October 24, 2018

PU Football Holds Off Feisty Harvard, Pulling Out 29-21 Win, Moving to 6-0

TOM TERRIFIC: Princeton University football star Tom Johnson gets ready to pounce on a ballcarrier in recent action. Last Saturday at Harvard, senior linebacker and co-captain Johnson has a team-high 10 tackles to help Princeton hold off the Crimson in prevailing 29-21. The Tigers, now 6-0 overall and 3-0 Ivy League, host Cornell (3-3 overall, 2-1 Ivy) on October 27. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

By Bill Alden

Even though his Princeton University football team had cruised to a 5-0 record, outscoring its foes 260-43 in the process, Bob Surace sensed that his squad was in for a dogfight when it faced a 3-2 Harvard team last Saturday.

“They are really good, they lost to Rhode Island (23-16 on September 28), who had been top 15 nationally ranked team; it was a back-and-forth game,” said Princeton head coach Surace.

“They lost to Cornell (28-24 on October 6) where they made a lot of special team errors but offensively and defensively, they showed how talented they were. We knew going into it that it was going to be to be like the double or triple overtime games we have had with them in the past.”

Sure enough, Princeton found itself clinging to a 10-7 lead at halftime before a crowd of 10,876 at Harvard Stadium.

Getting some help from injured defensive lineman Kurt Holuba, Surace fired up his troops at the break.

“As I was walking in, I wrote down ‘this is going to be a fight, this is awesome,’” said Surace.

“Kurt goes in and says ‘this is great, we are in a fight.’ That is the message I was considering. The guys were so excited. This is what college football is about; they work so hard and sacrifice so much that more games are going to be like this than they are going 48-10 games.”

The Tigers had to work hard in the second half to pull out a 29-21 win, holding off a late Crimson charge after jumping ahead 22-7 with less than five minutes remaining in the fourth quarter.

The return of injured quarterback John Lovett, who missed the Brown game a week earlier, made a big difference for Princeton, which is now 6-0 overall and 3-0 Ivy League.

“He just plays with such energy and the guys around him just respond so well,” said Surace of Lovett, who passed for 207 yards and a touchdown and rushed for 45 yards and another TD.

“It was a game where they did a good job getting four-man pressure on us and forced him to make a lot of really good decisions under duress. His leadership, experience and all of those things really showed. He didn’t force things, especially when we went through three or four drives in a row where we punted, which hadn’t happened this year. It showed his maturity as a quarterback.”

Even though Lovett’s heroics helped Princeton build that 22-7 cushion with 4:49 left in regulation, Surace knew that the game was far from over.

“There is enough time and drives left,” said Surace, reflecting on a frenetic finish which saw Harvard come up with a 29-yard touchdown pass to cut the Princeton lead to 22-14 and then connect on a 32-yard scoring strike with 48 seconds remaining after the Tigers had built their lead back up to 29-14

“We didn’t handle the end of the game situations as well as I would have liked defensively and that is on me. We are a little young on the back end.”

While there were some defensive lapses in the waning moments, junior safety T.J. Floyd, sophomore linebacker Jeremiah Tyler, and senior linebacker Tom Johnson made a number of big plays in the day.

“T.J. had an interception and a fumble recovery; Jeremiah made a stop on fourth down,” said Surace.
“Tommy was his typical self, he was all over the field (with a team-high 10 tackles).”

Princeton needed those heroics as the Crimson ran the ball effectively, gaining 152 yards on the ground.

“They have a lot of weapons offensively and a tough scheme to go up against,” said Surace.

“The running back (Aaron Shampklin – 123 yards on 22 carries) really did a great job with his tempo and in the first half We struggled a little bit with him. I thought in the second half, we were better with our responsibilities and tackled better. He is one of the best we have had to go up against in my time here. He really made it challenging.”

Princeton senior running back Charlie Volker rose to the challenge himself, scoring on a 49-yard run to give the Tigers a 29-14 lead with 2:10 remaining and gaining 94 yards on the game.

“They are a tough defense to run on; they have been that way historically,” said Surace. “It was a lot of three and four yard runs against their front seven. We were able to get a couple of bigger runs as the game went on; the holes were not very big.”

The Tigers took a big step in pulling out the nail-biter after enjoying five straight blow-outs to start the season.

“We will take it any way we can get it,” said Surace. “We have played them nine times since I have been here and this game was more characteristic. It was just an exciting slugfest, really similar to to two years ago when they beat us in overtime. It was back and forth and you are on the edge of your seat.”

Surace is expecting another another slugfest when Princeton, now ranked 17th the the FCS Coaches Poll, hosts Cornell (3-3 overall, 2-1 Ivy) this Saturday.

“They are so physical and well coached,” said Surace of the Big Red, who edged the Tigers 29-28 last fall.

“If we can’t get stops on defense, they are going to run the clock out and we are not going to get a whole lot of possessions. We are going to have to be up to the task and get them off the field as much as we can.”