BOX SCORE l VIDEO TO COME
For the Class of 2013, the long, often-times painful journey through four years of Princeton Football ended with the ultimate Senior Day celebration. The Tigers clinched at least a share of the program's 10th Ivy title and broke the Ivy League scoring record in a 59-23 home win over Yale Saturday at Powers Field.
Princeton posted its first eight-game winning streak since the 1995 season and assured itself no worse than a share of its first Ivy League title since 2006 with its most points since a 60-7 victory over Lafayette during Dick Kazmaier's 1951 Heisman Trophy season. The Tigers can earn their first outright title and become the first Princeton team to go 7-0 in Ivy League play since 1964 with a win next Saturday at Dartmouth.
The win also clinched the 26th "Big Three" title in program history; per University tradition, Princeton will celebrate the sweep of Harvard and Yale with a bonfire Sunday night on Cannon Green. Time and other details will be made available this week.
Princeton, a team that has stressed focus and resolve all season, will begin preparations for the Dartmouth game Sunday. On Saturday, there was cause for a championship celebration, as Princeton made the move from back-to-back 1-9 seasons (2010, 2011) to the top of the Ivy League mountain in two short seasons.
With its 59 points Saturday, Princeton set the Ivy League scoring record with 413 points, despite having one game remaining; the previous record was 394, set by Harvard in 2012.
Junior quarterback Quinn Epperly, a five-time Ivy League Offensive Player of the Week and member of the Walter Payton Award Watch List, completed 24 of 40 passes for 221 yards and three touchdowns, and he rushed 10 times for 54 yards and another score. He is now within two rushing touchdowns of Keith Elias' single-season touchdown mark of 19, and he is within two passing touchdowns of Doug Butler's single-season mark of 25.
He wasn't the only offensive star of the game for Princeton. Sophomore Dré Nelson ran the ball five times for 77 yards and two scores, including a dramatic 42-yard touchdown run to open an early 7-6 lead for Princeton. Nelson took a sweep, avoided a tackle for loss and sprinted away from the Yale defense for a 42-yard score.
Senior Roman Wilson caught nine passes for 115 yards and a touchdown, and he moved one score behind Phil Wendler on the career touchdown reception list with his 14th score. Both Connor Kelley and DiAndre Atwater added touchdown receptions in the win.
Defensively, Princeton got standout games from both young and old. Freshman Dorian Williams, a former Ivy League Rookie of the Week, recorded a career-high 12 tackles in the win, while senior Phillip Bhaya had nine tackles and returned an interception 34 yards for his second career touchdown. That score, which came 41 seconds after Epperly's four-yard touchdown run, helped turn a 31-16 halftime edge into a 45-16 lead with 11:26 left in the third quarter.
Both Garrit Leicht and Matt Landry had seven tackles apiece, while Greg Sotereanos, Elijah Mitchell and Mike Zeuli each had a sack. John Hill broke up a pair of passes to stay among the Ivy's best in passes defensed, while Zeuli added three quarterback hurries.
And then there was special teams, which had arguably its best performance of the season when it mattered most. The most dramatic play came from Jakobi Johnson, who grabbed an onside kick and sprinted untouched for a 46-yard touchdown during a wild first quarter. Max Lescano's 24-yard kickoff return just before halftime set up a 21-yard field goal by Nolan Bieck, and Tyler Roth averaged 41.2 yards on five punts.
Yes, this was a total team performance, and it was worthy of the championship that accompanies it.
As decisive as the final score was, there were moments of concern early. Yale turned a near sack into a 6-0 lead when Logan Scott found Chandler Rich, who turned a screen pass into a 48-yard touchdown. Yale, taking a page from its opponent's playbook this season, went for a two-point conversion, but the run was stopped and the lead was only six points.
And it lasted all of 92 seconds. Princeton marched 58 yards on five plays, with the final 42 coming from Nelson. A sprint standout on the track & field team, Nelson avoided potential disaster in the backfield, cut past another defender and went the rest of the way for the go-ahead score.
Kelley made it 14-6 Princeton when he shrugged off a defensive pass interference in the end zone and still caught a 23-yard strike from Epperly, the nation's leader in points responsible for per game. Yale cut it the deficit to one with a 13-yard touchdown pass, and then it hoped some trickery would earn it another possession. An onsides kick took a perfect bounce to Johnson, who split two defenders and was never threatened on his way to a 46-yard touchdown.
By the time Epperly hit Atwater for a 12-yard touchdown pass early in the second quarter, Princeton built a lead that would never fall below double-digits.
Princeton will now try to earn sole possession of the 2013 Ivy League title and end a three-game losing streak against Dartmouth when it heads to Hanover next Saturday for a 1:30 showdown against the Big Green. The game will be streamed live on the Ivy League Digital Network.