October 26, 2022

Executing Sharply on Both Sides of the Ball, No. 22 PU Football Routs Harvard 37-10, Now 6-0

FLYING HAWAIIAN: Princeton University receiver Andrei Iosivas races past a Harvard defender last season. On Friday, senior star Iosivas, a native of Honolulu, Hawaii, made nine catches for a career-high 176 yards and one touchdown as Princeton routed Harvard 37-10. The No. 22 Tigers, now 6-0 overall and 3-0 Ivy League, host Cornell (4-2 overall, 1-2 Ivy). (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

By Bill Alden

As the Princeton University football team filed on to the field last Friday night at Harvard Stadium, the players had to duck their heads to get through the low doorway at the venerable arena constructed in 1903.

“It is a coliseum. When they built it, the tackles were 5’3,” said Princeton head coach Bob Surace with a chuckle. “It is awesome, it is historic. You go in and you feel like warriors on the field.”

Over the next three hours, Princeton played like warriors against Harvard, leaving the field with their heads held high after they routed the Crimson 37-10 before a crowd of 10,793.

Princeton didn’t waste time showing its intent, going for fourth and one at its own 34 on its first possession and getting the first when freshman running back Ryan Butler gained three yards.

“That has been a pretty consistent approach, we did it at the end of the Monmouth game last year,” said Surace, whose team improved to 6-0 overall and 3-0 Ivy League and is now ranked No. 22 nationally in the American Football Coaches Association (AFCA) FCS Coaches’ Poll.

“I want our players knowing that we are going to go after them. It is not just because I think we are going to get it. There are going to be times when you get stopped and you have confidence in your defense. If you don’t have a good defense then you don’t do it.”

Two plays later after the Tigers got the first down, quarterback Blake Stenstrom hit star receiver Andrei Iosivas on a 61-yard touchdown pass off a flea flicker as Princeton went ahead 7-0.

With the Tigers leading 14-10 at halftime, Surace was confident that his team could close the deal.

“We got into halftime and the look in our eyes was really good, we had played a good 30 minutes,” said Surace. “We had done some good things. We just had to continue on that course and we can take control of the game. I think our guys stayed the course, they were really focused. It was a very positive speech at halftime. it was just continue to play hard every play and stay focused. Eventually you have more good plays than they do if that happens.”

Over the last 30 minutes of the contest, Princeton made a lot of good plays, outscoring the Crimson 23-0 in the second half. Dylan Classi scored on a 23-yard TD reception to start the onslaught, followed by a one-yard touchdown plunge by Butler, a 24-yard field goal by Jeffrey Sexton, and a four-yard TD run by Stenstrom.

Surace credited the Tiger offensive line with paving the way for the second half surge.

“That was going to be one of the keys, their D-line has taken over games,” said Surace. “For the most part when you win or neutralize them, you are giving our QB time and our running backs lanes to run. I really thought that those guys were fighting. They were so happy after the game but it was a happiness of you worked your butt off. You could tell how sore they were.”

Butler benefited from the line’s good work, rushing for 80 yards on 20 carries.

“He runs with a lot of confidence, he is strong, he is mature,” said Surace of Butler, who was later named the Ivy Rookie of the Week. “A lot of guys have asked me about him. It is really hard to play as a freshman in our league. We used to have freshman football and occasionally you see guys that can do it. It takes a lot of maturity and talent. He has done a really good job.”

Senior quarterback Blake Stenstrom had a really good game, hitting on 18-of-27 passes for 278 yards and three TDs and also rushing for 60 yards.

“The game is starting to slow down for him; literally he hadn’t started since high school until the Stetson game,” said Surace of Stenstrom, who was named the Ivy Player of the Week. “That is such a long time ago. The coaches did a good job of getting him up to speed last year, the rust started to come off. He is playing with confidence, he is making good decisions.”

Throwing to Iosivas was a good decision as the senior standout made nine catches for a career-high 176 yards and one touchdown.

“Week one it is No 9 (Iosivas), week two it is No. 7 (Dylan Classi); one of them has that 9-10 catch game performance and the other one plays an impactful role,” said Surace. “This week the ball found Andrei. He got the ball in some space and really did a nice job.”

The Tiger defense made its impact felt, holding a high-powered Harvard offense to 303 yards total offense.

“They were 3-for-11 on third downs and 0-for-2 in fourth downs so they were 3 for 13 in those critical situations,” said Surace. “Their running back (Aidan Borguet) is one of the best in the country and we really did a good job limiting the damage with him. There were lot of 1,2,3 yard runs. He is such a good player, that is a credit to our guys. We forced a lot of throws in their slot. Ryan Wimberly had one long catch, all the rest of his catches were in the 5-yard range. We did a really good job keeping the ball in front of us. We got our hands on a lot of balls.”

Junior linebacker Liam Johnson spearheaded the defense with eight tackles and some heady play.

“He is such a good leader,” said Surace. “In a series we are going to check in and out of things; he is the middle linebacker so he has to do it. He has just executed and gotten us in the right call. He is really an extension of what Steve Verbit [defensive coordinator and senior associate head coach] wants on the defense. He is doing such a good job, a couple of times he flipped a blitz when they flipped a formation. These are things you only do if you trust the guy. We have had defensive years where we have not been able to flip things but with Liam we are able to do it.”

Even though Princeton is off to a 6-0 start, Surace sees plenty of room for improvement.

“I think we have progressed, one thing that has been a constant has been our effort and our grit,” said Surace. “We have got to continue to progress in certain elements of our execution. It is not going to be perfect. The line played its best game, we ran the ball well. These things are incremental. You don’t go from the first step and come to the 10th step. I think we are taking some incremental steps, we are going to have to because the schedule doesn’t get easier.”

This Saturday, the Tigers face another hard foe as they host Cornell (4-2 overall, 1-2 Ivy).

“Cornell has have been incredibly physical, they are playing a strong brand of football that has led to five of their six games coming down to the last two minutes,” said Surace, noting that the Big Red stopped Brown last Saturday on a goal line stand in the waning seconds of the contest to earn a 24-21 win over the Bears.

“It has been physical, tough, challenging games. They test you. It has been low possession games, they try to control the clock. We have done a good job executing, getting first downs as well. It might be a low possession game, so each play is going to have added significance.”