November 21, 2018

PU Football Pulls Away to 42-14 Win Over Penn, Achieving Program’s 1st Perfect Season Since 1964

HEADING INTO HISTORY: Princeton University football player Jesper Horsted races past Penn defenders last Saturday. Senior star wide receiver Horsted made eight catches for 165 yards and three touchdowns to help Princeton defeat the Quakers 42-14 and put the finishing touches on a perfect season for the Tigers. Princeton ended the fall at 10-0 overall and 7-0 Ivy League. It marked the program’s first undefeated season since the 1964 team went 9-0 and its first outright Ivy title since 1995. Horsted, for his part, passed Kevin Guthrie to grab the Princeton record for career receptions, ending his career with 196 catches and 2,703 receiving yards, the second most in program history. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

By Bill Alden

With no Princeton University football team having posted an undefeated season since 1964 when the Tigers went 9-0, this year’s squad set its sights set on perfection.

“Before the season we got together and talked about our goals for the year were and that was the biggest stated one that we were all working toward,” said Princeton senior receiver Jesper Horsted. “The way to be the best we could be was to go 10-0.”

While going undefeated might have been the long range goal, the Tigers maintained a daily focus on the work at hand.

“That being said, it was a game by game way that we approached things,” added Horsted. “We never looked beyond the next Saturday and that is just how we approached the business.”

Bringing a 9-0 record into its season finale against visiting Penn last Saturday, Princeton took care of business, pulling away to a 42-14 win over the Quakers to end the fall at 10-0 overall and 7-0 Ivy League, earning the program’s first outright Ivy title since 1995.

Princeton head coach Bob Surace lauded his players for never wavering in their focus as the wins piled up.

“The outcomes are the outcomes, the thing that is so awesome is how these guys do everything everyday,” said Surace, who has now coached the Tigers to three Ivy crowns in his nine-year tenure at the helm of his alma mater’s program.

“It is the easiest team I have ever had to coach, and I am not saying that because of their talent, they are certainly talented; it is because they are on time, they are accountable and they fight through injury at practice. It is never coach I need an off day, it is coach, I am practicing when the trainer is telling them not to go. It is just so enjoyable to be around this group.”

In a raucous post-game celebration, the team lobbed pieces of cheese at each other rather than spraying champagne.

“We have the saying in our locker room ‘don’t take the cheese,’ that was the motto and we took it seriously,” said senior star quarterback John Lovett.

“If you even slipped up; when we are 6–0, 7-0, or 8-0 and said you say ‘wouldn’t it be cool to go 10-0’ and boom and 15 or 20 guys are saying you are taking the cheese right now.”

The Tigers were not about to slip up on Saturday as Penn rallied to make it a 21-14 game on a 69-yard pass play early in the second half after Princeton had jumped out to a 21-0 lead midway through the second quarter.

Senior linebacker Tom Johnson, who made 10 tackles and had a sack to lead the defensive charge, was confident that Princeton would hold the fort.

“They had a lot of fight; they are a good squad and we didn’t think it was going to be a cakewalk coming in here today,” said Johnson.

“We knew that there was going to be some adversity at some point like every game this year but we band together. I think it shows how strong this class has been.”

The record-breaking Princeton offense poured it on from there with 21 unanswered points.

“Our entire offensive mentality is to score on every single possession, if it doesn’t matter if it is a run up the middle or a deep pass,” said Lovett, reflecting on a unit that piled up a league record 470 points this fall.

“You have seen it all year, guys break off 75 yard runs from a simple run play. It is not like we are designing anything or going with trick plays to be explosive. We just have an offense that believes in each other. When we get the ball in our hands, whoever it is that has it is trying to do the best they can possibly do for our team. Coach [Sean] Gleeson draws up incredible game plans every week so a lot of that goes to him.”

Lovett enjoyed getting the ball to Horsted, who caught eight passes for 165 yards and three touchdowns in the win, setting the Princeton record for career receptions as he ended up with 196, breaking the previous mark of 193 established by Kevin Guthrie ’84.

“He makes it easy;” said Lovett of Horsted, who was later named the Football Championship Subdivision (FCS) National Offensive Player of the Week and the Ivy League Offensive Player of the Week. “Jesper is an incredible talent and I am lucky enough to play with him.”

The one downside to Princeton’s incredible season is that it won’t get to keep playing, as the Ivy League doesn’t allow its teams to participate in the FCS national playoffs.

“I am at a loss for words right now, I don’t feel it should be over,” said Lovett,  who passed for 255 yards and three touchdowns and rushed for 123 yards and one TD in the win over Penn.

“I just want to go out on Tuesday and start throwing more ball to Jesper and Stephen [Carlson]. It is a pleasure to be able to play with these guys.”

Surace echoed Lovett’s sentiments about the playoffs. “It is an empty feeling, we would want to play,” said Surace, whose team is ranked eighth in this week’s FCS Coaches Poll.

“I will speak for them; it is not only that they want to play, it is going to be Tuesday at 4:45 and we are going to feel sick to our stomachs because we don’t get to practice and we don’t get to bond. That is what stinks,  because we will always have the unknown, the would-have, could-have, should-have, who knows, and it is just not fair.

But while these Tigers might not get to test themselves in the playoffs, they can be proud of going down in Princeton lore as one of the greatest teams in program history.

“It is pretty amazing when you are in the locker room and the team that did it 54 years ago is in there,” said Surace. “They have been so supportive and these guys are in that rare air with them.”