November 15, 2023

Senior QB Stenstrom Undergoes Emotional Roller-Coaster As PU Football Falls to Yale in OT, Ending Ivy Title Hopes

LAST FLING: Princeton University quarterback Blake Stenstrom fires a pass last Saturday as Princeton hosted Yale. Playing in his final home game as a Tiger, senior Stenstrom connected on 20-of-36 passes for 240 yards and one touchdown in a losing cause as Princeton fell 36-28 to the Bulldogs in double overtime to get knocked out of the Ivy League title race. The Tigers, now 4-5 overall and 3-3 Ivy, play at Penn (6-3, 3-3 Ivy) on November 18 in their season finale. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

By Bill Alden

Blake Stenstrom experienced an emotional roller-coaster as the Princeton University football team hosted Yale last Saturday in his last home game as a Tiger.

The day started with the annual Senior Day ceremony as Stenstrom and his classmate were introduced one by one before the game, escorted by their families onto the field.

“It is really special to play at Princeton, it has been a fantastic experience,” said quarterback Stenstrom, who transferred to Princeton from Colorado. “I think the culture of the team is what stands out, and just the guys who are on it. I am super honored to have been part of Princeton football for three year. I am going to miss the guys and the relationships I have built with them. You can’t put into words just how amazing my experience has been. It has been a blessing and I will miss it for sure.”

Entering the day needing a win to stay in the Ivy League title race, Princeton found itself in an uphill battle with the Bulldogs. The Tigers fought back from deficits of 7-0, 21-14, and 28-21 to knot the game at 28-28 and force overtime. Yale went on to prevail 36-28 in double overtime as the Tigers dropped to 4-5 overall and 3-3 Ivy.

Afterwards, a subdued Stenstrom had no qualms with the way the Tigers battled but he acknowledged that they shot themselves in the foot at times.

“I am proud of the way our guys fought, Yale is a really good team,” said Stenstrom. “We didn’t play disciplined enough, we made some mistakes that really hurt us. Football is game that comes down really close ones sometimes. The reason we love it is you get to play in these awesome games. The reason it hurts so much is because we love it so much. The losses sting, but I am proud of our guys.”

With Princeton trailing 21-14 early in the fourth quarter, Stenstrom and Luke Colella came up with an awesome play as they connected on a 75-yard flea flicker touchdown pass.

“That was great, we dialed that up in practice, we saw how aggressive they were being,” said Stenstrom. “It was a flea flicker, a classic play and Colella did a great job of catching and running. We ran it last year versus Harvard and scored on it there. There are different variations. We put it in this week and it was a great play.”

In the waning moments of the fourth quarter, Stenstrom helped engineer a 16-play, 75-yard scoring march as Princeton knotted the game at 28-28 and forced overtime.

“We have had a lot of late fourth quarter drives this year,” said Stenstrom. “The guys have been believing all of the way through — nobody has showed any lack of resolve. Guys didn’t blink and we finished the drive. I am proud of the way our guys fought and got in the end zone there in the fourth quarter.”

A key play in the drive came on a fourth down and 18 with 1:57 left when Stenstrom hit Tamatoa Falatea with a 19-yard pass.

“It is what do you see, they dropped out of there in coverage and somebody came free and I was able to make him miss,” said Stenstrom, who ended the day by connecting on 20-of–36 passes for 240 yards and one touchdown. “Tamatoa made a great play, working back to my vision and catching the ball for a first down.”

After neither team scored in their first overtime possession, Yale forged ahead 36-28 on a three-yard run by Joshua Pitsenberger and a two-point conversion. The Tigers then got down to the Yale 12-yard line and had a fourth and eight. At that point, Stenstrom fired a pass to Tyler Picinic which was broken up to end the game.

“The DB behind him made a really good play, coming back and making a play on the ball,” said Stenstrom, reflecting on the final play. “I will watch the film — I don’t know if I would have gone anywhere else on my read.”

Princeton head coach Bob Surace credited his squad with playing hard to the end.

“The penalties set us back a little, and we just kept fighting back,” said Surace. “The guys have been doing that all year. All you can ask is that they prepare as hard as they can and they do that; that you leave everything on the field, they do that. We are just a little bit short in these games.”

In the first overtime, Princeton eschewed a field goal attempt and unsuccessfully went for it on fourth and two as Surace acknowledged that his defense was running on empty.

“I thought that was one of these iffy analytical things, do you go for it on the first one on the two,” said Surace. “We came into the game with some injuries and we had some during the game. I was a little bit worried that we are running out of gas. We gave up a touchdown in the third quarter and we had three freshmen and three sophomore on the field against an offense that is one of the best in the league. That is a really good offense, we were just running short.”

While Princeton came up short with two overtime losses and another by two points and one by three, Surace credited his players with never giving up.

“That is the way our league has been. If there are 28 games, probably 23 of them are one score games,” said Surace.

“It is overtime or down to the last play — it is the way it has been. We have had trouble separating. Today they were a little better and they had trouble separating from us and we just kept fighting.”

In Surace’s view, his group of seniors sparked that fighting spirit this fall.

“You love those guys, it is not a big group. I think the Senior Day the last two years was a little bit longer with something like 43 and 41 guys,” said Surace. “Today we had 17. They are just amazing people, Blake, Jalen [Travis], Liam [Johnson], and Ozzie [Nicholas], you don’t get better than those guys. They fight.”

The Tigers will be in for a big fight this Saturday as they conclude their season by playing at Penn (6-3 overall, 3-3-Ivy).

“We always correct mistakes the next day and then you move on to the next opponent,” said Surace. “Our guys will practice great this week. I guarantee you the will practice great because Penn has played well all year. They are a very good team and if we don’t, it will be embarrassing.”

Stenstrom, for his part, its confident that the Tigers will be fired up to end the fall with a victory.

“If this team is the team I believe it to be, we are going to come out and we are going to attack practice regardless of what awaits us,” said Stenstrom. “The guys are going to fight and go out on a high note. One of the things I will miss is the culture of this team. We didn’t blink, we fought all of the way through. There were a lot of tough ones this season and at the end of last season and the guys have never quit. That is what I am really proud of.”