Senior Standouts Jester, Iosivas Make Big Plays As PU Football Routs Cornell 35-9, Improves to 7-0
SEEING RED: Princeton University football player Matt Jester shows his intensity last Saturday as the Tigers hosted Cornell. Senior linebacker Jester returned a botched Big Red two-point conversion 100 yards to help Princeton win 35-9. The No. 22 Tigers, now 7-0 overall and 4-0 Ivy League, host Dartmouth (2-5 overall, 1-3 Ivy) on November 5. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)
By Bill Alden
With the Princeton University football team having given up a touchdown to visiting Cornell in the third quarter last Saturday to see its lead shrink to 19-9 and the Big Red going for a two-point conversion, it looked like the tide could be turning against the Tigers.
But Princeton senior linebacker Matt Jester turned the tables on Cornell, picking off a deflected pass on the PAT in the end zone and sprinting 105 yards down the sideline, hurdling a Big Red player in the process, to put Princeton up 21-9.
“Liam [Johnson] tipped that to me, props to him; I caught it in stride and did my best to get as much as I could,” said Jester, whose scoring jaunt made the ESPN College Football Final’s top five plays of the day. “I was able to get the sideline and got two points for our team so that was good feeling. That (hurdling) was just heat of the moment, that is what I decided to do.”
The Tigers never looked back from there, pulling away to a 35-9 win before a homecoming crowd of 7,652 at Princeton Stadium, improving to 7-0 overall and 4-0 Ivy League. Princeton ended the day as the only undefeated Ivy team as Penn fell 34-31 to Brown to stop to 6-1 overall, 3-1 Ivy.
Supplementing Jester’s takeaway, Princeton forced five turnovers on the day with four interceptions and a recovered fumble.
“Turnovers are always the goals, five of them, that was a really awesome feeling,” said Jester, a 6’4, 250-pound native of Spring, Texas. “Half the turnovers don’t happen if the other 10 guys on the team aren’t doing their job. It takes 11 guys to win any game on defense. You like to see that everybody is eating and everybody is making plays. Everybody shares the burden of making plays. I can always count on those guys to do their job and I hope that they can count on me.”
For a few moments in the third quarter, it looked like Jester wasn’t going to be able to do his job as he left the game with a leg injury.
“I had a slight knee thing but it ended up being alright,” said Jester. “It didn’t bother me the rest of the game, so that was nice.”
It was another nice defensive effort for Princeton which came into the game ranked first in the Football Championship Subdivision (FCS) in turnover margin (+2.0) and second in both rushing defense (57.0 yards per game) and scoring defense (11.3 points over game).
“I feel like we have played pretty hard every game,” said Jester, reflecting on the defensive effort. “I don’t know what the stats show. I just love going out there every week with my guys and playing alongside them.”
With the Tigers improving to 7-0, Jester loves how the team is clicking across the board.
“We are selfless; we play our roles very well,” said Jester. “Guys play for each other, guys play with heart, passion and they play out of love for the guy next to them. I really just love the team chemistry we have. We always have to credit the offense too, they play their butts off every week.”
One of the Princeton’s offensive stars, senior receiver Andrei Iosivas had another big game, making 10 catches for 155 yards and two touchdowns.
The 6’3, 200-pound Iosivas, a native of Honolulu, Hawaii, helped spark the Tigers as they got off to a sluggish start with the rivals knotted in a scoreless stalemate heading into the second quarter.
After an apparent Iosivas TD catch was ruled out of bounds early in the second quarter, Princeton quarterback Blake Stenstrom went right back to the star wideout, hitting him on a 15-yard scoring strike. Later in the quarter, Iosivas scored his second touchdown on a 36-yard reception as the Tigers built a 12-3 halftime lead.
“Sometimes things don’t work out as you plan, we just had to figure this thing out and then get rolling,” said Iosivas.
“I know I did wrong on the first one so I corrected it in the second one and it became a touchdown so that was nice. On the second one, the safety came down because we had a dig route, [Carson] Bobo pulled the safety and that allowed me to run free basically.”
Over the course of the fall, Iosivas has developed a connection with first-year starting QB Stenstrom, who ended up hitting on 17-of-28 passes for 228 yards and two touchdowns against Cornell.
