November 1, 2017

Squandering Late Lead in 29-28 Loss to Cornell, PU Football’s Ivy Title Repeat Hopes in Jeopardy

SEEING RED: Princeton University junior running back Charlie Volker (No. 20) takes a hard hit in a game earlier this season. Last Saturday, Volker rushed for 41 yards in a losing cause as Princeton fell 29-28 to visiting Cornell. The loss to the Big Red dropped Princeton to 5-2 overall and 2-2 Ivy League, dealing a blow to the Tigers’ chances for a league title repeat. Princeton will look to get back on the winning track when it plays at Penn (3-4 overall, 1-3 Ivy) on November 4. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

By Bill Alden

In its final outing this September, the Princeton University football team squandered a late 24-21 advantage on the way to a 28-24 loss to Columbia.

Last Saturday as the Tigers hosted Cornell for their last game in October, they saw another lead slip away as they started the fourth quarter up 28-16 only to lose 29-28 to the Big Red on a career-best 43-yard field goal by Nickolas Null with 48 seconds left in regulation.

Princeton head coach Bob Surace acknowledged that the Tigers faded down the stretch.

“We got worn down. We didn’t make enough plays to get off the field,” lamented Surace. “It just seemed like every series, we just came up a little short and we ended up punting more than we would like.”

Coming up short left Princeton at 5-2 overall and 2-2 Ivy League, putting its hopes of an Ivy title repeat in jeopardy as three teams (Columbia, Cornell, and Yale) are currently at 3-1 in league action with three games remaining.

“Every loss is frustrating, whether it is 50-0 or if it is 29-28,” said Surace.

“We had our opportunities. The guys fight and fought back and had a shot at the end but we didn’t convert, which makes it even more disappointing for the guys in the locker room.”

The Tigers showed fight to the final whistle, taking the kickoff after the Null field goal and driving 53 yards in 41 seconds to get a 44-yard field goal attempt by Tavish Rice, which fell short.

“We had no timeouts, we did a really good job getting the ball down the field to have a chance,” said Surace, reflecting on that last-ditch effort.

“We would have liked to have a few more yards on that. To come up short is really disappointing; you kick yourself. We probably could have done some things and gotten a few more yards.”

Getting caught short-handed on defense as injuries have decimated the D-line, in particular, made things harder for Princeton.

“We are going to have to find a way to keep these guys fresh because they can’t play that many plays,” said Surace.

“We are talking two freshmen playing a big majority of it. We are going to have to find a way to get some other guys to help them stay fresh. We didn’t do a great job of adjusting to the guys we had in there and we have to do a better job while we have a week to prepare for that. Those guys are going to be good football players, they can still execute. We have got to put them in position to execute and do a better job with it.”

Junior linebacker Thomas Johnson helped pick up the slack, making a lot of plays as he had a career-high 16 tackles to spark the defense.

“He played his heart out; he was flying around the field,” said Surace. “He had stitches and he was bleeding all over the place and comes out just as the half ends. They stitch him up and he is a warrior. It is hard for me to scream and yell at them when you have guys like that playing their way through it.”

Surace is looking for the Tigers to show heart when they return to action by playing at Penn (3-4 overall, 1-3 Ivy) on November 4.

“I will be in at 6:30 in the morning on Sunday just like I always am; we are going to approach it the same way,” said Surace.

“That is the way we prepare and I told the guys we will find out what we are made of. We will come out and do our best to fight against Penn.”

With Princeton having responded to the Columbia loss with three straight wins before the setback last Saturday, Surace believes in his players.

“I have a lot of faith that they will work their tails off,” asserted Surace.

“We are going to have to rearrange what we are doing. We are thin in some areas with injuries; we will see if we can make do.”