Despite a career-best 390 passing yards from sophomore Connor Michelsen, the Cornell Big Red handed Princeton its first Ivy League loss Saturday with a 37-35 comeback win. Four Princeton turnovers and a game-winning 23-yard field goal by John Wells will be the lasting memory in a second straight shootout.
While Michelsen had a career day, he was topped by Cornell junior Jeff Mathews, who completed 35 of 51 passes for 525 yards and four touchdowns. He also moved the Big Red down the field on an 11-play, 66-yard drive that set Wells up for the winning kick with 50 seconds remaining.
Cornell got the ball at its 29 when it recovered a fumble by freshman Dré Nelson, who was trying to spin away from a tackle attempt and pick up a first down when the ball was stripped. It was one of four turnovers in the game, and each won was critical.
The last came on Princeton's last-gasp, no-timeout effort, when Michelsen's pass to Will Powers was picked off by Taylor Butros.
For the day, Michelsen did all he could to match Mathews, who could end his career as the Ivy League's all-time passing leader. The Princeton sophomore completed 29 of 35 passes for 390 yards, including a 72-yard touchdown strike to Roman Wilson during a wild 34-point third quarter.
Wilson caught six passes for 162 yards and a touchdown, and he rushed for a three-yard score which gave Princeton an early 7-0 lead. After a scoreless first quarter, Wilson's score opened a run where both teams combined for nine touchdowns over a span of 12 drives. Cornell had two on long passes, including a 76-yard pass from Mathews to Grant Gellatly, though Quinn Epperly evened the score at 14-14 with a 2-yard run before the half.
An early turnover in the third quarter set up the second of two touchdowns by Luke Tasker, and gave Cornell a 21-14 lead; that would see-saw throughout the third quarter, with both teams scoring twice more in the quarter. Epperly added a six-yard run, and after a Cornell score, Wilson ran a wheel route down the right sideline for a 72-yard score. His stiff arm on the 30 gave him enough of a cushion to run into the end zone to even the score at 28-28.
Cornell completed the quarter with a two-yard touchdown run, though a missed extra point by Wells gave Princeton a chance to gain the lead. A Powers fumble at the Cornell 13 erased the first opportunity, but after a defensive stop, Epperly hit Mark Hayes for a six-yard touchdown to give Princeton a 35-34 lead with 8:49 remaining.
Cornell moved back down the field to the Princeton 23, but Mandela Sheaffer knocked away a pass on fourth down to give Princeton a chance to build the lead. Princeton took it from its own 23 to the Big Red 31, but Nelson's attempt to pick up the first down resulted in a fumble recovery by Tré Minor.
Mathews did the rest, getting the ball to the Tiger 5, where Wells put Cornell ahead to stay.
While Wilson had six catches for 162 yards, two other Princeton players (Matt Costello and Shane Wilkinson) had six catches as well. Both Powers and Hayes had four catches, and Powers added 15 rushes for 51 yards.
Sheaffer had a team-best nine tackles, while Gaffney had eight solo stops, two pass break-ups and a sack. Princeton had seven tackles for loss and four sacks, though none came after the first quarter. Senior co-captain Andrew Starks had eight stops, including 2.5 for loss.
Princeton remains in a share of first place with both Penn and the winner of the Harvard-Dartmouth game (Saturday, 5 pm). Princeton and Penn will vie for one of those spots next weekend, when the Quakers head to Powers Field at Princeton Stadium for a 1 pm kickoff. The game can be seen live on ESPN3 and can be heard on WPRB 103.3 FM and GoPrincetonTigers.com.