Thursday, December 3, 2020

Football, Fun And Intense

As videos about Princeton Athletics go, you're not going to find one too much better than the one that Cody Chrusciel put together about how Princeton Football Associate Head Coach Steve Verbit has been coaching his five-year-old son's flag team.

It's great. HERE, see for yourself.

It's just a really nice story that's told really well. It's a total feel-good situation, with a love of football that was able to override the COVID shutdown as best as possible. 

At first it struck TigerBlog as extraordinary that Matt Verbit has a five year old. Then he remembered that Verbit graduated in 2005, which makes him somehow in his mid-30s. 

It became more about much time flies than anything else. Was that really 15 years ago already?

If you forgot about the career that Matt Verbit had, he's one of three Princeton quarterbacks who ever threw for more than 5,000 career yards. In fact, he stands in third place all-time at Princeton with 5,202 career yards, trailing only Chad Kanoff (7,510) and Doug Butler (7,291). 

He's also tied for seventh all-time at Princeton with 25 touchdown passes. Also if you forgot, he also spent some time playing for the men's basketball team.

And now he has a five year old. 

In contrast to the wholesomeness of watching the little kids do flag football drills, there was, at the other end of the intensity spectrum, the 2018 Princeton-Dartmouth football game. That game was quite possibly the best Ivy League football game TB has ever seen (and if not the best, then certainly in the top three), but it was without question the absolute most intense Ivy football game he's ever seen.

TB was the PA announcer for that game. He watched the replay of it on NBC Sports Philadelphia last week, which was the first time he's seen it since he watched it on that day more than two years ago.

It's always interesting to rewatch a game, especially one you've only seen live, because you have your memories of how it played out and yet you always see something (or things) that weren't how you remembered. 

For instance, TB didn't remember how windy it was that day. He also remembered Princeton's long drive from the third quarter into the fourth quarter did a lot to change the game. What he didn't remember was that it was 23 plays.

Princeton trailed 9-7 and took over on its three-yard line with 4:31 left in the third quarter. More on that in a second.

What TB did remember is how effortless it was for both teams to drive the length of the field and score a touchdown on the first drives of the game. At that point, it seemed like the game would simply be about which team would get that one stop in what would be a 50-47 game.

As TB wrote after the game:
Here were the combined results of the remaining drives: 10 punts, one safety, three turnovers on downs, one fumble and one interception. Oh yeah, and one touchdown, the game-winning one, on the second rushing touchdown of the day from John Lovett, with 6:33 to go in the game. After the 150 yards the teams had on those first drives, there would be 373 more yards of total offense between the two. That's it. And 91 of those came on one of the most extraordinary drives you'll ever see.

Princeton's 23-play, 91-yard, nine-minute march was extraordinary. And, watching it again, TB wished he could remember what he was thinking when Dartmouth got a stop on its six-yard line on a fourth-down play to end it.

Was he thinking that was Princeton's best chance? Was he thinking "get a stop and get it back in good field position?"

The latter is what happened. Princeton's defense shut down the Big Green again, and the Tigers took over on the 34. 

The first play on the next drive saw Collin Eaddy stopped for a four-yard loss. This confused TB as well, since he wrote last year that Eaddy had a very long streak of not being tackled for a loss (Eaddy, by the way, is currently Princeton's career leader in yards per carry at 5.8, one-tenth of a yard better than Keith Elias).

Had TB missed that negative-yardage play? Nope. There was a facemask penalty against the Big Green, something TB also forgot. 

Four plays later John Lovett was in the end zone. Princeton had itself the lead, and the defense never let up.

Watching it again was somewhat like watching "Apollo 13" for the first time. You knew how it was going to end, and yet it was still dramatic.

Of course, it was nothing like watching it the first time around. Princeton's 14-9 win propelled the Tigers to a 10-0 season. 

It was not an easy win at all. 

It took every ounce of toughness and intensity the Tigers could muster to pull it off. 

1 comment:

D '82 said...

Think about how very difficult it is for a football offense to mount a 23-play drive.

Never mind the yardage covered, you've got to grind it out consistently with no big plays. Most drives with that many plays probably include a few penalties against the offense to account for the high number of plays. In the case of the 23-play drive against Dartmouth, there was only a false start penalty at the beginning of the drive, which cost us a mere one yard because that was half the distance to our goal. And that infraction, as a penalty, did not count as one of the 23 plays.

The NCAA record for most plays in one drive was 26, set and celebrated by Navy against New Mexico in the 2004 Emerald Bowl. Navy started at their own one-half yard line after stopping New Mexico on fourth down when the Lobo runner's knee hit the ground a blink of an eye before he tumbled forward over the goal line for an apparent touchdown. But the referees, without the benefit of instant replay, made the correct call to award the ball to Navy just outside the end zone.

In the middle of the drive, Navy was assessed a five-yard penalty for a questionable illegal shift. Although that did not count as a play, it added to the yardage Navy could gain and wiped out what would have been an eleven-yard run.

More importantly, later in the drive but still in their own territory, Navy was stopped one yard short on third down and almost certainly would have punted. But the officials made an error, spotting the ball forward by well more than one full yard and mistakenly awarding Navy a first down. So the drive continued into the history books.

Princeton's 23 plays in a drive isn't the record, but it can't be too far down the list.