Princeton comeback falls short in wild ride at Harvard

CAMBRIDGE, Mass. –  Difficult as it might be to find a place to start this report, following 95 points and 1,116 yards, Princeton’s 56-39 loss to Harvard Saturday came down to the Tigers’ inability to get a stop.
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Princeton     39
Harvard        56
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What a wild ride it was, though. Down 35-9 in the third quarter, seeming inexorably on their way to a 13th loss in 14 mostly dismal games, the Tigers’ offense suddenly caught fire, with quarterback Tommy Wornham ’12 making throws he had not consistently made all year and Princeton finally finishing the drives it hadn’t in two seasons.
 
With running back Chuck Dibilio ’15 seeming to get stronger with each of 23 runs, with the quarterback playing pitch-and-catch with Matt Costello ’15 and Shane Wilkinson, ’13, and with the help of successful onside kicks, the Tigers scored three touchdowns and two two-point conversions to incredibly get the score back to 42-39 with 13:09 to play.  
           

After Matt Landry ‘13 made consecutive tackles for losses to leave Harvard facing third-and-12 at the Princeton 18, it even looked like Princeton was going to get a second-straight stop, to keep the deficit at one score. But Harvard quarterback Collie Winters found Treavor Scales wide open over the middle, where too many Harvard receivers had been too open all day, to put the ball at the Princeton one-yard line.
 
“It was an exciting college football game. … We couldn’t stop them. So I’m still going to be miserable on the bus ride home.”
– Coach Bob Surace ’90
 
Scales scored on the next play, Wornham was intercepted on a quick slant-pass attempt on the second play of the next series, and Harvard pulled away. Princeton dropped to 1-5 with a loss that left a heretofore-struggling offense exhilarated and the defense, which had appeared two games ago on the verge of becoming much better than this, beside itself with disappointment.
 
“There were a lot of plays that could have been made,” said defensive lineman Mike Catapano ’12.
 
Princeton had three sacks and at least decent pressure much of the day and was riddled for 403 yards passing regardless. Khamal Brown ’15 was beaten cleanly on one Winters touchdown pass and was the victim of a remarkable catch by Alex Sarkisian on another. Ivan Charbonneau ’12 was four yards behind Chris Lorditch on a 53-yard touchdown reception from Winters 1:18 into the second half.
 
But Princeton, much better in its front seven than in its back four all season, wasn’t happy with the run defense either.
 
“Too many three-yard runs turned into six and seven,” said Coach Bob Surace ’90.  With the Princeton bench ecstatic as the Tigers stunningly turned a good Harvard defense into a sieve, the Princeton defenders were not able to match the offense’s performance.
 
So it goes at 1-5: If it’s not one thing, it’s another. The Tigers, pumped up when Wornham completed a 23-yard pass to Dibilio on a first-play-of-the-game flea flicker, took it in for a touchdown two plays later when Dibilio broke a tackle on a 9-yard run. The joy of the fast start lasted only until Patrick Jacob ’12 hit the upright for only the second point-after-touchdown miss of his career.
 
Harvard responded with touchdown drives of 69 and 74 yards to take a 14-6 lead before the Tigers played a bumbling second quarter that looked like their season in microcosm.
 
Princeton had a first-down pass dropped by Isaac Serwanga ’12 inside the five on a third-down play and settled for a Jacob field goal.  On Harvard’s next possession, apparent third-down stops were nullified by penalties on Garrit Leicht ’15 and Steve Cody ’12, who had successfully hemmed Harvard quarterback Collier Winters to the sideline for a throw-away when the linebacker grabbed Winters facemask.  Reprieved, Harvard completed an 11-play drive on Scales’ one-yard run.
 
On the next series Brian Mills ’14 broke a tackle on a 48-yard run to the Crimson 28, only to have the ball punched loose from behind by Briwn Owusu. Harvard recovered the fumble. And even after a terrible Crimson punt gave Princeton an opportunity to get on the board again before the half, a hold by Spenser Houston ’15 took Princeton out of good field-goal position, contributing to Jacob’s miss from 43 yards.
 
When Harvard scored on its first two possession of the second half, it seemed like the lowest point yet of two seasons filled with them.  But an end around to Wilkinson put the ball at the two, from where Wornham ran in it.   And even though Harvard responded as expected with an 8-play, 67-yard, touchdown drive, the Tigers offensively were about to catch fire.
 
“Princeton is going to score points the rest of the way,” said Harvard Coach Tim Murphy.  “They have some good athletes on both sides of the ball.”
  
“It was fun,” said Wornham, exactly what Surace had told the embattled senior quarterback to have during the week.  As part of the pre-game plan, the coach used Quinn Epperly ’15 at quarterback for three second-quarter series that went nowhere, but when Wornham returned, the transformation was amazing. So perhaps, with powerful Brown and Harvard out of the way, and winnable games against at least Cornell and Dartmouth remaining, there is season remaining for some badly needed enjoyment.
 
“We finished drives better,” said Surace. “It was an exciting college football game,
 
“We couldn’t stop them. So I’m still going to be miserable on the bus ride home.”