As Trocon Davis watched the ball float across the field, he saw opportunity. Then he saw 100 yards of open field. Now he and his Princeton teammates see an opportunity to produce their first winning season in six years and, with just a little help in Ithaca, a share of the Ivy League championship.
The Bulldogs had controlled most of the first half during Saturday's 135th playing of the Princeton-Yale game, and they faced a 3rd-and-goal at the 5. Senior Mordecai Cargill, who started in place of Ivy League rushing leader Tyler Varga (whose absence was never explained), took a pitch and rolled right. He stopped and attempted to throw it back to quarterback Henry Furman, who drifted towards the left sideline.
The play fooled nobody. Furman was covered by a linebacker, and Davis came from his area of coverage to pick the ball at the goal line and race 100 yards for the go-ahead score in a 29-7 Princeton victory. The Tigers carried that momentum and dominated the second half to move to 5-4 on the season, 4-2 in the Ivy League.
Princeton will conclude its season Saturday afternoon on Powers Field against Dartmouth. If the Tigers win, they could earn a three-way share of the Ivy League title; Penn clinched a share of the crown with a 30-21 win over Harvard at Franklin Field. Should Princeton win and Penn lose at Cornell Saturday, the Tigers would earn a share of the Ivy League title.
But that is for another day. On this day, the Tigers earned their 25th sweep of the H-Y-P series, which has traditionally signified a bonfire on Cannon Green. That possibility alone motivated the student body to fill the visitor's section with busloads of enthusiastic students, most of whom wore bright orange shirts and spent the majority of the final 31 minutes cheering loudly.
Yale was in control for the first 29, but several key stops on third downs and a one-yard touchdown run by Wilson kept Princeton even at 7 deep into the half. After an interception from Quinn Epperly, who bounced back with a brilliant second half, Yale moved into the red zone and eventually to the Princeton 5, where the game would change permanently with the Davis score.
Princeton carried that momentum into the second half, where it drove 65 yards on nine plays on its first drive to build a 15-point lead. Sophomore Connor Michelsen, who was 12-for-18 for 126 yards before suffering a fourth-quarter injury, completed three passes on the drive, including a 25-yard strike to Seth DeValve. Epperly ran it in from one yard out, and kicker Nolan Bieck took a high snap on the point after attempt and ran into the right side of the end zone for the 22-7 lead.
The Princeton defense, which spent a week preparing for the talented, Varga-heavy Yale offense, finally started to assume control in the second half. After allowing 244 yards of total offense in the first half, Princeton held Yale to only 104 yards in the second half. It also tightened on third downs; after Yale went 7-for-11 in the first half, it only managed one conversion on five attempts.
Yale had another major miscue near the Princeton goal line. After a 21-yard punt return gave Yale the ball in Princeton territory, the Bulldogs marched down to the Tiger 11. Cargill found space along the right side and appeared destined for the end zone, but he was met at the 1 by safety Mandela Sheaffer, who stripped the ball into the end zone. Freshman Anthony Gaffney dove on it to keep the 15-point lead, as well as all momentum in the game.
The Tigers iced the game midway through the fourth quarter with a 13-play, 69-yard drive that took 6:57 off the clock; it was the longest drive, in terms of time, for Princeton this season, and it featured 11 rushing plays. One of the two passes was a nine-yard touchdown pass from Epperly to Matt Costello, who made a leaping grab just inside the deep right pylon. Epperly rolled left on the play and then threw one of his best passes of the season, leaving it just ahead of any Yale defender and into a spot that only Costello could come up with it.
Epperly ended the game with 66 passing yards and a team-best 91 rushing yards on 14 carries. He had both a rushing touchdown and a passing touchdown for the third time in the last four weeks. DeValve led the receiving corps with four catches for 70 yards, while Connor Kelley had four catches for 31 yards. Powers added 15 rushes for 54 yards.
On the defensive side, freshman cornerback Matt Arends had a team-high eight tackles, while senior linebacker Tim Kingsbury had seven tackles, including two for losses. Both Phillip Bhaya and Garrit Leicht had six tackles, while Gaffney ended the game with four tackles and two fumble recoveries.