Tag Archives: Princeton football

Q&A with Dave Revsine, Author of ‘The Opening Kickoff: The Tumultuous Birth of a Football Nation’

Dave Revsine (Courtesy Dave Revsine)

Dave Revsine (Courtesy Dave Revsine)

When Princeton football hosted Yale last November, the Ivy League-leading Tigers drew nearly 15,000 fans to Princeton Stadium. But that turnout pales in comparison to the frenzy surrounding the 1893 Princeton-Yale game, a clash between two undefeated powerhouse programs. In his new book, The Opening Kickoff, author and sports broadcaster Dave Revsine opens with a chronicle of that Thanksgiving Day game in Manhattan, which drew an estimated 50,000 spectators and illustrated how “football had become a big business.” Even before the turn of the century, the sport’s headlines had a distinctly modern feel: disputes about eligibility and improper benefits, concerns about the safety of the game, and coaches who aimed to use their celebrity status to stay on top. Revsine spoke with PAW in July about the role that Princeton and other prestigious institutions played in the early history of college football.

Your book begins with the 1893 Princeton-Yale game, which followed a decade of rapid growth in the popularity of college football. What was behind this explosion of interest?

There are a couple of factors. From the schools’ point of view, I think they very quickly understood that it was a great public-relations vehicle and that it was a way for them to make money. So, you had this huge explosion in the number of colleges … and you had this period where people were founding colleges and then searching for students to serve. Obviously this wasn’t a problem with the Princetons, Yales, and Harvards of the world, but it was certainly a problem with other schools: How are we going to differentiate ourselves? And they quickly saw football as a way to do it.

From the fans’ point of view, I think the newspapers play a huge role. People had some leisure time on their hands that they hadn’t had before, and football gave people an entree into the social elite because these teams were associated with these universities. You might not be a Yale or a Princeton grad, but you could be a Yale or a Princeton fan — and being a fan, by association, made you a part of Yale or Princeton. I think that was appealing to a lot of people.

The powers of college football then were academically distinguished institutions — Harvard, Yale, and Princeton — yet the game then was exceptionally brutal and bloody. How did the leaders at these places reconcile the brutality of the sport with the larger mission of their universities?

It depended on the school. Harvard, for years, was sort of the conscientious objector — but the conscientious objector who still participated. The president of Harvard was adamantly opposed to football and resisted getting into the fray with Yale. Yale was the first football factory, and as I say in the book, Walter Camp was the foreman. At times [Yale] would deny the brutality of football. They would say that while it might be brutal the way that it’s played out in the hinterlands, the way that we play it — the science of the sport — is not very brutal. Continue reading

Epperly-to-Wilson Puts Princeton Over the Top, Again

After a storybook comeback in last year’s Harvard game, the Princeton football team seemed to have used up all its luck. As the Tigers dropped three of their next four games, Quinn Epperly ’15’s lob to the end zone, which was caught by Roman Wilson ’14 for the winning touchdown, looked more and more like a fluke. But one year later, on Oct. 26, the Tigers went to Cambridge and proved that they didn’t need luck to take down Harvard — they had the talent.

Quinn Epperly ’15, show in action against Columbia, continued his remarkable season with a record-setting win at Harvard Oct. 26. To date, he has thrown for 15 touchdowns and run for 11. (Photo: Beverly Schaefer)

This year’s game ended in an almost identical fashion to last year’s. Needing to score, Epperly chucked it into the corner of the end zone and Wilson, with a Crimson player right on him, came down with it. Last year’s score put the Tigers up late in the final quarter of a game that ended 39-34. This year’s touchdown ended the third overtime period in a game that saw Princeton put up 51 points to edge Harvard’s 48.

What was striking about Saturday’s game was how different Princeton’s offense looked this time around. With quarterback Connor Michelsen ’15 sidelined by an injury, it was the first time in Epperly’s college career that he took every snap. Last season, he split time with Michelsen against Harvard, and each had his moments. As the tape of the final touchdown shows, however, Epperly’s pass could just as easily have been one of the worst moments of his season. He was under pressure and threw off the wrong foot, leaving it up to Wilson to get around the defender and make an outstanding catch.

This season, the game-winning touchdown exemplified how far Epperly, and Princeton’s offense, has come. Filled with confidence during his best passing game ever — he broke one school record with 37 completions in the game and another with six passing touchdowns — Epperly faked a quarterback dive, selling it completely, and delivered a perfect throw to his favorite target, Wilson.

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Epperly ’15, Michelsen ’15 Lead Football to 3-1 Start

It has been seven years since Princeton football fans have seen their team win at least three of the first four games of the season, and when the Tigers began the season 4-0 in 2006, it turned out to be an exciting year that included a bonfire and an Ivy League championship. 

