Rock Hoffman
Penn’s record-setting wide receiver Justin Watson.

Rare is the Penn-Princeton game that one team or both are not in first place in the Ivy League and fighting for the Ancient Eight title but such was the case when the Quakers and Tigers battled on a near perfect Saturday afternoon for football at Franklin Field. The Quakers (4-4, 2-3 Ivy) prevailed 38-35 when Tigers (5-3, 2-3 Ivy) kicker Tavish Rice missed a 31-yard field goal with three seconds left that would have tied it. However, to only focus on that leaves out a lot of the story of the 109th meeting between these rivals.

“When you get an email last night from a 93-year old woman whose whole family has gone to Penn,” said Quakers head coach Ray Priore as he was reveling in his second win over the Tigers in three tries as head coach and 20th win over them in his 31 seasons at Penn, “and all it says is ‘beat Princeton’ you understand what the rivalry means. It’s our special game, every team has a special game, it’s Ohio State-Michigan, UCLA-USC. In our world, it’s our game. We’ve had some classics against Princeton in my tenure here. Wow! And this one right here is right up there with them.”

Princeton’s head coach Bob Surace was understandably bitter after the game, he was upset that the officials changed what had been ruled a touchdown – likely the game winner – to an incomplete pass on a throw from Chad Kanoff to Stephen Carlson in the right corner of the end zone with seven seconds left in the game. On the next play, Rice missed the potential game tying field goal.

“I’m sure they’ll feel terrible,” Surace sarcastically said of the officials. “I told the guys after the game, life’s not fair. Sometimes that’s what happens and you go on, I’ll keep sending plays in and keep being told they missed that one.”

The Tigers took the opening kickoff and marched 80 yards, they scored on a 22-yard touchdown pass from Kanoff to Carlson. Kanoff was a perfect seven-for-seven on the drive for 71 yards.

The Quakers would answer with their first possession, they also drove 80 yards and Abe Willows went in from a yard out. Penn used the ground game efficiently on the drive, running it on seven of the 11 plays and only facing a third down once. Quarterback Will Fischer-Colbrie converted that with a four-yard run to give the Red and Blue a first and goal.

For the rest of the half, the Penn defense held the Tigers to just 74 yards and forced two punts and a fumble. The Quakers got a 34-yard field goal from Jack Soslow with their second possession. Willows second touchdown run of the half occurred following the fumble by Princeton’s Eaddy Collins that was caused by Conor O’Brien and recovered by Nick Miller.

The Quakers took the second half kickoff and extended the lead to 24-7 when record-setting wide receiver Justin Watson caught a 36-yard touchdown pass from Fischer-Colbrie on a deep ball down the right sideline. On the ensuing possession, the Tigers turned the ball over on downs at the Penn 22-yard line but it started a sequence that would see them get back in the game.

Penn went three-and-out but Hunter Kelley’s punt only traveled 14 yards and the Tigers had the ball at the Quakers 40. Four plays later, Kanoff threw to Jesper Horsted who fought his way into the end zone for a 17 yard touchdown. Isaiah Malcome elected to bring the kickoff out of the end zone but he was stopped at the 14-yard line then on the first play from scrimmage, Fischer-Colbrie fumbled. Khalil recovered the ball and 56 seconds later, Kanoff and Horsted connected again for a touchdown.

The Quakers tried to recapture the momentum with an 11-play, 80 yard drive that resulted in a two-yard touchdown run by Karekin Brooks but the score was set up by a rarely called penalty that cost his teammate a touchdown. Tre Solomon took a pitch from Fischer-Colbrie on the option on a fourth-and-three play from the Princeton 48, he broke free along the Tigers’ sideline and raced across the field and was on the verge of scoring when he raised the ball at the five-yard line to celebrate the impending touchdown. However, he was flagged for unsportsmanlike conduct to negate the score.

The Tiger didn’t quit, they scored on a one-yard run by Charlie Volker and Princeton was back to within three.

With the Quakers now trying to take time off the clock, Willows carried four straight times for 25 yards. Unfortunately on the last carry, he fumbled and Princeton recovered at the Penn 45-yard line. Volker would score from the three and Penn now found themselves trailing 35-31 with four-and-a-half minutes to go.

In a familiar spot after having their three Ivy League losses come on late scores (two were on the game’s final play), the Quakers made sure Watson was involved. On the drive that gave Penn the lead back, he caught three passes for 46 yards including the 15-yard, game-winning touchdown.

“Probably 80 percent of the time I release to the outside,” said Watson – who is the school’s all-time leader in catches, receiving yards and receiving touchdowns – about his game-winner. “That’s how the play is designed but just working with Will so much this past year, I knew that if I released to the inside we be on the same page. Sure enough, I got open to the inside, Will saw it and delivered a great ball.”

Princeton wasn’t finished as they overcame a pair of false start penalties and survived an interception that was wiped out by a flag on Penn to move from their 20-yard line to the Quakers 13 in just over a minute. From there, they thought they won the game then felt like they would tie it but it just wasn’t meant to be.

Princeton missed a field goal with three seconds left that would’ve tied the game.

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5 Nov 17 - College football - Rock Hoffman - No Comments