By Marcus McLin
A surge early in the season put Princeton in a much higher position than it was at the same time last year, but signs of slowing down have already begun to show.
After winning their first three games, the Tigers (4-4, 2-3 Ivy) had already amounted a higher victory total than they did the previous season. But after losing four of its next five games, Princeton is seeing that sense of victory fade into one of defeat. With only two games remaining in the season, Princeton has little to look forward to in terms of the Ivy standings.
Game 1: Princeton 35, Lafayette 18
Princeton started the season out strong against the unsuspecting Leopards and won its first season-opener since 1998 when it posted a 6-0 win against Cornell.
The Tigers took control of this game from the start of the first quarter when running back Greg Fields ran the ball in for a touchdown on a 16-yard run. Five different players took the ball into the end zone for the Tigers, including fullback Joel Mancl, quarterback Matt Verbit, tailback Jon Veach and wide receiver Eric Walz, who made a 50-yard reception.
Game 2: Princeton 24, San Diego 17
Princeton adapted quickly to the hot San Diego climate and showed the Toreros just what the Tiger defense was capable of. After leading the first quarter 7-0 on a Verbit touchdown run, the Princeton defense took over with two touchdowns within the first 18 seconds of the second quarter– the first on a 12-yard fumble recovery by defensive end James Williams and the other on a pick return by defensive back Jay McCareins.
San Diego did manage to score two touchdowns of its own before halftime, but the Tigers defense held the Toreros to only a field goal in the second half.
Game 3: Princeton 27, Columbia 26 (OT)
In a thrilling overtime rally, the Tigers pounced back to narrowly escape with their Ivy opener victory. Trailing 20-17 in the fourth quarter with five seconds remaining in regulation, kicker Derek Javarone nailed a 21-yard field goal to send the game into extra time. Columbia had the first possession and proceeded to waste no time in scoring with only five seconds elapsed. On the ensuing extra point, McCareins showed his range of talent when he blocked Lions kicker Nick Rudd’s attempt to keep Columbia up by only six points.
Veach then scored a touchdown on Princeton’s ensuing drive, and Javarone came to the rescue with the extra point to put the game away. Winning their first three games of the season for the first time since 1995, the Tigers had already won more games than they had the entire 2003 season.
Game 4: Colgate 29, Princeton 26
As much of a dream the season had felt to the Tigers, reality finally kicked in during the game against Colgate. Several penalties and a strong Colgate defense was the deciding factor in the game.
Princeton held a 26-14 lead at the start of the fourth quarter, but Raiders defensive back Tim Strickland stopped the Tigers passing game dead in its tracks with three interceptions. This gave Colgate enough time to sneak in two more touchdowns and complete its comeback.
Game 5: Princeton 24, Brown 10
Princeton regained some of its confidence by winning its second Ivy game of the season against Brown. Veach scored another touchdown in the third quarter to take a 10-3 lead before the Bears responded with a touchdown of their own to tie the game.
The Tiger defense clawed away at Brown’s offense in the final quarter, and Benson and wide receiver Brian Shields each scored a touchdown to walk off with the win.
Game 6: Harvard 39, Princeton 14
Princeton’s confidence was put to the test once again after taking a serious pounding from No. 19 Harvard, who used this win to continue its quest for an undefeated season. It appeared to be a pretty close game at the start. Harvard scored the first touchdown of the game, but the Tigers quickly responded with two of their own, one from Benson and the other from wide receiver Monte McNair.
Unfortunately for Princeton, this would be the last time the team would score for the day. Harvard scored 19 points in the second quarter and 17 more in the fourth, including three touchdowns from Cantab running back Clifton Dawson.
Game 7: Cornell 21, Princeton 20
A huge Princeton rally was cut short late in the final quarter by the fingertips of Cornell defensive lineman Matt Pollock.
The Big Red held a formidable 21-7 lead near the end of the third quarter after a 79-yard touchdown connection from Cornell quarterback D.J. Busch to wide receiver Chad Nice. Seconds before the end of the quarter, Veach carried the ball into the end zone to cap off a 61-yard touchdown run.
Down by a single touchdown, the Tiger defense held Cornell scoreless, giving Fields the opportunity to score a crucial touchdown on a six-yard run. On Javarone’s extra-point attempt, Pollock got a hand on the ball and deflected not only the game-tying point, but also Princeton’s chances for an Ivy title.
Game 8: Pennsylvania 16, Princeton 15
A disturbing sense of deja-vu came over the Tigers after losing their second consecutive game by a single point due to a field goal.
Early in the fourth quarter, Javarone nailed a 33-yarder to give Princeton a 15-7 lead. With a 19-game winning streak on the line, the Quakers had to act fast if they wanted to extend their streak to 20.
Penn quarterback Pat McDermott finally broke the Quaker silence with a 19-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Gabe Marabella. The Penn defense stopped the Tigers from scoring on the next drive and the Quaker offense moved in close enough for rookie kicker Derek Zoch to attempt a 22-yard field goal. The kicked sailed wide, but a false start on the Penn offense pushed Zoch back five yards. Zoch, however, nailed the 27-yarder to give the lead to the Quakers.
In their final drive of the game, the Tigers put Javarone in position for a 41-yard kick, but the boot sailed right, giving the Quakers the win.
After the two big losses to Penn and Cornell, Princeton is now tied with Yale (4-4, 2-3) and Brown (5-3, 2-3) for fourth place in the Ancient Eight. So far through the season, the Tigers have shown many strengths on both sides of the ball, but much of the strength is found in the special teams. Currently, Javarone is leading the offense with 47 points and McCareins leads the defense with the only two field goal blocks of the season.
Statistically, Eli quarterback Alvin Cowan ’05, tailback Robert Carr ’05 and wide receiver Ralph Plumb ’05 all hold considerably large edges over their counterparts Verbit, Veach and Fields.
After losing the game to Brown last weekend — along with any hopes of an Ivy Championship — the Bulldogs may feel as if they will be fighting for the same thing Princeton is fighting for: pride. Both teams have the potential to win Saturday, but most likely, overall skill and home-field advantage will lean the game to the Elis.
By Marcus McLin