Quinn Epperly ’15 (Photo: Beverly Schaefer)

Saturday’s 42-26 win over Lafayette gave the Tigers a three-game winning streak as they begin the hardest part of their schedule. Princeton’s impressive offensive attack has been led by its quarterbacks, specifically Quinn Epperly ’15.

Sharing time at the quarterback position last season with Connor Michelsen ’15, Epperly’s most well-known pass came with 13 seconds left to play in the 2012 Harvard game to receiver Roman Wilson ’14 — a touchdown that capped Princeton’s comeback win. This season has been an extension of that success. In the Georgetown game, Epperly became the Tiger to rush for four touchdowns in a game since Keith Elias ’94. Against Columbia, he became the first Tiger to throw for four touchdowns in a game since Chad Roghair ’91. And in the win over Lafayette, he was responsible for five more touchdowns (four passing, one rushing).

“Quinn did some really good things,” head coach Bob Surace ’90 said afterward. “I thought he really executed well.”

Epperly and Wilson connected six times for two of Epperly’s passing touchdowns. He also threw scoring passes to receiver Connor Kelley ’15 and tight end Des Smith ’14.

“I think the way our offense is designed a lot of guys are contributing, we’re working extremely hard all practice or all week long in practice, and that’s just how it works. One guy one week will have a breakout game … and anybody can have that type of game at anytime,” Kelley said. “That’s what makes our offense really great.”

Michelsen also has contributed significantly to the offense, leading the team in passing yards this season and driving the Tigers down the field on six of their seven scoring drives against Lafayette. Epperly, a dual running and passing threat, often comes into the game when Princeton reaches the red zone.

“I think that definitely a lot more credit should be given to [Michelsen] than probably is,” Epperly said. “A lot of those drives that I’m scoring on he’s leading down the field and I’m just kind of running it in at the end, so he definitely probably deserves more credit than he’s been given.”

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Multiple Quarterbacks Contribute in Football Opener

Coming into the Lehigh game Sept. 21, one of the major questions Princeton football fans had was who would be starting under center. Despite a full 60 minutes of play in a tumultuous 29-28 loss, that question has yet to be resolved. Quarterbacks Connor Michelsen ’15, Quinn Epperly ’15, and Kedric Bostic ’16 each played a role in the offense during the opener.

Roman Wilson ’14 caught nine passes for 168 yards and a touchdown in Princeton’s 29-28 loss to Lehigh. (Photo: Beverly Schaefer)

With a 22-3 lead at halftime, the Tiger offense seemed to be clicking, and the defense able to contain Lehigh’s explosive offensive ability. The second half, on the other hand, told a different story. The Princeton defense was unable to stop the Mountain Hawks from reaching the end zone. The Tigers took back the lead on a 17-yard touchdown rush by DiAndre Atwater ’16 with 8:03 left in the game, but they were unable to convert on 2-point conversion. Lehigh would come back down the field to score once again, giving them the 29-28 lead with 2:45 left on the clock.

Princeton’s last possession ended when a Michelsen pass attempt was intercepted at the Lehigh 37 with 1:50 to go in the game. The Mountain Hawks were then able to gain a first down and run out the clock.

Michelsen, the returning starter, was not the only one taking snaps for the Tigers. Debuting a formation they call Ninja, in which they spread the tackles out to the wide-receiver positions while keeping the center, two guards, and a quarterback and running back in their normal spots, the Tigers aimed to use the abilities of several players to pass, receive, or run. At times the offense positioned Michelsen, Epperly, and Bostic as quarterbacks, running backs, and receivers. (Receivers Seth DeValve ’15 and Connor Kelley ’15 also were high-school quarterbacks.)

 “I think the nature of the quarterback position is changing a little bit, and the high-school athlete is back, whether he’s a runner, passer, all those things,” head coach Bob Surace ’90 said. “We don’t want to have those guys standing next to me the whole game, so let’s utilize them.”

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Alumni, journalists pay tribute to Kazmaier ’52

Dick Kazmaier ’52, No. 42, eludes a Rutgers defender on the Oct. 20, 1950, cover of PAW. (Photo: PAW Archives)

News of Heisman Trophy winner Dick Kazmaier ’52’s death last week prompted tributes from several alumni and sports journalists. 

New Yorker writer and Princeton professor John McPhee ’53, a close friend and former roommate of Kazmaier, said that the former football star’s “strongest characteristic was loyalty and his greatest talent was friendship,” according to the Associated Press

The athletic communications office’s TigerBlog highlighted Kazmaier’s modest manner: “When you’re the only Heisman Trophy winner in the long history of a football program and you had the kind of [football] career that Kazmaier had, you naturally have a bit of ‘that’s him, that’s the one’ celebrity about you. Kazmaier wanted no part of that.”

