POSTGAME AUDIO: Bob Surace
The state of the Princeton football team could be perfectly summed up by its conclusion Saturday in Hanover, N.H. There is plenty of talent, most of which will return for at least one more season. But there is also plenty of improvement needed, as the Tigers dropped the final game of their season 24-17 at Dartmouth.
The loss leaves Princeton at 1-9 for the season, 1-6 in the Ivy League. With Columbia's double-overtime upset of Brown, Princeton concludes its season in a share of seventh place with the Lions.
Princeton started six freshmen offensively, including quarterback Quinn Epperly, who became the first Tiger freshman to start at quarterback since David Splithoff did so during the 2000 season. Epperly led Princeton in rushing with 73 yards on 16 carries, and he scored both Tiger touchdowns on runs of 13 and 11 yards.
While Epperly had a strong day on the ground, Dartmouth did a good job bottling up Tiger freshman Chuck Dibilio, who came into the day only 17 yards out of the Ivy League rushing lead. Dibilio ended the day with 66 yards on 23 carries, but he was kept quiet for most of the second half. His counterpart, Dartmouth's Nick Schwieger, took over in the second half and won his second straight rushing title after his 30-carry, 157-yard day.
Defensively, Andrew Starks had one of his best games with 13 tackles, including five solo stops. Freshman Khamal Brown added nine tackles, while junior Caraun Reid ended his tremendous season with seven tackles, two blocked kicks, a sack and a fumble recovery.
Princeton, which led for most of the first half, found itself trailing at the half after a deep pass by Epperly was picked off by Shawn Abuhoff and returned to the Dartmouth 38. A personal foul and three straight completions, including a 12-yard scoring pass to Bo Patterson, sent Dartmouth into halftime with a 15-14 lead. Reid blocked both point-after attempts in the first half, which kept the deficit at one point.
Princeton gained the lead back on a 46-yard field goal by Patrick Jacob, but Dartmouth grabbed the lead right back with a seven-yard pass from Connor Kempe to Justin Foley. Princeton got the ball to the Dartmouth 33 on the ensuing drive, but a holding call and a sack took Princeton out of the drive.
A 44-yard run by Schwieger gave Dartmouth excellent field position to start the next drive, and it finished with a 27-yard field goal by Foley Schmidt. That gave the Big Green a seven-point lead with more than 14 minutes remaining, but the Tiger offense couldn't cut into the deficit.
Its final drive came closest, as Epperly engineered a drive into the Dartmouth red zone. He was tackled for a five-yard loss on second down, and head coach Bob Surace sent in strong-armed freshman quarterback Connor Michelsen to try the third-down pass. He threw a missile to senior Isaac Serwanga, who got past his defender and was running a post into the end zone.
Unfortunately, Bronson Green had dropped back in the coverage and found a spot in between the ball and where Serwanga was headed. He picked off the pass and gave Dartmouth a final possession near midfield. Schwieger did the rest, picking up eight on a late 4th-and-2 to clinch the win.
Dibilio ended the season second in the Ivy League rushing race with 815 yards, while Schwieger repeated as the Ivy League champion with 923 yards. No other played had more than 630 rushing yards in league games. He ended the season with a total of 1,068 rushing yards, the sixth-highest total in Princeton history.
Reid had one of Princeton's best defensive seasons in years; he led all Ivy League defensive linemen with 68 tackles, and he finished second in the league in tackles for loss (16.0) and third in sacks (8.0). Linemate Mike Catapano wasn't far behind in the sack category; he ranked fourth in the league with five sacks.
Jacob led the Ivy League with 15 field goals made. The reigning first-team All-Ivy League kicker made kicks of 47 and 46 yards late in the season and made 29 of 35 attempts in his career.