Monday, November 11, 2013

Mondays With Quinn

TigerBlog will now run his streak of consecutive Monday's starting out with Quinn Epperly to four.

Actually, this time around, TB had a chance to see it a little more up close than he normally would, as he spent most of Princeton's 38-26 win over Penn Saturday on the sideline, rather than high up in the press box.

There's no better place to see a game than right on the field. The level of intensity that is visible from the stands is multiplied by a factor of 100 or so from the sideline.

It was the kind of November day that you get in these parts, warm when you're in the sun and freezing when you're in the shade. And then even more freezing when the sun finally sets, earlier and earlier now the clocks were turned back.

From his spot on the sideline, TB was perfectly comfortable. When he did go sit in the stands for a little while, he went to the upper deck, to make sure the sun was still shining on him.

He spent the first, third and fourth quarters in the sunshine of the Princeton sideline.

Princeton trailed 23-17 in the third quarter, first and goal at the seven. After an incomplete pass, Epperly ran left, directly at where TigerBlog was standing, and turned the corner, diving to the pylon. It appeared to be a touchdown, but the ref ruled that he had stepped out at the two.

Epperly said something like "no" when he got up and saw the ruling, which led to an older Penn fan, who was standing on the sideline as well, yelling "shut up." Epperly had to have heard him, but he never acknowledged if he did.

Instead, on the next play, he rammed his way over the goal line and well into the end zone. The extra point made it 24-23 Princeton; the Tigers never trailed again.

The turning point of the game actually was far, far less dramatic than that.

But TB will get to that shortly.

First, there's the matter of Epperly.

His first pass Saturday was incomplete, which meant that he wasn't going to match his 29-for-29 performance that started the Cornell game a week earlier. In fact, this wasn't going to be anything nearly as easy.

Princeton's first four drives started at the 1, 3, 4 and 5. Penn jumped out to a 16-0 lead, helped by an interception return for a touchdown off an Epperly throw.

In the end, though, the junior quarterback was too much for Penn to handle. On a day when it was a total team effort, it once again all starts with Epperly.

What did he do? He completed 32 of 45 for 268 yards and two more touchdowns, giving him 20 passing TDs for the year. He ran for 53 more yards and two more touchdowns, giving him 16 rushing TDs for the year.

Epperly is now second on Princeton's single-season passing touchdowns list, behind Doug Butler's 25 in 1983. And he's tied with Walt Snickenberger for third in rushing touchdowns in a season, behind Keith Elias with 19 and 18. With two games left, he could possibly get both records, which if he did would be among the most ridiculous things that TB can remember a Princeton athlete having accomplished.

Mostly what Epperly did against Penn was what he always does - imposed his will on the game. And so his team came all the way back and won going away.

The turning point, interestingly enough, had almost nothing to do with Epperly.

Princeton took a 17-16 lead with 1:24 left in the first half, but Penn came back and scored with 12 seconds left to make it 23-17 at the break. Worse for Princeton - the Quakers would get the ball to start the second half.

Had Penn gone down and gotten even a field goal, it would have been a two-possession lead again and the all of the momentum would be back with Penn. And the Quakers did get 15 yards on two rushes after the kickoff, making it another first down.

What happened? Billy Ragone went back to pass, was pressured and threw it away. Except he was still in the pocket. After a brief discussion, the refs ruled intentional grounding, 10 yards and loss of down. The next two plays gained one yard, and Penn would punt on the fourth down.

The Quakers would not run another play in the game with the lead.

Not that it was all Epperly. Far from it.

Princeton's defense wiped out Penn in the second half, holding the Quakers to just a field goal. And this was after Elijah Mitchell got the defensive touchdown back with an interception and return for TD of his own.

And the offense? By the end Penn was spent trying to keep up with the pace. The poor field position kept Princeton from using all of the creativity that is the hallmark of its offense, including having two and three quarterbacks on the field at the same time.

Princeton is now 7-1 overall and 5-0 in the Ivy League. The only loss was opening night to Lehigh, in a game Princeton led 22-3 before falling 29-28. TB can't help but think game fitness from playing its first game against at team playing its third might have made a big difference.

There are two weeks left, home against Yale and at Dartmouth. Neither game is a given. Far from it.

Harvard is 4-1, with Penn at home and a game at Yale. Neither of those is a given, but Harvard will be the favorite in both.

Princeton needs one win in two or one Harvard loss to clinch at least a share of the league title.

It's been an amazing fall for Princeton football.

Connor Kelley, who started at quarterback in the final game of Bob Surace's first season three years ago, sat in the postgame interview room at Penn Saturday and remembered back to those days, back when Princeton went 1-9 and 1-9.

How long ago it seems. Kelley, no long a quarterback, caught six passes for 75 yards and the final touchdown off the day, the one that came with 4:45 to go, built the lead to 12 and essentially ended it.

These days, Kelley is one of the weapons in the Princeton offensive arsenal. It's been a high-flying, exciting run so far for Princeton football in 2013.

Will it be a championship run?

The next two weeks will answer it all.

No comments: