Realistically, nothing needs to be at stake for Penn-Princeton to be special.
But when first place is on the line, and with only two more weeks to go after Saturday’s showdown, it does add a bit more drama.
Three teams head into the first weekend in November with matching 3-1 Ivy League records, and one of them will leave Powers Field two wins away from at least a share of the 2012 Ivy League title.
The other won’t be out of the race, but they’ll need help.
Both teams are coming off thrilling finishes last week, though their respective experiences were on opposite levels. Princeton was on the wrong end of another shootout, as Cornell’s John Wells kicked a 23-yard field goal with 50 seconds remaining to hand the Tigers their first Ivy League loss of the season 37-35.
Penn was trailing with three minutes remaining, but kicker Connor Loftus evened the score with a 45-yard field goal. An interception by Trevor Niemann with 1:21 remaining set up the winning kick by Loftus, who booted the Quakers into today’s first-place showdown.
First place. It’s an unnecessary motivation for this rivalry, but both teams are happy to have it anyway.
WEEK 7 LINKS:
TV/Video: ESPN3 (use direct link above)
All-Time Series: Princeton 63-39-1
Last Year: PENN 37, Princeton 9
Last At Site: Penn 52, PRINCETON 10 (2010)
Last Five Years: Penn 5-0
Last Princeton Win: PRINCETON 31, Penn 30 2OT (2006)
Current Streak: Penn 5
Lights, Camera, Action
Princeton will play its second game in three weeks on ESPN3 this Saturday; ESPN3 is the online platform for ESPN, and the direct link to the live video is here. John Sadak and Rocky Boiman, the same duo who called Princeton's memorable 29-point comeback over Harvard, will be calling the action.
This will be Princeton's fourth of five games this season that is available to a national audience. Princeton has played on ESPNU and the NBC Sports Network, and this will be the second game on ESPN3. Next week, Princeton will travel to Yale and play on the YES Network, which is available on DirecTV.
Princeton made its move on first place in the league by ending a pair of five-game losing streaks last month. After topping Brown 19-0, the Tigers made a memorable 29-point rally to upend Harvard 39-34 two weeks ago.
To stay in first place, Princeton will have to do it again. The Tigers haven’t defeated Penn since 2006, when Rob Toresco pitched a double-overtime, fourth-down run back to Jeff Terrell, who found the right side of the end zone for the go-ahead score in a 31-30 thrill ride.
Princeton has lost five straight games to Penn, and none of the last three have been close. The Tigers have lost their last three games to the Quakers by an average margin of 35 points, including a 52-10 Penn victory in the last meeting on Powers Field (2010).
Since Princeton Stadium opened, the Tigers have only one victory over Penn; they have at least two against every other team in the Ivy League.
The three teams that currently share first place in the Ivy League are Harvard, Penn and Princeton. Harvard, the reigning champion, was picked first in the preseason poll. Penn, the 2010 champion, was picked second. Princeton, which had gone 1-13 in the Ivy League over those two seasons, was picked to finish last.
It’s Been A While
This is the first time that Penn and Princeton both shared first place during their Week 8 showdown since 2005, when Princeton defeated Penn 30-13. Princeton followed that game with a 31-point effort in a double-overtime home win in 2006. Those are the only two games that Princeton has scored at least 30 points against Penn over the span of 21 years.
In The Air Tonight
In the win over Harvard and loss to Cornell, there have been a total of 2,168 yards of
offense, of which 1,679 have come through the air. In two games, there have been 15 passing touchdowns.
Princeton has played in two straight shootouts, where both teams scored at least 30 points in each game. The last time Princeton had back-to-back games like that was during the 2006 Ivy League championship season, when Princeton defeated Penn 31-30 and Yale 34-31.
Princeton has scored at least 30 points in four of the last five games. The Tigers hadn’t done that since the final five games of the 1981 season.
In The (End) Zone
Princeton has scored five touchdowns in each of the last two games. Over the last five seasons, the Tigers have scored a total of three touchdowns over a five-game losing streak against the Penn Quakers.
In the last five quarters (the fourth against Harvard and the Cornell game), sophomore quarterback Connor Michelsen has completed 40 of 52 passes (76.9%) for 543 yards and four touchdowns. In the first 19 quarters of the season, Michelsen had thrown for only 693 yards, had a 54.1% completion percentage, and had not thrown a touchdown pass.
In Princeton’s last six quarters, the Tiger offense has converted on 15 of 21 third-down conversions. Against Cornell, the Tigers were 7 of 11 on third downs. That third-down efficiency helped Princeton gain 549 yards of total offense against the Big Red; over the last 54 games, Princeton has topped that total only once (556 • Harvard, 2011).
Roman Wilson, who caught the dramatic 36-yard touchdown pass in the final seconds to defeat Harvard, caught seven passes for 165 yards and two touchdowns last weekend. He leads the Ivy League in yards per catch with a 19.9-yard average. The Princeton single-season record for yards per catch is 20.2, set by Marc Ross in 1993.
