Friday, August 28, 2015

Question No. 4

Well, the summer is over.

It's Game Day for Princeton Athletics, Game No. 1 of the 2015-16 academic year. It comes up later today on Myslik Field on Roberts Stadium, where Sean Driscoll coaches his first game for the Princeton women's soccer team as it hosts Howard.

Princeton has some great athletic venues, and Roberts Stadium is as good as any of them. It is entering its eighth season as the home of Princeton soccer, and it seemingly gets better every year.

TigerBlog's preferred place to watch is directly behind one of the goals, though there isn't a bad seat in the facility. And, of course, admission to all regular season men's and women's games is free, so how can you beat that?

The women's soccer team will play four home games in the next two weeks and five home games before the men have their first, on Sept. 19. The game tonight starts at 7, so that will be the official end of Princeton Athletics' summer vacation.

As such, TigerBlog better hurry up and answer the last of the five questions he said he was going to answer by the end of the summer. The last one, by the way, is No. 4, as he's already answered No. 5.

As a reminder, here was the original challenge:
Now that the academic year is over, just a word to encourage more of your feature stories which include your personal memories or historical compilations. Here are some unsolicited ideas: Greatest games or events you've witnessed, with and without regard to historical context
Happiest moments you've experienced due to Princeton sports
Weirdest fluke plays
Most improbable comebacks
Most inspiring student-athletes

TigerBlog has already answered four of them. You can read them HERE, HERE, HERE and HERE.

So the last one is the most improbable comebacks.

TigerBlog's friend Mark Eckel used to say that soccer games should be over when the first team scores. Every game would be 1-0. What if a team scores in the first minute? Game over. Like a first-round knockout in boxing.

His logic was that the team scoring first always wins. When Princeton head men's soccer coach Jim Barlow hear of this theory, he scoffed and mentioned that his team had won its most recent game 2-1 after giving up the first goal. "Greatest comeback in soccer history," Eckel called it.

In all seriousness, TigerBlog has seen some incredible comebacks at Princeton.

The thing about a great comeback is that in the moment, it hardly seems improbably or completely out of the ordinary. The game starts out one way and then shifts radically in the other direction, and suddenly the team that was up big is completely out of sorts because what had been going so easily now isn't anymore and the team that was down big has all kinds of confidence.

It's only until after the game is over that it is apparent that one team has done something incredible, something that can't be done every game. It takes a tremendous amount of effort to come back from being down big, and TigerBlog has seen a lot of cases where a team was down big, tied it and then went back down quickly and ultimately lost fairly big. That's what usually happens.

But in the moment? It seems so plausible because it's happening, and you forget how rare these comeback are.

The best of all of them is obviously the men's basketball game against Penn at the Palestra in 1999. As you might recall, Princeton led 3-0 on a Brian Earl three-pointer and then trailed by all of these scores:
* 29-3 after a 29-0 Penn run
* 33-9 at halftime
* 40-13 with 15 minutes left.

Final score? 50-49 Princeton.

So on this list, that would be No. 1. It's going to be hard to ever bounce that one off.

There are a few other great comebacks that come to mind though.

The most woefully overlooked great Princeton comeback ever has to be the men's basketball game at Penn State two years ago. Princeton trailed by 20 with 10 minutes to go and came back and won 81-79 in OT.

Princeton still trailed by 18 with six minutes left, down 60-42, and still pulled it out. The game has little historical significance, but then again, the 1999 game doesn't really either, as Princeton ended up losing the Ivy title to Penn that year.

In football, the best comeback TigerBlog has seen was also fairly recent, back in the 2012 season.

Princeton trailed Harvard 34-10 with 12 minutes to go in the fourth quarter. Had you stopped and asked the first random million people you found at that moment and asked if Princeton had a chance, not one would have said yes.

Harvard, after all, had the longest active winning streak in the FCS at the time and had won 14 straight by double figures. This one seemed over.

Then Princeton came back, winning 39-34 on a 36-yard TD pass from Quinn Epperly to Roman Wilson with 13 seconds left.

What stands out to TigerBlog about that? Princeton scored twice and added two two-point conversions to make it 34-26 and then scored another touchdown with 2:27 to make it 34-32. The two-point conversion this time, though, was no good.

Had that two-point conversion attempt been good, it would have been 34-34, Princeton kickoff to Harvard, 2:27 left. In that scenario, Harvard almost surely would have won.

Why? Because the Crimson would have aggressively tried to score, not passively tried to run out the clock. Instead, Harvard punted near midfield on 4th-and-inches. Princeton got the ball back - and won.

So that's football and men's basketball.

Men's hockey?

Princeton, ranked 10th at the time, trailed fifth-ranked Cornell 1-0 in the final minute at Lynah Rink in February of 2009. Then Dan Bartlett scored with 36 seconds left to tie it. Then, 18 seconds later, Taylor Fedun won it.

Yeah, it wasn't a monstrous deficit, but it might as well have been 100-0, not 1-0, with less than a minute to go in that venue.

As for men's lacrosse, there have been a few. TigerBlog will give you two, consecutive games one week apart in 1998.

Princeton had won the 1996 and 1997 NCAA championships, and now in 1998 the Tigers had a dominant senior class, led by Jesse Hubbard, Jon Hess and Chris Massey. A third straight NCAA title would stamp that group among the greatest ever to play the sport.

Playing Duke in the NCAA quarterfinals at Hofstra, Princeton trailed 8-4 in the second quarter and looked on the verge of getting blown off of Long Island.

Then Trevor Tierney came in to replace Corey Popham in goal (don't worry, the story has a happy ending for Popham) and proceeded to make six saves and allow only one goal the rest of the way. Princeton 11, Duke 9 was the final.

That moved second-seeded Princeton into the semifinals against third-seeded Syracuse at Rutgers.

Again, Princeton trailed 8-4, this time in the third quarter. It was 9-6 at the end of three. It was 10-7 less than a minute into the fourth.

And who then scored two huge fourth-quarter goals for Princeton? Seamus Grooms, who had 16 career goals prior to that quarter. Seamus Grooms, who was the fourth roommate of Hess, Hubbard and Massey. Seamus Grooms, who saved Princeton's legacy.

Grooms scored with 12:42 left, making it 10-8. Then, after Hubbard made it 10-9, it was Grooms who tied it at 10-10.

The game-winner came from Josh Sims, and Princeton had won 11-10. Two days later, the Tigers hammered Maryland 15-5 to win that third straight championship. And Popham? He was named Most Outstanding Player of the Final Four.

So there you have it. The comebacks that TigerBlog most remembers.

He's sure he's missed a bunch.

As for women's teams, he can't think of a great one off the top of his head, so he's willing to be reminded of a few, if you have any.

And to whoever anonymously posted the comment in the first place, thanks. TigerBlog likes to take requests.

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