October 14, 2015

Princeton Football Routs Colgate 44-20, Improves to 4-0; Showing Depth, Intensity in Tradition of ’95 Ivy Champs

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GOING FOURTH: Princeton University star safety Dorian Williams, center, gets ready for a play in a game earlier this fall. Last Saturday against Colgate, junior Williams made a critical pass breakup in the fourth quarter to help shut the door on the Raiders as the Tigers pulled away to a 44-20 win and improved to 4-0 for the first time since 2006. Princeton, who is 1-0 in Ivy League action, will look to keep on the winning track as it plays at Brown, 2-2 overall and 0-1 Ivy, on October 17. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

Twenty years ago, a deep and hard-hitting Princeton University football team won the Ivy League title.

Featuring 10 players who earned first-team or second-team All-Ivy honors, that team got off to a 4-0 start on the way to an 8-1-1 overall record as it won the league crown outright, the only Tiger squad to do so in the last 50 years.

With the legendary 1995 team being honored last Saturday on the 20th anniversary of its season for the ages as Princeton hosted Colgate, this year’s Tiger squad took a page out of its book.

Missing a number of key starters due to injury, Princeton displayed its depth and physicality as it pounded the Raiders 44-20 before a sun-splashed crowd of 6,457 at Princeton Stadium, improving to 4-0 for the first time since 2006 and just the second time since that 1995 campaign.

Afterward, Princeton head coach Bob Surace invoked the 1995 squad in reflecting on the triumph.

“We talked yesterday about the ’95 team being honored and they are one of the great teams here,” said Surace.

“I tried to express to the guys how physical they were and they are going to be in the stands. I told them after the game that team would be damn proud of these guys and how hard they played.”

With Princeton clinging to a 16-7 lead over the Raiders after two quarters, Surace was looking for his guys to play just a little harder.

“At halftime, finish was the key word,” said Surace. “We just had to finish things a little better. We came out in the second half and the guys were amazing, they just did a tremendous job. So many guys are involved in our game, just running in and out and making plays. That is a doggone good Colgate team and that is an impressive win for us.

Princeton’s impressive depth, which saw four freshmen playing on the defensive line at one point last Saturday, is the product of an ongoing process.

“It is a combination of things; you start with recruiting because we have to get them here,” said Surace, who had two freshmen, Alex Parkinson and Jesper Horsted, get their first career receptions and another newcomer, Charles Volker,  rush for 64 yards and a touchdown as he was later named the Ivy League Rookie of the Week.

“Then they go through a development process, Jason Gallucci (the team’s strength coach) gets a ton of credit with that as do the assistant coaches. We do a mentoring program where the seniors mentor the young guys. We work real hard to develop our guys. We have a JV program. and our varsity guys who are not playing varsity will get JV reps and you see the development.”

One of the most heartening developments on Saturday was the play of senior receiver Isaiah Barnes, who made a career-high eight catches for 92 yards after entering the day with just five career receptions.

“Isaiah has worked his tail off; he has battled some bad injuries,” said Surace, noting that Barnes suffered a gruesome ankle injury as a freshman that almost ended his football career.

“He has really practiced so well that you knew he was ready to have a breakout game. Isaiah was a really high recruit when he came here. He was a high school quarterback and we moved him to wide receiver. In the first scrimmage, he is blocking a guy and he had one of the worst injuries I have seen. His foot was facing the wrong way, it was that bad. His attitude has been phenomenal. He has had to suffer through that and the growing pains of a highly ranked recruit who is not getting playing time because he is injured. You are just so proud of him.”

Barnes, for his part, sensed that he was going to have a greater role in the Princeton offense with receivers Seth DeValve and James Frusciante sidelined.

“We have had a lot of injuries and I knew coming in there was potential that I would be seeing a lot more action,” said Barnes.

“I was always ready and I am glad that I was able to get some passes my way and make some plays to help this offense and help this team win. It is about being the next man and being ready.”

Making that kind of contribution was deeply satisfying for Barnes, considering what he has gone through in his Princeton career.

“It felt really good; there was a lot of emotion in this game, anger, frustration, happiness, and joy, it was all molded into one,” said Barnes. “It was like a release. I had to go and perform and get it off my chest.”

Sophomore quarterback and jack-of all trades John Lovett continued to perform well, rushing for 65 yards and four touchdowns, making four receptions for 38 yards and completing 2-of-3 passes for 17 yards.

“You always have to expect to be ready at any moment in time,” said Lovett, who was given more opportunities in the rushing game with star running backs DiAndre Atwater and Dre Nelson sidelined by injury.

“Last game a few of our running backs went down, they have been carrying the load for us; they have been doing a great job. So if a few of them go down, I was prepared to play any role and play it to the best of my ability.”

In becoming the first Tiger to rush for four TDS in a game since star quarterback Quinn Epperly ’15 accomplished the feat in a 56-17 win over Davidson on September 27, 2014, Lovett tipped his hat to his teammates.

“That is all credit to the offensive line; they really open up a lot of big holes and I was doing my job,” said Lovett, who ran for two touchdowns in the third quarter as Princeton built a 30-14 lead and then added his fourth score with 3:53 left in regulation as the Tigers went ahead 37-20. “If my number gets called, I just execute to the best of my ability.”

Surace marvels at Lovett’s ability to do so many things on the football field.

“Every week we have had him highly involved,” said Surace, whose team outgained Colgate 556 yards to 436 and piled up 35 first downs.

“Most games he gets a triple double. It is not a football term but he is a throwback. He blocks, he catches, he throws, he runs. We try to get him touches. We did that with Quinn but Quinn played more quarterback. With John, we are using him in a role that is a little bit unique. When you have a guy who can do all of those things, it really, really puts stress on the defense.

Junior safety Dorian Williams came through for the Princeton defense in a high stress situation early in the fourth quarter, breaking up a third down pass headed to the end zone as Colgate trailed just 30-20 at that point.

“We were in basic coverage and our main goal was to stop the run,” said Williams, recalling the play which resulted in a Colgate field goal attempt that was blocked.

“I stepped down; looking to read the quarterback and seeing where his eyes were looking. I was able to step in front of the ball and get a deflection which put us in pretty good shape.”

The Princeton defense stopped Colgate from that point as the Raiders never got closer to the end zone than the Tiger 15-yard-line for the rest of the contest.

“We realized it was a close game and we are up, so our motto is ‘they don’t score, they don’t win,’” said Williams.

“It is a defensive game, we dig down deep and just focused on what we talked about the entire week and it worked out well for us.”

While the 2015 Tigers have a long way to go to match the achievements of the 1995 squad, Surace likes what he is seeing from his players as they start their Ivy stretch drive by playing at Brown (2-2 overall and 0-1 Ivy) on October 17.

“Tonight I hope they feel good about themselves, they have worked really hard,” said Surace.

“I hope they understand that we have a six-game sprint in the Ivy League and it starts with Brown. We beat Columbia so we have the one Ivy League win and now we go into these six games. We know how good Brown has been. That has been a tough challenge up there. The last time we came back from being down 17-0, that was not fun. We know what we are going into; that is going to be a hornet’s nest and we need to come in, flying around the field.”