The Longest Yard
Roman Wilson’s 72-yard touchdown catch last weekend was the longest scoring play of the season for Princeton. The last touchdown that came from greater than 72 yards was a 92-yard touchdown reception by Trey Peacock, which also came at Schoellkopf Field (2010). Wilson has three of Princeton’s last four touchdown receptions.
Roman Wilson has recorded back-to-back 100-yard receiving games. The last Princeton player with consecutive 100-yard receiving games was Trey Peacock, who had 139 yards in a 2010 game against Harvard, and followed with 136 yards against Cornell.
Sophomore quarterback Connor Michelsen entered the fourth quarter against Harvard with zero career touchdown passes. He threw three in the final 12 minutes against the Crimson, and added a two-point conversion throw to Tom Moak, to ignite the 39-34 comeback win. The effort earned him the Ivy League Offensive Player of the Week award.
Michelsen’s honor gave Princeton at least one individual award for a span of four weeks. Anthony Gaffney have 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.
From the start of the second quarter against Brown through halftime of the Harvard game, Princeton had 18 offensive drives: 13 ended in punts, two ended at either halftime or the end of the game, two ended in turnovers and one resulted in a touchdown.
Princeton had seven drives in the second half against Harvard: five resulted in touchdowns (including the final four), one ended in a field goal and one ended in a turnover.
Good And Bad
Of Princeton’s final nine drives against Cornell last week, five ended in touchdowns and four, including the final two, ended in turnovers.
In Princeton’s four wins this season, it is a +4 in turnover margin. In its three losses, the team is a -2.
Stand In Line
Three potential All-Ivy League defensive linemen will be on the field Saturday. Princeton senior co-captain Mike Catapano shares the Ivy League lead in sacks and ranks in the top five in tackles for loss, while reigning first-team All-Ivy lineman Caraun Reid also ranks highly in both.
Penn senior Brandon Copeland leads all Ivy League defensive linemen in tackles with 5.4 per game.
Tackling The Issue
Senior linebacker Andrew Starks ranks second in the Ivy League with 8.9 tackles per game, and he has ranked in the top five in tackles over each of his last two seasons. He led Princeton with 11 tackles in the 24-7 home loss to Cornell last season.
The last Tiger player to lead the Ivy League in tackles was linebacker Steven Cody, who averaged 11.6 per game during the 2009 season.
What A Pick
Freshman Anthony Gaffney shares the Ivy League lead with three interceptions this season, and he is second in passes defensed (seven). He is the only Ivy freshman in the Ivy League with more than one interception this season, and he is one of only two freshmen in the Ivy Top 20 in passes defensed.
Return To Sender
Freshman Anthony Gaffney not only leads the Ivy League in interceptions, but he also leads the league in kickoff returns. Gaffney averages 27.2 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 League 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 three games opposite of Anthony Gaffney after Khamal Brown was lost for the season. In the last two, he has averaged 7.5 tackles per game, and he has recorded at least one pass breakup over each of the three starts.
Just For Kicks
Two of the top candidates for the All-Ivy punter will be on the field Saturday. Princeton’s Joe Cloud ranks second in the Ivy League with a 41.7-yard average, and he either leads or shares the Ivy lead in punts inside the 20 (15), 50+ punts (nine) and longest punt (68).
Penn’s Scott Lopano is third in the Ivy League with a 41.6-yard average, and he shares the Ivy lead with 15 punts inside the 20. He is second in both 50+ punts (seven) and longest punt (67).
Head Of The Class
Senior Joe Cloud, a two-time All-Ivy League punter, has been named one of 147 national semifinalists for the 2012 NFF National Scholar-Athlete Awards. The 147 nominees also comprise the list of semifinalists for the 2012 William V. Campbell Trophy, endowed by HealthSouth, which recognizes an individual as the absolute best football scholar-athlete in the nation.
Cloud is one of only three Ivy League players who were named among the semifinalists.
The Crystal Ball
The Tigers travel to New Haven, for the 135th playing of the Princeton-Yale game, on Nov. 10. The Bulldogs have won two straight in this series, as well as four of the last five played at the Yale Bowl. The game will be shown live on the YES Network, and it can be heard on WPRB 103.3 FM, and on GoPrincetonTigers.com.
Yale has won five of the last six games in this series played at the Yale Bowl; the lone exception came during Princeton’s 2006 championship season, when the Tigers rallied for a trio of 14-point deficits in a 34-31 victory.
Princeton will honor the Class of 2012 during its season finale Nov. 17, a 1 pm start against Dartmouth on Powers Field at Princeton Stadium.
This senior class, which has dealt with both a coaching change and life-threatening illnesses to a pair of All-Ivy running backs, has led the football team to four wins already this season; as a team, the Tigers won two the last two seasons combined.