Football preview: Princeton at Penn

It’s good to have options. Since Princeton’s football team, now assured of a fifth consecutive losing year, doesn’t consider quitting as one of its alternatives, the bonus is having games remaining with both Penn and Yale, two grand opportunities for a season-salvaging win.
 
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“We don’t have that one rival a lot of teams have,” said Coach Bob Surace ’90. “For the majority of the alums it’s either Harvard, Yale, or Penn – multiple rivals, which is good.”
 
Penn, which plays the Tigers at Franklin Field on Saturday, has won 14 of the last 18 meetings, including the last two by a combined score of 94-17. The Quakers might want to know: With rivals like this, who needs friends?
 
But flashes of Princeton competitiveness – like a 30-point rally to within three points in the final quarter at Harvard – still keep the Tigers believing they can put a complete game together. So with Penn being followed by Yale next week in a contest on Powers Field at Princeton Stadium, animosity remains the fuel for a Tigers team that refuses to believe it is on fumes.
 
“We can’t go into this game looking at what has already gone on but as our chance to shock the league,” said defensive captain Mike Catapano ’12. “They have won the league two years in a row and have a chance this year, so this is our championship fight.”
 

Since Harvard and Yale will want to continue to play each other in their season finales until the last piece of Ivy dies on the walls of the Ancient Eight, Princeton athletic director Gary Walters ’67 believes Penn and Princeton should match up at the end of every season as well. Unfortunately, when Walters has tried to press the issue, other schools didn’t want to change their schedule slots.
 
Surace sees some progress from his team this season. “We are running the ball and stopping the run significantly better, so I think we are morphing into the style of team where Penn and Brown have won a lot of titles,” he said. “But their turnover ratios are way better than ours.
 
“We are minus 12 and we’re just not a good enough team to live with that.”
 
The Tigers’ running game, keyed by the rapid emergence of Chuck Dibilio ’15, almost beat Hampton. Its passing game produced a win over Columbia and an exhilarating comeback attempt at 4-0 Harvard. The defensive front seven has had contests where it has applied good pressure. But the turnover ratio remains unacceptable largely because the defensive secondary consistently has failed to make plays.
 
When Cornell quarterback Jeff Matthew’s vision and footing improved with the second-half weather conditions last week, he picked the Princeton pass coverage apart in Cornell’s 24-7 victory.
 
“There has been a few assignment breakdowns, but when you watch other teams I don’t think that’s out of the ordinary,” said Surace.   “Playing the football has really hurt us, though. … It just seems that there are two or three of those a game where the coverage is close but in competing for the ball, we haven’t finished plays. ”
 
Whatever momentum Princeton gained in the furious rally at Harvard disappeared into the first-half whiteout last week. When conditions improved following the intermission, quarterback Tommy Wornham ’12 was getting his non-throwing hand X-rayed following a collision with a helmet, never to return. 
 
There was no fracture, and despite lingering swelling, the quarterback practiced normally this week. Starting left tackle Kevin Mill (knee), out against Cornell, will miss at least another week, and running back Kevin Mills ’14 (back) remains questionable, but the Tigers are far healthier than at this time a year ago, when a 1-9 season swirled inexorably down the tubes.
 
They believe they still have a big win left in them. Certainly they do not lack for opportunities the next two weeks.

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