The football team’s woes continue unabated.
Princeton (2-6, 2-4 Ivy) responded to a 14-0 Yale lead by scoring 34 unanswered points en route to a convincing 34-14 pounding of the Elis. It was the fourth straight loss and fifth loss in six games for Yale (3-5, 1-5), leaving the Bulldogs tied for last place in the Ivy League.
“We’re a fragile team right now — we let big plays take momentum away from us,” head coach Jack Siedlecki said. “When you encounter peaks and valleys, you have to be able to get out of the lows, and we didn’t get out of the lows today.”
The big plays Siedlecki referred to came in two forms for Princeton: interceptions and long passes.
T.J. Hyland ’02 played the entire game at quarterback for the Elis, completing 15 of 31 passes for 301 yards and rushing 28 times for 111 yards. But the career backup threw four interceptions. One came on a meaningless Hail Mary pass on the game’s last play. But the other three were devastating, leading to three Tiger scores.
The three damaging pickoffs all had the same formula. Yale would drive well into Princeton territory, threatening to score, when on a short or mid-range pass, Hyland would find a receiver in orange and black instead of blue and white.
Hyland had success throwing the ball downfield, but on shorter routes he made costly mental errors, and Princeton made big defensive plays.
Siedlecki said Peter Lee ’02, the team’s starter who has struggled through an ankle injury this season, was available to play. But Lee never took the field.
While Hyland was unduly burdened by an offensive game plan that had him either throwing or running the ball on 59 of the Elis’ 75 plays, Princeton quarterback David Splithoff was at ease. Though the victim of four sacks and a handful of hard hits, the sophomore signal-caller looked comfortable in the pocket, throwing for 156 yards on seven completions in 11 attempts. His two biggest completions were to B.J. Szymanski on touchdowns of 53 and 39 yards, which were the tying and go-ahead scores for the Tigers, respectively.
Szymanski had four catches for 120 yards on the day as Yale cornerbacks Steve Ehikian ’04 and Greg Owens ’04 were unable to keep tabs on him. The 6-foot-5-inch freshman receiver had only two receptions the whole season heading into the contest.
The game had a promising start for the Elis. The defense was nearly impenetrable in the early going, holding the Tigers without a first down until the last play of the opening quarter. After taking a few drives to warm up, the Bulldog offense also started dominating the Princeton defense. Hyland connected with a wide open Jeff Ditman ’02 in the center of the Tiger secondary for a 44-yard gain that got the Elis into Princeton’s red zone. Four plays later, Jay Schulze ’03 barreled into the end zone from 4 yards out to give Yale a 7-0 advantage.
Schulze pounded the ball in for another score two possessions later, this time set up by a 52-yard pass from Hyland to Billy Brown ’02. Schulze’s touchdown, his sixth in the last two games, gave Yale a 14-0 advantage with nine minutes left in the first half.
After forcing Princeton to punt, Yale took over the ball again and looked ready to score its third touchdown of the day, driving down to the Princeton 33-yard line. On third-and-four, Hyland tried to thread the ball to Ralph Plumb ’05, who was draped by Tiger safety Brandon Mueller. On the pass, Mueller wrested away the ball and the momentum from Yale.
From that point forward, the Tigers would control the game.
Mueller’s interception provided the spark that Princeton needed. Taking over at their own 32-yard line, the Tigers went 68 yards in six plays to cut the Eli lead to 14-7 with just over four minutes remaining in the half.
Forcing Yale to punt from deep in its own territory, Princeton’s next possession began with excellent field position at its own 47-yard line.
On first down, Splithoff went over the top of the Yale defense to an open Szymanski for a 53-yard touchdown strike. In the span of two and a half minutes, Princeton had rallied from a two-touchdown deficit to knot the score at 14 heading into the half.
“We were hungry for a win,” Princeton head coach Rogers Hughes said. ‘As part of the maturing process, we fought through adversity in the first half.”
In the second half, though, the Tigers had a much easier go of it. They opened the half strong, driving 80 yards in under two minutes for a 39-yard Szymanski touchdown catch and a 21-14 lead.
Two Taylor Northrup field goals and a 40-yard Cam Atkinson touchdown run would pad the Princeton advantage, but that early third quarter touchdown proved to be the game-winning score.
Yale had a chance to tie the game at 21, driving to the Princeton 22-yard line midway through the third quarter. On first-and-10, Hyland made an ill-advised pass to Ron Benigno ’04 in the flat. Two Princeton players were guarding Benigno, and a third, safety Kevin Kongslie, was waiting to step into the passing lane to intercept the ball. Kongslie did just that, returning the pick 65 yards to the Yale 27-yard line and setting up a Northrup field goal.
On the next drive, the Bulldogs again threatened, but on fourth-and-one from the Princeton 36-yard line, Schulze came up short of the first down.
Yale would only have two more possessions the rest of the game. One ended in a Hyland interception, the other in a failed fourth-down conversion from the Princeton 8-yard line.
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