Director of Athletics Gary Walters ’67 spoke about Kazmaier’s wisdom and humility in a statement on GoPrincetonTigers.com:

“Notwithstanding all of the achievements in his athletic, business, and philanthropic endeavors, Dick remained one of the most self-effacing individuals I have ever met. He never sought the spotlight and always led in a thoughtful and ethical manner.

“Indeed, Dick was also the father of six daughters and he became a major force behind the scenes as he helped to implement the Title IX Legislation that was passed in 1972 in order to provide equal competitive opportunities for women in college.

“As is the case with many of his Princeton friends, Dick was a personal mentor and advisor for me in my role as Athletic Director; and I will miss him dearly as a friend.”

Update: NPR’s Frank Deford ’61 devoted his Aug. 7 commentary to Kazmaier, “a honey of a guy.”

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Heisman winner Kazmaier ’52 dies at age 82

Dick Kazmaier ’52, right, with Bill Bradley ’65 at the No. 42 retirement celebration in 2008. (Photo: Beverly Schaefer)

Dick Kazmaier ’52, the former star halfback and Princeton’s lone Heisman Trophy winner, died Aug. 1 in Boston. He was 82.

Kazmaier, a versatile runner and passer from Maumee, Ohio, mastered coach Charlie Caldwell ’25’s single-wing offense and led the Tigers to consecutive undefeated seasons in 1950 and ’51, winning three of college football’s top individual awards — the Heisman Trophy, Maxwell Award, and Walter Camp Trophy — in his senior year.

He was drafted by the Chicago Bears but bypassed the NFL to pursue an M.B.A. at Harvard and a distinguished career in business. He later chaired the President’s Council on Physical Fitness under Presidents Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush.

In 2008, the athletics department honored Kazmaier and former basketball standout Bill Bradley ’65 by retiring the No. 42 — worn by both stars — for all Princeton teams. The University also unveiled a life-sized statue of Kazmaier in a Heisman-esque pose, now located on the plaza outside Jadwin Gymnasium.

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Former pros discuss the road ahead for NFL draftee Catapano ’13

As a high school football player in Bayville, N.Y., Mike Catapano ’13 believed he could play in the NFL someday. He kept that goal even after choosing to attend Princeton, where only one player had been drafted in the previous two decades. And on Saturday, Catapano’s dream became reality, as he was selected by the Kansas City Chiefs with the first pick of the seventh round in the 2013 NFL Draft.

Mike Catapano ’13, chosen in the seventh round by the Kansas City Chiefs, was Princeton’s first NFL draft pick since 2001. (Photo: Beverly Schaefer)

Catapano became the first Princetonian taken since Dennis Norman ’01 in 2001, and as the 201st overall pick, he is the Tigers’ highest selection since Jon Schultheis ’83 was the 182nd pick 30 years ago. But for Catapano, being drafted is only the beginning — now, he’ll have to show the Chiefs’ coaching staff that he deserves to play at the highest level.

The very first practices will be crucial for Catapano, especially as a late-round pick from the Ivy League. Catapano performed well in January’s East-West Shrine Game, a showcase for some of the nation’s top draft prospects, but he still hasn’t been tested as often as some peers from major conferences. “As a seventh-round pick, he’s not guaranteed anything other than his signing bonus,” said Ross Tucker ’01, who played for five NFL teams in seven seasons as an offensive lineman and now works as a pro and college football analyst. “First impressions mean a lot — he’s going to have to show that the level of competition is not too much.”

Princeton head coach Bob Surace ’90, an assistant coach with the Cincinnati Bengals from 2002-09, said all rookies are scrutinized carefully in their first practices, which are usually technique-oriented and conducted without pads. The most important thing a player can do to impress his new coaches, however, is to carry himself like a professional. “Mike will exceed expectations in terms of being on time, being accountable, learning the playbook and all that,” Surace said.

Catapano has already shown he has the physical skills to compete at the NFL level. At Princeton’s pro day last month, the senior bench-pressed 225 pounds 33 times and ran the 40-yard dash in 4.75 seconds, both above-average marks for his position. Still, nearly all former players say the speed of the game is much faster in professional football, and it takes time to get used to that transition.

Kansas City head coach Andy Reid said he plans to use Catapano as an outside linebacker in the Chiefs’ 3-4 defense. The real change in Catapano’s role will likely be smaller than the name indicates; his primary duty will still be rushing the passer — which he did to the tune of 12.5 sacks in 10 games last season — but he may spend a little more time in pass coverage than he did in college. Still, it will be nothing compared to the positional change Catapano made after arriving at Princeton, when the high-school running back who had never played on the opposite side of the ball became a defensive lineman.