“I have been blessed with a great quarterback and we have become more and more comfortable as the season has gone on,” said Iosivas. “He puts the ball in places that only I can get it. He trusts us, that is the biggest thing for a receiver and a quarterback. He trusts me and I trust him so you just have to go out there and make plays.”
In making plays on Saturday, Iosivas snagged his 100th career reception along the way.
“I didn’t know about it until after,” said a smiling Iosivas, who now has 109 catches for the Tigers. “I kind of go and just play. It is a nice mark to hit but I am always looking for the win.”
Playing with fellow senior receiver Dylan Classi has helped Iosivas as the two have formed a potent one-two punch.
“We feed off each other, I would like to think that we are the best combo in the league,” said Iosivas who has 50 catches to lead Ivy receivers with Classi at sixth with 35. “Statistically we are up there. We feed off each other. One guy opens up the other guy. We trust each other to do what we need to do, blocking, running routes.”
Iosivas’ stats and athleticism as an All-American in the heptathlon for the Princeton track team has him on the radar of NFL scouts and on the Senior Bowl and East-West Shrine Game watch lists.
“It is really great, it is a culmination of all the work I have put in,” said Iosivas, referring to that attention.
“The coaches help me to be in that position as do all of the players around me. I just focus on the game. When I go into the game, I just know what I can do and everything will fall into place.”
Princeton head coach Bob Surace credited his squad’s consistent intensity with helping things to fall into place against Cornell.
“When you play with that effort, win or lose, you are proud of guys, you can feel good about yourself,” said Surace, whose team is now ranked No. 17 nationally in the American Football Coaches Association (AFCA) FCS Coaches’ Poll. “When you play with that effort and you have guys like Andrei and Matt with that talent, you might make a few big plays too.”
The turnovers made a big difference as Cornell ended up outgaining Princeton 433 yards to 288 on the day.
“They are good, every game they had played but one has been down to the last minute,” said Surace, who got an 89-yard interception return for a TD from Liam Johnson along with picks from Michael Ruttlen Jr., C.J. Wall, and Dawson De Iuliis. “They control the clock, they limit possessions. The turnovers today were huge. They are a tough team to play against; their quarterback (Jameson Wang) is tremendously athletic. He had thrown one interception coming into his game. We got him in the red zone early, we got him a couple of other times. That was huge.”
The big plays by Iosivas proved to be huge. “He is a tremendous player, not just with the ball in his hands,” said Surace. “It is his blocking, it is running off other things. He had another terrific game.”
Jester’s 105-yard PAT return was a tremendous moment for the Tigers.
“With his hustle, his effort, he has been so steady for us,” said Surace of Jester. “It doesn’t always show up on the highlights but that play will show up on the highlights. He is a legit athlete. He has been doing it for a long time.”
The Princeton defense has been steady all season long.
“They play hard, there is nobody who is throwing off these amazing stats but the group effort is there,” said Surace, whose star linebacker Johnson was later named the Ivy Defensive Player of the Week. “It is the 50 year anniversary of the 72 Dolphins. They were nicknamed the No-Name defense. I am not saying we are the Dolphins but nobody is putting up these wow stats. They are playing so well as a group. We misplayed some corner routes today and there were great throws by the quarterback. Nobody panicked, they just go to the next play. I think we have some pretty good depth. Coach [Steve] Verbit is rotating all these d-linemen in.”
The Tiger secondary, which had been a question mark entering the season, has emerged as a good unit.
“They are replacing a lot of three or four-year starters,” said Surace. “From spring on, they have been so disciplined. We are going to have to continue to do that.”
Playing with discipline will be critical as Princeton hosts Dartmouth (2-5 overall, 1-3 Ivy) this Saturday.
“I told the guys, that was a pretty rough feeling last year; I didn’t feel I led them as well as I could have,” said Surace, referring to a 31-7 loss to the Big Green last fall, Princeton’s only defeat in a 9-1 campaign.
“They have a tremendous coach (Buddy Teevens) and a tremendous team. We are going to have to have a great week this week and buckle down.”
Jester and his teammates are primed to buckle down and produce another great effort as they look to remain undefeated.
“We will take some time to enjoy this one and start looking at the film tomorrow,” said Jester. “I am sure we will get a good game plan for them. It will be nice to have them back at Princeton for a home game. We are really looking forward to playing those guys — they are a good team.”