Seniors Look For Winning Finish, Maybe A Little More, In Dartmouth Finale
They have already led Princeton to its biggest turnaround in more than 20 years. Now, the members of the Class of 2012 can leave the football program with its first winning season in six years when Princeton hosts Dartmouth Saturday at 1. Of course, with a little help, the Tigers could be playing for even more.
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All-Time Series: Dartmouth 44-43-4
Last Year: DARTMOUTH 24, Princeton 17
Last At Site: Dartmouth 31, PRINCETON 0 (2010)
Last Five Years: Princeton 3-2
Last Princeton Win: Princeton 23, DARTMOUTH 11 (2009)
Current Streak: Dartmouth 2
Princeton’s Last Time Out
Junior Trocon Davis picked off a trick pass late in the second quarter and returned it for a Princeton record 100 yards to lead the Tigers to a 29-7 win at Yale last weekend. Sophomore quarterback Quinn Epperly ran for a touchdown and threw for another to lead Princeton, which won its first game at the Yale Bowl since 2006.
Dartmouth’s Last Time Out
Junior Dominick Pierre ran the ball 28 times for 136 yards and two touchdowns, but Dartmouth was unable to hold onto a 10-point lead in the final seven minutes against Brown. An 18-yard touchdown pass with 1:14 remaining gave the Bears a 28-24 road victory; that score capped a drive that saw Dartmouth recover a Brown fumble that had been ruled to have touched the sideline before the Big Green took possession.
That Winning Feeling
With Princeton’s 29-7 victory over Yale last weekend, the Tigers enter today with a chance to clinch the program’s first winning season since the 2006 Ivy League championship season. The current stretch of six consecutive seasons without a winning record is the program’s longest since an eight-year streak between 1971 and 1978.
Head Of The Class
Princeton will also be looking to send its senior class out with a victory. The Class of 2013, which is featured on Page 4 of this week’s game program, has helped bring the program from consecutive one-win seasons to the top half of the Ivy League standings, and possibly even more.
While Princeton can control a winning season and a positive exit for its senior class, it can also hope for a share of the program’s 10th Ivy League championship. If Princeton defeats Dartmouth and Cornell defeats Penn (a 12:30 start in Ithaca), Princeton would clinch either a two-way or three-way (if Harvard also wins) share of the Ivy League title.
As a reminder, Harvard was picked to finish first in the Ivy League. Penn was picked to finish second. Princeton was picked to finish last. Both Harvard and Penn won one Ivy League title apiece between the last two seasons. During that stretch, Princeton won one Ivy League game.
A Princeton win would assure the Tigers no worse than a second-place finish in the Ivy League. Only one team picked to finish eighth has ever finished second (Yale, 1998). No team ever picked to finish last has ended the year as Ivy League champion.
Princeton has already assured itself its biggest turnaround season in more than 20 years. The last Tiger team to win at least four more games than it had the previous season was the 1991 team, which improved from 3-7 (1990) to 8-2. That team featured a sophomore running back named Keith Elias, who ended his career as Princeton’s all-time rushing leader.
The all-time series with Dartmouth is the closest of any of Princeton’s Ivy League opponents. The Tigers, who won six straight between 2004-2009 to temporarily take a one-game lead, trails Dartmouth 44-43-4 in a series that dates back to Oct. 30, 1897.
One of the Princeton traditions is to hold a bonfire for the team on Cannon Green during any season that it sweeps the “Big Three.” For the 25th time in program history, Princeton swept Harvard (39-34) and Yale (29-7), and will be honored with a bonfire Saturday night at 7 pm.
Harvard led Princeton 34-10 with 12 minutes remaining in the fourth quarter on Powers Field during Week 6, and Yale led Princeton 7-0 in the Yale Bowl early last week. In both cases, Princeton finished the game scoring 29 unanswered points to secure the victory.
Just Quinn, Baby
Sophomore quarterback Quinn Epperly has both rushed for a touchdown and thrown for a touchdown in three of Princeton’s last four games. He has accounted for nine Tiger touchdowns in the last four weeks (five passing, four rushing), and he currently ranks third in the Ivy League in passing efficiency.
Quinn Epperly made his first career start in the 2011 season finale at Dartmouth. He rushed for two touchdowns in a 24-17 loss and was named the Ivy League Rookie of the Week.
When In Roman
Junior wideout Roman Wilson has scored at least one touchdown in six of Princeton’s last seven games. He rushed for a one-yard score last weekend to even the score at 7-7 against Yale, and he caught the game-winning 34-yard touchdown pass from Quinn Epperly to lead Princeton past Harvard.
Princeton hasn’t scored a first quarter point since the Week 5 game against Brown, when Spencer Huston took a throwback and ran for a 15-yard touchdown. Princeton’s only two scores in the first quarter over the last six games have been Huston’s run and a 93-yard kickoff return for a touchdown on the first play at Columbia.
Princeton has 21 first-quarter points this season. The Tigers have at least three times as many in every other quarter (71 in both the second and third, 82 in the fourth).
Senior Mike Catapano, who will be playing his final game today, leads the Ivy League and ranks second nationally with 1.1 sacks per game. Seven of his sacks have come in Ivy League games, including two apiece against Columbia, Brown and Penn.
Tackling The Issue
The race for the Ivy League tackle leader will come down to the final weekend, and two of the top three currently will be on the field today. Columbia’s Zach Olinger leads the league with 9.2 stops per game (83 total), while Dartmouth’s Michael Runger is second with 9.0 stops (81). Princeton senior Andrew Starks, a two-time All-Ivy League selection, is third with 8.9 stops (80).
Return To Sender
Junior Trocon Davis’ 100-yard interception return last weekend matched the school record of James Anderson, who did the same during a victory at Cornell on Sept. 22, 1984.
Good And Bad
In Princeton’s five wins this season, it is a +7 in turnover margin. In its four losses, the team is a -5.
In losses to Cornell and Penn, Princeton has struggled with turnovers in the fourth quarter. In both games, the Tigers turned the ball over on three of their final four possessions. In the victories over Harvard and Yale, Princeton was far more efficient at the end of the game; the Tigers scored touchdowns on their final four drives against Harvard, and they scored on a drive that took 6:57 off the clock in the fourth quarter against Yale.
Return To Sender
Freshman Anthony Gaffney is not only third in the league in interceptions and passes defensed, but he also leads the league in kickoff returns. Gaffney averages 26.5 yards per kick return, and his 59-yard return in the fourth quarter against Harvard set up the first points in Princeton’s 29-point 4th quarter. Gaffney made quite the splash in his Ivy 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.
Freshman Matt Arends has started four games opposite of Anthony Gaffney after Khamal Brown was lost for the season. In the last four, he has averaged more than seven tackles per game, and he has recorded at least one pass breakup over each of the five starts.
Sophomore quarterback Connor Michelsen was named the Ivy League Offensive Player of the Week after leading Princeton to the comeback win over Harvard. Michelsen’s honor gave Princeton at least one individual award per week for a span of four weeks. Anthony Gaffney has won two Rookie honors, while both Mike Catapano and Caraun Reid have won Defensive Player honors. Nolan Bieck has a Special Teams honor.
Princeton is one of two Ivy League schools to have won each individual award at least once; the other is Dartmouth.
King For A Day
Senior Tim Kingsbury, a three-year starter at linebacker, had one of his most productive days against Penn. He set a career high with 15 tackles, including one for a loss, and he is second on the team with 63 tackles this season.
The Crystal Ball
Princeton will play five home games next season, including the opener against Lehigh on Sept. 21 (time TBA). The Yale game, traditionally the highlight of Alumni Weekend, will be played Nov. 16.