Monday, November 21, 2016

Closing Out A Championship

TigerBlog stood at the bottom of the stairs that lead down from the Princeton Stadium concourse to Weaver Track, near the tunnel where the home football locker room is.

There were about two hours until kickoff for the Princeton-Dartmouth football game. The sun was shining. The temperature was in the mid-60s.

One by one, or sometimes two by two, Princeton football players walked by, on their way to get ready for the game. They all looked serious. Focused.

There was a lot on the line for this game. Win, and Princeton would be Ivy League champion. Lose, and Princeton wouldn't be, unless both Harvard and Penn also lost.

As they walked by, TigerBlog had one constant thought: If this one gets away, they'll remember it forever.

Actually, he also thought that this wasn't going to be an easy one for Princeton. Dartmouth had beaten the Tigers six straight times, all six years that Bob Surace had been the Princeton head coach.

Plus, TB was sure he wasn't the only one who had that same thought. That was the mental hurdle. When you play a game with so much on the line, it's hard to block that thought out and just go out and play.

Princeton entered the game with one loss in the league, tied with Penn and Harvard. None of those three had lost to any of the other five teams.

Before the season started the Tigers were picked to finish fifth in the league. TigerBlog would ask his colleague Cody Chrusciel, also the team's radio play-by-play man, at what point of the season did he start to think that Princeton looked like a championship team, and he said it was partly when Princeton ripped off touchdowns on seven-straight possessions against Columbia and partly when he noticed that Lehigh, who had beaten Princeton in Week 2, was rolling.

Whenever it was, here was Princeton. The Tigers were playing great defense. The offense was balanced, tricky and relentless.

All that was left was to beat Dartmouth and celebrate.

TB was right. It wasn't easy.

Princeton went three-and-out on its first possession, punted and then saw Dartmouth drive right down the field and score a touchdown. This was against a D that had allowed seven, zero and three points in its previous three games, including zero, zero and three in the first half.

By intermission, it was 14-10 Dartmouth, but actually it could have been worse. At least it seemed that way. Princeton seemed to be struggling to get into its rhythm, but hey, there was still a half to go.

It was quite a half. It was total Princeton domination.

Dartmouth's first six possessions of the second half went like this: punt, punt, punt, fumble, interception, interception.

And the "O?"

While Dartmouth was being completely wiped out, Princeton went touchdown, punt, touchdown, touchdown, touchdown.

Final score: Princeton 38, Dartmouth 21, after the Big Green scored in the final seconds, long after the outcome had been decided.

And that, friends, is how you close out a championship season.

What might have been a tri-championship became a co-championship when Penn beat Cornell but Yale beat Harvard. That left the Tigers and Quakers tied for the title, and, while it hardly matters in the official standings, TB will point out that Princeton did beat Penn 28-0.

Football championships cannot be won with just one star, and Princeton's 2016 team is way more than just one player. The Tigers are a team in the truest sense, and if you asked 10 people who followed the team closely who the second-best player was, you'll get a bunch of different answers.

Dorian Williams? Luke Catarius? Kurt Holuba? Rohan Hylton? Isaiah Barnes? Chad Kanoff? Someone else?

The best player? Well, that's John Lovett.

TigerBlog has written about Lovett before. And why not? There aren't too many players anywhere quite like him.

In case you didn't realize it, Lovett had at one rushing touchdown, at least one reception and one completed pass - in every game this year. That's just nuts.

In six games this year Lovett had at least one passing touchdown, one rushing touchdown and one reception. In five games this year he ran for at least two TDs and threw for at least one.

Yeah, that's just nuts.

Is there any other player in college football who can make those claims? Who was the last one to do so? TB wishes he could look it up easily.

Lovett's fingerprints were all over Princeton's win over Dartmouth.

He had two rushing touchdowns, giving him 20 for the season, which broke Keith Elias' school record of 19, a record that had stood for 23 years. Lovett had his 20 touchdowns on just 98 carries, by the way. Elias had 305 the year he scored 19.

His 19th rushing touchdown came in the first half. The record came in the third quarter, putting the Tigers up for good. His 10th passing touchdown of the year made it 31-14 early in the fourth.

Oh yeah. Add that to the list of accomplishments. Who was the last college football player to have 20 rushing and 10 passing touchdowns in the same season?

The 2016 football championship was the second in four years for the Tigers. There was not one fluky thing about this one. This was just a championship team playing consistent, championship-level football for pretty much the entire season.

Even as he watched Saturday, TigerBlog felt that there was no real turning point to that game. It was just the better team as it eventually overwhelmed its opponent.

And closed out a championship in the process.

Those players who walked down the stairs a few hours earlier? Now they celebrated on Powers Field, on a glorious afternoon - one that they will, in fact, remember forever.

For all the best reasons.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Congrats to Tiger football on a great championship season- How unfortunate the Ivy League prevents their best football teams from participating in the post-season, when they allow all other sports to do so.