October 5, 2022

Sparked by Superb Defensive Effort, Classi’s Receiving, Princeton Football Tops Columbia 24-6 in Ivy Opener

CLASS ACT: Princeton University senior receiver Dylan Classi heads upfield in a game earlier this season. Last Saturday, Classi made six receptions for 133 yards to help Princeton defeat Columbia 24-6 in its Ivy League opener. The Tigers, now 3-0 overall, play at Lafayette (2-3) on October 8. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

By Bill Alden

Bob Surace knew that his Princeton University football team was facing a bruising encounter when it played at Columbia last Saturday.

“I have played against Al now 12 times,” said Princeton head coach Surace, referring to Columbia head coach Al Bagnoli who previously guided the Penn program. “With every one of those games, you get on the bus if it is a road game, or you go back to the locker room and your body feels it. You have been hit and you have hit hard.”

It was Princeton, however, who delivered the hardest blows on Saturday as the Tigers whipped the Lions 24-6 in the Ivy League opener for both teams before a crowd of 4,071 at Robert K. Kraft Field.

Princeton’s triumph was highlighted by a rugged defensive effort which saw the Tigers hold Columbia to 235 yards total offense and make three interceptions.

“The best word is effort,” said Surace in assessing the defensive effort. “I watched the film when I got home last night and there are some plays on there — like where Liam Johnson deflects a screen pass, he was on a blitz, the ball goes to the receiver, but it is slower. He just runs and immediately joins in on the tackle. Will Perez had a couple of those too.”

The defensive pressure resulted in senior linebacker Perez snagging one interception and senior linebacker Joe Bonczek picking off two.

“The energy our guys were playing with was really, really high,” said Surace. “I think we were doing that for the course of 70 plays and eventually the ball comes to you. Both of Joe’s interceptions were just great reads. The throw was not perfect and usually they become incompletions. He made great plays.”

The Tigers got off to an energetic start offensively, taking the opening kickoff and marching 75 yards in eight plays with freshman running back Ryan Butler culminating the drive with a one-yard touchdown run.

“We got into a good rhythm,” said Surace. “Our thing has been, when we don’t have negative plays like a penalty or a dropped ball sack or whatever, we move the ball really well. Our efficiency rates are really high. I thought that first drive was an example of that.”

Clinging to a 7-6 lead late in the second quarter, Princeton went on another scoring drive, going 52 yards in seven plays, taking a 14-6 lead on a 13-yard TD pass from Blake Stenstrom to JoJo Hawkins.

“That was a big drive, we were scuffling a little bit,” said Surace. “Credit Columbia, they have a good defense. We had some negative plays. Our defense was playing lights out. I thought we really needed to get the points on the board at half and execute well as we did. We got such in a good rhythm there.”

Senior receiver and co-captain Dylan Classi found a good rhythm, making six receptions for 133 yards.

“Dylan is a really good player, he has been so consistent throughout his career,” said Surace. “I thought he did a great job not only on the deep throws, but he got yards after the catch.”

In the second half, Princeton got the job done, scoring 10 unanswered points and continuing to play stifling defense. While Surace was happy with effort, he acknowledged that Princeton has to clean up some things.

“We really played hard, we are overcoming some of the early season mistakes with effort,” said Surace. “I am hoping we can correct them. We are going to need to as you are looking around our league and the competitiveness. We are going to have to raise our game. I thought we played with a great deal of energy.”

With Princeton heading to Lafayette (2-3) on Saturday, the Tigers will look to raise their game as they tune up for the Ivy stretch drive.

“Their scores, except against Temple (30-14) and William and Mary (34-7), have been really close,” said Surace. “In the Temple game, Lafayette gave up three blocked punts. Take those away and that game is probably 17-14 but you can’t take that away. Offense and defense-wise, they are playing in these hard-fought contests. They have won a couple of them, they won one last week (24-14 over Bucknell last Saturday), and they have lost a couple of them.”