Sprint football falls in showdown against league newcomer

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Senior Night drew a larger than usual crowd, top, but Princeton could not keep pace with league-newcomer Franklin Pierce. (Photos by John O’Neill ’13)
History was going to be made one way or another in Friday’s sprint football game at Princeton Stadium. On one sideline were the Tigers, trying to break a streak of 74 straight league losses and win their first official game since 1999; on the other end was Franklin Pierce, trying to win its first official game ever (albeit in only its third try, as the team debuted this season).
 
With the Tigers coming off of their closest game of the streak — a 32-29 overtime defeat to Post University on Oct. 5 — and with the Class of 2013, unquestionably the team’s heart and soul, playing its final home game, Friday’s contest generated some buzz on campus. In past years, sprint games have usually been attended only by family and the closest of friends; but on Senior Night, quite a few students braved the fall’s coldest evening yet to watch the action (and many others monitored the game from more comfortable locations, via texts or Tweets, in case it got exciting).
 
“That was the best crowd I’ve ever seen in my four years, without a doubt,” tight end/defensive lineman and captain John Wolfe ’13 said. “They helped us a lot … we love having them, and it’s a completely different culture this year. I hope it stays that way.”
 
In the end, though, it was Franklin Pierce that was able to celebrate, letting out a loud cheer after its 21-14 victory was official and lining up beyond the south end zone for a team photo to commemorate its achievement. Meanwhile, the Princeton players stayed in their huddle on the opposite side of the field long after the coaches had left, trying to turn the page after another opportunity had passed by.
 

“We’ve been improving all year, but we just can’t get over the hump of winning one of these games,” receiver/defensive back Ross Cadman ’13 said. “For the seniors, for the whole team … we’ve got two weeks left, we’ve got to get it done.”
 
Unlike last week’s overtime thriller — in which Post extended several Princeton drives with dropped interceptions and cut some of its own short with penalties — the Tigers had to work for almost everything they gained on Friday. Quarterback Jaison Zachariah ’13 strung together two pretty passes to Nick Lulli ’13 to give the Tigers a 7-6 lead in the second quarter; after halftime, Matt Kann ’13 forced a fumble that Wolfe recovered in the end zone, tying the game at 14-14.
 
But as is often the case in sprint football, the game turned on an unpredictable play. The Tigers lined up to punt late in the third quarter, but an off-target snap left Andrew Bierschenk ’13 with too little time to kick. He tried to make a play instead, throwing a short pass toward Cadman — but the underthrown ball tipped off Cadman’s arm and fell to the Ravens’ Will Ellery, who raced 44 yards for what would be the game-winning score.
 
Given their recent history, 2012 has been a remarkable season for the Tigers. Of the first 70 games in their dubious streak, only two were decided by seven or fewer points; this year, Princeton has come within a touchdown in four of its five games. Bolstered by several talented newcomers — Conrad, Bierschenk, and running backs Sean Conrad ’13 and Pete Perdue ’13 all joined sprint this season after beginning their careers on Princeton’s varsity football team — the squad has transformed from the league’s proverbial laughingstock to a real threat.
 
But for all this year’s moral victories, the Tigers still haven’t had one on the scoreboard since the Class of 2016 was in kindergarten. (Princeton did beat Virginia Military Institute, a club team, in 2005.)  And they’re running out of chances; Princeton visits undefeated Army next weekend before closing its season at Penn on Nov. 5. After that, it’s hard to know what the Tigers will look like — 17 of their 32 players are seniors, including most of the team’s top playmakers.
 
“These last two are ones that we absolutely should’ve had … I feel like there were four that we definitely should’ve had,” Wolfe said. “We’re running out of time, and the more we wait around, the less likelihood we have of doing it.”
 
Quick takes
 
FOOTBALL extended its win streak to three games with a 19-0 victory over Brown this weekend. Princeton hadn’t beaten the Bears since 2006, but the hosts dominated Saturday’s meeting, led by a powerful defensive line that recorded six sacks. Unbeaten Harvard is still favored in next week’s Homecoming showdown, but the matchup looks a lot more intriguing than it seemed before the season.
 
“We sent a very physical message to the other teams in the league,” said Caraun Reid ’13, who had two-and-a-half sacks and a safety. “We had teams that we hadn’t beaten yet in my four years here — this is all like a big checklist: We beat Brown, now we’re gonna beat Harvard; we’re going for it.”
 
In Friday’s showdown of league leaders, Yale downed WOMEN’S VOLLEYBALL 3-1 in New Haven. The league’s leading hitter, Lydia Rudnick ’13, slipped 20 kills past her sister and the rest of the Bulldogs’ defense, but the hosts just had too many weapons. Princeton, which beat Brown the next day to move to 6-1 in league play, now returns for a five-game home stand that culminates in a Nov. 3 rematch with Yale.
 
Party like it’s 2004: WOMEN’S SOCCER scored two early goals and held on for a 2-1 victory at Columbia to reach 4-0 in the Ivy League—a record the Tigers last held eight years ago, when they went on to the Final Four of the NCAA tournament. Forward Jen Hoy ’13 scored her 15th goal, more than twice the league’s next-best total, while goalie Claire Pinciaro ’13 has conceded just three times in four conference games.
 
MEN’S SOCCER is also undefeated, but with one win and two ties, it has a much tougher road to the Ivy League title; the Tigers already trail No. 16 Cornell by four points and No. 19 Brown by two. Princeton peppered Columbia with 17 shots Saturday while allowing only six attempts, but the Tigers couldn’t find the back of the net in 110 minutes and drew 0-0.
 

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Kevin Whitaker ’13 is an economics major and Daily Princetonian sports editor.

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