November 8, 2017

Late Rally Falls Just Short on Disputed TD As Princeton Football Loses 38-35 at Penn

By Bill Alden

With six defensive starters sidelined due to injury, the Princeton University football team was in danger of being run out of Franklin Field by Penn last Saturday.

The Tigers trailed 17-7 at the half as Penn ground out scoring marches of 80 yards, 71 yards, and 53 yards to reel off 17 unanswered points.

As he addressed his players at intermission, Princeton head coach Bob Surace had a simple message.

“We talked about it at halftime,” said Surace. “It was just doing a better job rallying to the ball and doing a better job finishing plays.

Taking Surace’s words to heart, Princeton spent the second half mounting a furious rally to turn a potential rout into a tense nail-biter.

After falling behind 24-7, the Tigers narrowed the gap to 24-21 with pair of touchdown passes from Chad Kanoff to Jesper Horsted in a span of 1:15 late in the third quarter.

“I felt we really did a great job of throwing the ball, breaking tackles,” said Surace. “We score, we force a fumble, and we score again. At that point, it was a back-and-forth game. I felt that guys showed a lot of resolve.”

The Tigers kept showing resolve in the fourth quarter.  After Penn went up 31-21, Princeton answered with two touchdown runs by Charlie Volker to forge ahead 35-31 with 4:26 remaining in regulation. But the Quakers regained the lead on a touchdown pass to Justin Watson to make it 38-35.

The Tigers clawed back one more time, marching to the Penn 13-yard line and apparently winning the game: Kanoff hit Stephen Carlson with a pass in the end zone with seven seconds left that was called a touchdown by one official but was ultimately waved off by the crew. Princeton then missed a 31-yard field goal attempt to fall by that 38-35 margin.

Surace, for his part, firmly believes that Carlson’s grab should have decided the contest in Princeton’s favor.

“They single-covered Stephen and he did a great job getting the ball and tipping it to himself,” said Surace, whose team dropped to 5-3 overall and 2-3 Ivy League with the defeat.

“He scored a touchdown that ultimately was ruled differently. Everybody saw it; obviously he secured it and was in bounds.”

In falling to the Quakers, the Tigers squandered a big passing performance as senior star and tri-captain Kanoff hit on 32-of-45 passes for 351 yards and three touchdowns with Hoersted making nine catches for 114 yards and two touchdowns and Carlson coming up with 10 receptions for 103 yards and a touchdown.

“I thought on the 10 drives that we had, Chad was so efficient,” said Surace.

“He did a great job, not only completing passes, but he was putting them in spots where you can get yards after the catch. All of the guys were getting the passes in situations where you turn six-yard gains into 10 and 10-yard gains into 14 and really looked good doing that.”

But playing shorthanded on defense ended up dooming the Tigers as Penn rushed for 317 yards and built a 36:19 – 23:41 edge in time of possession.

“We have got to do a better job just playing our responsibilities,” said Surace.

“We had some guys who hadn’t played a snap of varsity football doing the job. We have to make sure that the guys who have been playing don’t do anything outside of their responsibilities. Penn had a great plan and they executed it well. They ran the ball extremely well. They would wear us down with three, four, and five-yard gains, eventually as the drives extended, those gains got greater.”

While Surace won’t soon forget the disappointment of seeing an apparent win taken away by an officiating decision, he knows Princeton can’t dwell on that as it hosts Ivy leader Yale (7-1 overall, 4-1 Ivy) on November 11.

“We have got to move forward. At the end of the day, Yale is the best team in the conference and they are playing their best football right now,” said Surace.

“Our complete focus needs to be on preparation for Yale. They are an outstanding team and they have played that way all year. They have a freshman running back [Zane Dudek] who is leading the league in rushing. Their quarterback [Kurt Rawlings] has been incredibly efficient all year long; they have been a top tier offense. Defensively, they are playing as well as anybody in the conference the last three or four weeks. They are getting to the quarterback and creating pressure.”

In Surace’s view, the way Princeton pressured Penn in the second half last Saturday is the blueprint for success against the Bulldogs.

“We really showed a ton of fight; we know that our only chance to play a great game against Yale is to show that fight and play that way because they are loaded and are a really good team,” said Surace.

“We made a lot of mistakes that we have to correct. The good part of it is that we are playing with energy, we are playing with effort. You keep doing those things and hopefully you can get into one of these competitive one-play games and turn it around and win it.”