Monday, October 22, 2012

The Greatest Ivy League Football Game TB Has Seen

As the public address announcer for Princeton football, TigerBlog isn't done when the game is over.

Instead, he spends 15 minutes watching the Fifth Quarter, when Powers Field is turned over to the fans. Eventually, as the clock winds down, he then asks, begs, cajoles the crowd to exit the field via the ramps at the bottom of sections 3, 4, 29 and 30 - something he's said about a billion times in his life.

While the Fifth Quarter party goes on, the Princeton players and their families/friends gather near the tunnel to the locker room. TB has to remind that group to exit the field as well.

Usually, it takes about three announcements to get the ball rolling.

This past Saturday, TB didn't even bother. What was the point?

Some days, you just have to let the party happen. This past Saturday was one of them.

As Powers Field was engulfed in a sea of orange and black humanity, the reason for the party hung over all of their heads, as if a reminder was needed. There it was anyway, lingering on the scoreboard:

Princeton 39, Harvard 34.

If you want to watch it again, go to espn3, search for Princeton and click on the Princeton-Harvard football link. It'll be there for five more days.

TigerBlog has been watching Princeton play football for nearly 30 years. Including his time as a Penn undergrad, he's always figured that the best Ivy League football games he's seen were, chronologically:

1982 - Penn 23, Harvard 21
1983 - Penn 28, Princeton 27
2006 - Princeton 31, Penn 30 (two OT)
2006 - Princeton 38, Yale 35

The game from this past Saturday surpasses any of those, for any number of reasons.

According to TigerBlog, that is 1) the best Ivy League football game he's ever seen and 2) the best football game he's seen in person.

And here's why: Princeton was such a huge underdog in that game that to come back the way the Tigers did defied any kind of logic. And the comeback itself? It was stunning, riveting.

The win over Penn in 2006 featured the play where Rob Toresco lateraled the ball to Jeff Terrell for a touchdown in the second OT, followed by the wild (and often-forgotten) play where Penn almost turned a bad snap on an extra point into the winning points, only to fall a yard short.

The win over Yale a week later featured a comeback from two touchdowns back as Terrell put on the aerial show that stamped him as the Bushnell Cup winner.

But the Penn game was a good game that had a dramatic ending, and the Yale game was the two best teams in the league, so it figured to even out over 60 minutes. And Princeton had the best player in both games.

The game this past Saturday was different because Harvard has been the dominant team in the league, had the nation's longest winning streak, had players put up obscene offensive numbers all day and held a 24-point lead with 12 minutes to go. Harvard was picked to win the league; Princeton was picked by many to finish eighth.

Put the teams in that same situation again, Harvard up 34-10 in the fourth quarter, and the Crimson win that game, what, 999 times out of a 1,000? Maybe more?

Princeton was outgained 415-51 in the first half, which ended 20-0 Harvard. It appeared that Princeton's chance was after its touchdown drive to start the second half and then fumble recovery on the Crimson 5, but when Princeton was held to a field goal and Harvard came right down the field to make it 27-10, TB thought it was over.

Harvard would end up with a school-record 448 yards and five touchdowns from its quarterback, Colton Chapple. One running back ran for 100 yards; three receivers had at least 100 yards, including Kyle Juszczyk, who caught 15 passes for 192 yards and three TDs.

In all, the Crimson rolled up 634 yards of offense.

But it was Princeton who could not be stopped in the fourth quarter.

Twice Princeton scored touchdowns, went for two and converted, cutting a 24-point deficit to one possession. And then Princeton scored another touchdown, Connor Michelsen (who was fabulous) to Seth DeValve, and it was 34-32 2:27 to play.

And then came the biggest play of the game. Princeton failed on the two-point conversion. And that ended up being a huge part of why Princeton won.

Had Princeton tied it there, then Harvard would have had 2:27 and all three of its timeouts needing only a field goal to win. Given the way the Crimson offense had gone all day, the chances of success there were huge.

But instead, Harvard needed to run out the clock against a team determined to get the ball back. And so Princeton did just that, holding Harvard less than a yard shy on three downs. Harvard elected to punt instead of going for the first down - TB understands it, and given what the Tigers had to do to win, it's hard to second-guess.

The winning drive went 11 plays and covered 90 yards, without any timeouts, taking 1:44 off the clock. The touchdown was Quinn Epperly to Roman Wilson from 38 yards, after Michelsen had been knocked out of the game a few plays earlier, with 13 seconds left.

Really, it was something like from a sports movie, where the underdogs need the late touchdown and the ball seems to hang in the air forever - and nobody can really believe what happened.

TigerBlog Jr.'s friend and father had left earlier in the fourth quarter to go to Nassau Street. He called them to come back, and they made it back to the outside of the stadium just as Wilson was hauling in his pass, where they were greeted by a roar that almost knocked them over, a roar that told the whole story.

And then the crowd held its breath through a kickoff return and incomplete pass, and then the Fifth Quarter - and Sixth and Seventh Quarters - began.

Ordinarily, TB isn't a huge fan of storming the field when a championship hasn't been won, but in this case, he could hardly blame anyone.

Two games into the season, Princeton was 0-2, 2-20 under Bob Surace.

And now? An unlikely four-game winning streak and sole possession of first place in the Ivy League with four games to go.

Now keep in mind that Princeton is 0-8 the last two years against the four remaining teams (at Cornell, home with Penn, at Yale, home with Dartmouth).

On the other hand, if Saturday's game showed anything, it showed that this team has a special quality to it, and that quality can take teams a long, long way.

Will this team win the Ivy title? If it does, it would be one of the great stories in Princeton Athletics history.

And if not? They'll always have this past Saturday, a win that nobody who was there will ever forget. It was a shocking 12 minutes, a time that reminds you why it is that sports are like nothing else out there.

As TB looked down on it from the PA booth, he couldn't help but feel good for Surace, one of the nicest guys who's ever walked into Jadwin Gym, and the rest of the coaches and players, all of whom had been through so much during their time here.

It was a special, special moment. Every now and then, TB would glance back up at the scoreboard, just to make sure he'd seen it the right way.

Princeton 39, Harvard 34.

The greatest Ivy League football game TB has ever seen.


Anonymous said...

Re: your 999 0ut of a 1000 comment. As Pete said after the UCLA upset: we could play them 4 more times and lose very time. But, we won the one that counted>

Unknown said...

Princeton 35 Yale 31 in 1982 is right up there as well. Same basic story line with Yale almost in the top 20 and, if not mistaken, a 21-0lead at half and 31-10 in 4th quarter. Hard to argue though. Amazing.

Unknown said...

Princeton 35 Yale 31 in 1982, although not seen by you, is in the same class. Same basic story line (Yale actually getting national top 20 votes) and I think 21-0 at half and 31-10 Yale in the 4th with Princeton scoring the last 25 and touchdown on the last or next to last play to win it.

No arguing with this one though