October 28, 2016

PU Football Rally Falls Short in OT Loss to Harvard, But Character, Intensity Bode Well for Stretch Run


DEFENSIVE FORCE: Princeton University football player Kurt Holuba heads upfield in recent action. Last Saturday, junior defensive end Holuba recorded a career-best 10 tackles and three sacks in a losing cause as Princeton fell 23-20 in overtime to visiting Harvard. Holuba was later named the Ivy Defensive Player of the Week for his performance The Tigers, now 4-2 overall and 2-1 Ivy League, play at Cornell (3-3 overall, 1-2 Ivy) on October 29. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

With the Princeton University football team trailing Harvard 14-0 at halftime last Saturday in a clash of Ivy League unbeatens, it got a spark from an unlikely source.

“Durelle Napier is a guy who had played for us a lot when he had been healthy but he had a number of injuries and he is a student assistant right now,” said Princeton head coach Bob Surace.

“He pours his heart into the field and into his
teammates. I thought I had my Knute Rockne win one for the Gipper speech and about a minute before I was about to start, Durelle was as emotional as could be. I just said to the guys, here is a guy who is not medically able to play ever again and he feels like this. We have to do it. We walked out of that tunnel and I thought we took the field with the emotion that I was really hoping to see to start the second half.”

Drawing on that emotion, Princeton proceeded to start the half with a 15-play, 80-yard drive that culminated with a John Lovett one-yard touchdown run to make it a 14-7 game. Later in the quarter, the Tigers narrowed the gap to 14-10 on a 32-yard field goal by Tavish Rice.

After Harvard added a field goal with 6:00 remaining in regulation to go up 17-10, Princeton responded with another scoring march that ended with a Lovett four-yard TD run to make it 17-17 and force overtime. The Tigers started the extra session with a 25-yard field goal by Rice to go up 20-17 but ended up with a defeat as Harvard quarterback Joe Viviano scored on a 1-yard run to give the Crimson a 23-20 win before 9,963 at Princeton Stadium.

In reflecting on the setback which left his team at 4-2 overall and 2-1 Ivy, Surace lauded his squad’s character.

“The result obviously wasn’t what we wanted; I told the guys in the locker room what concerns me is having a team and having a group of guys who represent Princeton football and a group of guys that everyone can be proud of,” said Surace.

“I couldn’t be more pleased with that, regardless of what happens the rest of the year. If we come out and do the things the way we do, there is not another group of guys I have ever coached I would rather be around and that is how I feel about them.”

Harvard head coach Tim Murphy agreed that Surace had plenty of reason to feel good about his players.

“It was a great college football game, Princeton certainly didn’t deserve to lose, it was a great coaching job by them,” said Murphy, whose team moved to 5-1 overall and 3-0 Ivy with the win.

“Their kids played unbelievably hard and, in the end, we just made one more play than they did.”

The Tigers got some great play from its defense with junior defensive end Kurt Holuba leading the way with a career-best 10 tackles and three sacks as he later earned Ivy Defensive Player of the Week honors.

“I thought our D-line in general played a heckuva game,” said Surace, whose defensive unit had three interceptions and a fumble recovery on the day. “Kurt is an outstanding player and he is going up against a left tackle (Max Rich) who is a potential NFL player. He is awesome but they have four other guys who are terrific as well. That is an outstanding offensive line that we went up against. For somebody who loves football to watch that interior play and to see that really terrific O-line against our D-line and guys like Kurt, Ty Desire, Henry Schlossberg, and Brannon Jones and see how they competed, that is something I will always take out of this game.”

Senior safety and tri-captain
Dorian Williams liked the way the Tiger defense competed.

“I think our defense played well, at certain times we had little lapses and they capitalized on those,” said Williams.

“Outside of that, I think our defense played tremendous. It was a great effort. In the overtime stand we couldn’t hold up. Hopefully we can capitalize off that next week and improve.”

In the view of senior running back and tri-captain, Rhattigan, the Tigers were primed to make a big effort as it hit the field to begin the third quarter.

“It was very important for us to come out in the second half and get back to playing fast and physical, that is what we needed to do,” said Rhattigan.

“We just needed to be faster and play harder so that is what we were talking about in the locker room and what we tried to come out and do in the second half.”

Surace credited junior quarterback Lovett with helping the Tigers play hard.

“John leaves his heart on the field, you see the passion he plays with,” said Surace who got 128 yards total offense and two touchdowns from the triple threat Lovett as the Tigers outgained Harvard 323-317 on the day.

“It is really inspiring and it is not just the touchdown runs, it is when he catches the ball and he is just looking to get an extra yard. I think that mentality is contagious. It didn’t show up in the result but it shows up when you are watching a game with a team that is just playing their hearts out.”

Williams, for his part, believes that Princeton will keep playing its heart out as it looks to get past the sting of the defeat to the Crimson.

“Harvard still has to go through four more teams and we still have to go through four more teams too so the season is not over,” said Williams.

“There are still a lot of games to be played out so we are going to do what we can to make sure that we control our own destiny, that is all that we can do at this point.”

With Princeton playing at Cornell (3-3 overall, 1-2 Ivy) on October 29, Surace is confident that his team will keep doing its best.

“You have to go back to work the next day and that is the mentality we have to have,” said Surace.

“I want to see us practice the way we have practiced and keep playing as hard. There are things that I am going to lose sleep over that I could have done and I think we all feel that. At the end of the day, if this team can go back with that same mentality and keep getting better at doing those things, I will have a team, regardless of where we finish in the standings, that I have never been prouder of.”