One-thousand and two rushing yards by the sensational Chuck Dibilio ’15 later, Princeton’s football team still is 1-8 – never mind that its turnover and penalty demons largely have been tamed, never mind that the Tigers consistently stop opponents’ runs.
So when Yale, up six points with less than four minutes remaining, faced a fourth-and-two at the Princeton 36 yesterday, there was not a person at Princeton Stadium who didn’t know quarterback Patrick Witt would throw, including the Tigers.
“It was [Witt’s] second read,” said Tigers coach Bob Surace ’90. “Danny Fitzsimmons got his hand up and [Witt] pulled it in, so at that point, [any stop] has to come from pressure.
“We didn’t get it and he made a good throw on the run.”
Fullback Keith Coty caught the ball in front of safety Chance Cross ’12 at the 15, and the Bulldogs maintained possession before Philippe Panico’s 27-yard field goal with 3:17 remaining put away the 33-24 victory for Yale (5-4, 4-2 Ivy).
Dibilio ran for 178 yards on 31 carries and scored touchdowns on runs of 19, four, and six yards. But Witt threw for 379 and three touchdowns, completing 26-of-33 attempts.
Witt got lucky once, when Cameron Sandquist caught a deflected ball in stride for a 59-yard touchdown reception on one of the few plays that the Tigers had good coverage. But otherwise the NFL prospect (and Rhodes scholar candidate) surgically picked apart a struggling Princeton pass defense.
“I got on our corners during the game to let loose and make plays,” said Surace. “They are playing too cautious, playing not to lose. We just don’t make a play on the ball.”
Already starting a freshman, Khamal Brown, on one corner since week three, Surace yesterday promoted sophomore Trocon Davis to the starting lineup. The change did little to slow Witt and the Bulldogs’ big passing plays.
Sixty-two of Yale’s 164 yards rushing came on one play, a killer as well. Three plays after Dibilio’s second touchdown pulled Princeton back to within 24-17, Yale’s Alex Thomas broke off a 64-yard scoring run on a simple off-tackle call.
It didn’t help that Steve Cody ’12, who probably would have been at the point of attack, was by that time out with a shoulder injury. But typical of the day and of the season, there was no Tiger help beyond the line of scrimmage.
Quarterback Tommy Wornham ’12 had another inconsistent throwing day (9-for-25) and Quinn Epperly ’15 wasn’t any better, playing only one second-quarter series instead of his usual three or more. Wornham ran well (73 yards on 10 carries) and Dibilio ran better, so the Tigers stayed in the game.
Matt Costello ‘15 returned from a medical issue this week and caught one pass while leading receiver Shane Wilkinson ’13 caught two. But despite the limitations in making Yale guess, Dibilio hit holes quickly, cut back uncannily, broke tackles, and became only the ninth 1,000-yard rusher in Princeton history, setting up a head-to-head duel with Dartmouth’s Nick Schwieger next week in Hanover for the Ivy League rushing title (in league games, Dibilio trails by 17).
“It’s really exciting, coming into this season nothing I would have thought about,” said Dibilio.
A second consecutive one-win season was nothing the Tigers would have pondered nine weeks ago, not with Cody, Caraun Reid ’13, Mike Catapano ’12 and Wornham coming back from losing all or most of 2011 to injuries. But Wornham has struggled, Cody has lost some explosion, and 11 freshmen and sophomores are playing big minutes. Dibilio and Andrew Starks ’13 are the only Tigers consistently making plays.
“I have a freshman corner crying in the locker room because he knows what beating Yale means,” said Surace. “You want them to have an emotional win, and it’s frustrating seeing us so close and not able to make plays we need.
“We have to look at some things we’re doing schematically. We can fix the passing game. But getting the pass defense fixed is going to take some time.”
Struggling Dartmouth had seemed like a light at the end of the tunnel until the Big Green (4-5, 3-3) upset Brown today. The Tigers continue to run the ball well, but they have all but run out of time to show progress in their record.