) now has 99 career receptions.
And then there was Epperly, who came into the game with a modest streak of two straight completions from the previous week — including one for a game-winning six-yard touchdown in triple overtime at Harvard.
Epperly distributed the ball all over the field, completing all 18 of his passes in the first half and helping the Tigers to a 29-13 lead at intermission. He matched the NCAA record for consecutive completions to start a game with third-quarter passes to Wilson (a terrific grab by the All-Ivy senior) and Atwater, and broke the mark with an eight-yard pass to DeValve.
That drive, as well as the next one, ended with touchdown passes for the Tigers, who led 43-13 when Epperly returned to the field with 7:07 remaining in the third quarter. At that point, he had 27 straight completions, one short of the mark held by Richie Williams of Appalachian State, set Oct. 9, 2004.
Epperly tied the mark with a four-yard pass to Di Andre Atwater, then held the record by himself when he found DeValve on a quick out to the Princeton sideline for an eight-yard gain. The next pass would fall incomplete, but both the record and the outcome seemed in full control by then.
Epperly moved into second place on Princeton's single-season passing touchdown mark with his 18th touchdown, one ahead of 2006 Bushnell Cup recipient Jeff Terrell, who guided Princeton to its last Ivy League title. He also broke a tie with Kazmaier, the 1951 Heisman Trophy winner who passed away Aug. 1 of this year and was honored with both his family and teammates at midfield during halftime.
NOTES — Princeton got to the red zone nine times and scored on eight of them, including seven touchdowns … freshman running back Joe Rhattigan scored his first career touchdown on a 12-yard run in the fourth quarter … Tiger freshman Tyler Roth was only called to punt once (45 yards), but he did run in a two-point conversion during the first quarter … nine Princeton players caught at least one pass, including Epperly, who caught one from Connor Michelsen for a seven-yard gain … freshman Rohan Hylton had a career-high five tackles in the win … both Caraun Reid and Joe Robin recorded interceptions for the Tigers; Reid's pick, which came off a batted pass from Dorian Williams, set up Princeton's first touchdown of the game.