Princeton Football Blown Away 37-7 By No. 9 Penn As Unbeaten Quakers Knock Tigers Out of Ivy Race
By Bill Alden
Facing an undefeated Penn squad and playing into a stiff wind of 16 m.p.h., the Princeton University football team fell behind 17-0 in the first quarter last Saturday at Franklin Field.
The Tigers were hoping that getting the wind at their backs in the second quarter would get them headed in the right direction.
Instead, Princeton's hopes of staying in the Ivy league race were blown away as the Quakers built an unassailable 30-0 halftime cushion on the way to a 37-7 romp before 21,060.
It was an old Tiger bugaboo turnovers that helped take the wind out of Princeton's sails as it dropped to 2-6 (2-3) Ivy and was officially eliminated from the Ivy race.
The Tigers lost four fumbles in the first half which Penn (8-0, 5-0 Ivy) duly cashed in for 17 points as the Quakers extended their winning streak to 13 games, the second longest current streak nationally in 1-AA football.
The most egregious giveaway came when the Tigers mishandled a squib kick late in the second quarter and Penn recovered, getting in position to score its final touchdown of the half.
Afterward, Tiger head coach Roger Hughes maintained that his team felt it could have overcome its rough first quarter. "We'd seen on tape that Penn had gotten big leads and had relinquished them at points," said a subdued Hughes. "We really felt like, OK, they had jumped out early but we were in the wind early and could fight out way back into the game."
Princeton quarterback Matt Verbit, who had engineered a Tiger comeback in its win over Brown in mid-October, wasn't ready to give up the ship. "I felt like we had a chance to come back," said Verbit, who hit on 19-of-29 passes for 273 yards but lost two fumbles. "Every time we'd get something going, we'd shoot ourselves in the foot. We had confidence we could come back but it just didn't work out."
In the end, Hughes had to acknowledge that the Quakers had simply worked the Tigers over. "It's pretty clear that Penn is deserving of its No. 9 ranking," said Hughes, whose team was outgained 478 yards to 327 and mustered 13 first downs compared to the 26 piled up by Penn.
"They took advantage of everything we gave them. I thought they dominated the ball on both lines of scrimmage. Certainly my hat goes off to Al Bagnoli and his staff. They've done a great job and have a great team and certainly we made them look that good. They executed on all cylinders."
The Tigers, by contrast, fell well short of the mark when it came to execution as they lost their eight straight to Penn. "When you're playing a team of this caliber, you have to hope that some of the breaks go your way," said Hughes, who is now 14-23 in his tenure at Princeton.
"With four or five turnovers in the first half, it's very difficult to put your defense in that kind of position when they're trying to defend a very good offense. It's very frustrating. There's nothing you can put your finger on as to the causes of the fumbles."
The loss put a cloud on the progress the Tigers had made in recent weeks as they had won two of their last three games with that loss being a 43-40 overtime heartbreaker at Harvard.
"We didn't play our top game," admitted sophomore linebacker Justin Stull, who had 12 tackles and a sack against the Quakers. "I feel like we've been getting better. I don't think we took another step forward when we needed to."
As Princeton hosts Yale (5-3, 3-2 Ivy) this Saturday, Hughes isn't ready to write off the season. "We certainly need to learn something and we can't fold our tent," asserted Hughes with his voice rising.
"I told them next week that I'm stepping on the field expecting to win a game. Yale's a good team and we have to get ready for them. We need to be ready from the start."
Hughes is confident his team can
rise to the challenge. "Frankly, this team has shown a
great resiliency and work ethic," added the increasingly silver-haired
Hughes. "They have shown an ability to put things behind
them and move forward and get better. I expect the same thing."