Courtesy of David Schamis

With the Yale-Harvard game fast approaching, Team 148 will hit the road one final time this season to take on the Princeton Tigers. The Bulldogs and Tigers currently sit alongside Dartmouth in a three-way tie for first place in the Ivy League.

The Bulldogs (5–3, 4–1 Ivy) are coming off a game that saw 529 yards of total offense and a 63-point onslaught against Brown — the most the team has ever scored under head coach Tony Reno. Quarterback Nolan Grooms ’24 has been scorching hot this season, scoring four touchdowns in his first collegiate start against Penn, throwing for a career-high in yards against Brown and leading a second-half comeback against a stingy Columbia defense that had only previously allowed 16 points per game. The sophomore signal-caller earned Ivy League player of the week awards in two of his first three career starts.

“Obviously game reps are very important for a quarterback,” Grooms said when asked about his inexperience as a starter. “But I feel like here we do a great job sort of simulating the game situation in practice … it’s easy to play quarterback when you got guys like Melvin Rouse … [and] Darrion Carrington.”

The aforementioned Blue and White receivers both had impressive touchdown catches in Saturday’s blowout win against Brown.

Princeton (7–1, 4–1 Ivy), meanwhile, suffered its first loss of the season last week in a 31–7 road collapse against Dartmouth. The Tigers had a 7–0 season start for the third time in a row, but were beaten by the Big Green for the second straight season. Two years ago, when Yale and Princeton last met, the Bulldogs delivered arguably their best performance of the season, defeating the one-loss Tigers on the road by 37 points. The last Princeton victory over Yale came in 2018, when the Tigers went undefeated to win their first outright conference championship under head coach Bob Surace.

“They’re a veteran team and they’re a team that has had a lot of experience,” Reno said on Tuesday. “They’ve been a top level team in our league and a championship team in our league over the last five, six years … they’ve got a great program and I’ve got a lot of respect for Bob.”

As Team 148 suits up to take on the Tigers on the latter’s home turf, a near-perfect execution on both sides of the ball will be crucial for Yale to walk out of Powers Field with its hopes of an Ivy League crown still intact. Princeton ranks third in the conference in scoring and passing offense, thanks in large part to the electric connection between Cole Smith and Jacob Birmelin — one of the best quarterback-receiver tandems in the Ancient Eight. Smith has thrown for the second-most yards in the Ivy League, while Birmelin leads all receivers in receptions, yards and yards per game. There may be additional weight on their shoulders however, as running back Collin Eaddy’s status is uncertain after suffering an ankle injury last week in Hanover. The senior back has been averaging 4.3 yards a carry and his 477 rushing yards rank sixth in the conference. Eaddy also leads the Ancient Eight with 10 rushing touchdowns.

On the other side of the ball, Princeton boasts the third-best scoring defense in the conference, giving up only 17.5 points per game. The Tigers’ unit is led by senior linebacker Jeremiah Tyler, who has a long list of accolades. Tyler ended last season as a unanimous first-team All-Ivy player and a finalist for the conference’s defensive player of the year award. Entering this season, the Michigan native earned FCS All-American honors and was named to the Buchanan Award watch list for best defensive player in the FCS. Tyler is far from the only all-conference talent on the Tiger defense — defensive lineman Samuel Wright is second in the Ivy League this year in sacks and led the Princeton defensive line in tackles and sacks last season.

With key contributors going down due to injuries, the Eli offense has had to lean heavily on some new faces. Running back Spencer Alston ’23 has stepped up in the absence of Zane Dudek ’22 and has become a staple in Team 148’s offense. The junior’s breakout game came against Columbia, where he rushed for 116 yards and two touchdowns to earn Ivy League Offensive Player of the Week honors. Last week against the Bears, first-year receiver David Pantelis ’25 finished with a game-high and career-high 205 all-purpose yards to go along with two scores. 

“There’s a great group of leaders ahead of us,” Pantelis said. “I know Melvin Rouse, he’s just been keeping me in his footsteps, teaching me really everything that he knows and helping me along with the playbook. I kind of have to give credit to him because he has been really a great role model and kind of just giving us a helping hand into learning the playbook, going through routes. Even when the coaches weren’t there, he was always helping us in the summer … so when my turn came, I was able to be the most prepared that I could.” 

Meanwhile, the Blue and White defense has been efficient and in groove all season long, due in no small part to the dominant presence of Clay Patterson ’24 on the defensive line. When looking at the numbers that the Texas native has put up in 2021, one could make a strong case that he has been one of the best and most consistent defenders in all the Ivy League. Patterson has registered a total of 10.5 sacks in the eight games he has started — three more than the next closest player in the Ancient Eight. He leads all other players with 12 tackles for loss and is fourth in the nation with 1.31 sacks per game. Along with Reid Nickerson ’23 at the other end of the line and captain John Dean ’22 in the backfield, this syndicate of defensive players has been the driving force behind a Bulldog defense that has put together the second best pass defense efficiency in the Ancient Eight. 

Should Cornell upset Dartmouth this weekend just as it did in 2019, the winner between Princeton and Yale would clinch a share of the Ivy League crown and hold sole possession of first place entering the final game of the year. Otherwise, Saturday’s winner is guaranteed a chance to play for at least a share of the title in its season finale. For Team 148, that will be the Yale-Harvard game at Yale Bowl.

The loser will see their title hopes all but disappear, as the Ivy League has not seen a champion with two conference losses since 1982.

Yale and Princeton will kick-off at 1 p.m. on Saturday.

Jared Fel currently serves as a sports staff reporter covering football, baseball, and hockey for the Yale Daily News. Originally from Ossining, New York, he is a rising junior in Saybrook College majoring in Cognitive Science.
Nader Granmayeh is a staff writer covering football and softball for the Yale Daily News. He is originally from New York City and majoring in political science.