The lifestyle of a professional football player is different than that of a college athlete; with the reward of being drafted comes more practice time, more film study, and fewer off-field distractions. “You really have to approach it like a job … [but] obviously it’s a great job,” said Jon Dekker ’06, who played in three games as a Pittsburgh Steelers tight end in 2007. The transition may be even sharper for many Ivy League athletes, who face additional practice restrictions and more intense academic demands in college — but Catapano, who has spent the last two springs focusing on football and is, by all accounts, obsessed with the sport, should be in his element as a professional.

“In the NFL, you notice that while there are a lot of freak athletes, the guys that stay around the longest are the ones who are the most self-motivated and focused on improvement. Those are things that really stood out to me about Mike,” said Harry Flaherty ’11, a former teammate of Catapano’s who spent time in NFL camps as a tight end and long snapper in 2011 and ’12.

Several of Catapano’s former Ivy League foes also turned pro on Saturday. Cornell offensive lineman J.C. Tretter and Harvard tight end Kyle Juszczyk were each selected in the fourth round, giving the Ancient Eight three draftees for the first time since 2001; Penn defensive lineman Brandon Copeland, Cornell wideout Luke Tasker, and Columbia defensive end Josh Martin also signed contracts as undrafted free agents (with the latter joining Catapano in Kansas City). Those players will join an Ivy League tradition that already includes Giants guard Kevin Boothe (Cornell) and recently retired Ravens center Matt Birk (Harvard), who were starters for the last two Super Bowl champions.

“There are enough Ivy League guys that are making rosters, getting starting positions, playing at a high level and signing decent free-agent contracts, that I think more guys should be getting opportunities,” said Tucker, who was the color commentator for most Ivy League football games on NBC Sports Network last season. “It’s really cool to show that you can get an elite education … and still have an opportunity to pursue pro football.”

Update: More good news for Princeton football’s Class of 2013 — free-agent linebacker Andrew Starks signed with the Chicago Bears April 29.

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A first-timer’s guide to the Princeton bonfire

The 1985 bonfire, pictured on PAW’s Dec. 18, 1985, cover.

When the Tiger football team lights up Cannon Green on Nov. 17, it will be Princeton’s first celebratory conflagration since 2006 — and the first bonfire for every undergraduate on campus. We’ve combed through the PAW archives to provide a little advice.


Tip No. 1: Don’t jinx it.

This no longer applies for 2012, but it is worth mentioning for the future. When Princeton beat Harvard in 2005, the campus was beginning to sense the end of a 11-year bonfire drought. Jim Consolloy, then the University’s grounds manager, feared that after a dry autumn, the century-old white ash trees that surround Cannon Green might be at risk, so he made arrangements to soak the trees in advance. Yale put his fears to rest with a comeback victory at Princeton Stadium. A year later, Princeton managed to sweep the Big Three and light the bonfire; the trees were not harmed.


Tip No. 2: Be patient.

Student pranksters started the 1951 bonfire a bit early — actually, a day early. Half of the wood burned before the fire was put out, and the pile had to be rebuilt hours before the big event. PAW On the Campus columnist Geoffrey L. Tickner ’52 blamed both the students and the proctors charged with protecting the wood. “With the woodpile unguarded,” Tickner wrote, “their skullduggery was easy.”


Tip No. 3: Show up on time.

In 1988, captain Jason Garrett ’89 was expected to light the bonfire, but when the time came, the star quarterback was nowhere to be found. (PAW reported that he’d been in the weight room.) Garrett’s center, Bob Surace ’90, did the job in his absence. Surace will be back on Cannon Green Saturday, this time as the Tigers’ head coach.


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Break out the kindling: Princeton beats Yale, earns Big Three bonfire


Will Powers ’15 ran for 54 yards against Yale, and Princeton controlled the game in the second half, winning 29-7 in New Haven. (Photo: Donald Clark)

NEW HAVEN, Conn. — The last time the football team played at Yale with a Big Three bonfire at stake, in November of 2006, Princeton faced an 11-point deficit in the final 10 minutes in a battle of eventual Ivy League co-champions. Star quarterback Jeff Terrell ’07 led a memorable comeback, guiding his team to two late touchdowns and lighting up Cannon Green for the first time in 12 years.

On Saturday, with Big Three bragging rights on the line once again, no such drama was required. Having already used up their fourth-quarter heroics with a 24-point comeback against Harvard three weeks earlier, the Tigers took their first lead shortly before halftime and never relinquished it, pounding the injury-ravaged Bulldogs 29-7 and bringing a bonfire back to Princeton.

For the first 15 minutes of the game, it looked as if loads of firewood might lay dormant for another year. Using a multi-option rushing attack and occasional well-placed passes, the Bulldogs marched into Princeton territory on each of their first three drives, scoring a 14-yard touchdown on their second possession. Meanwhile, the Tigers went three-and-out on each of their first two possessions; only two third-down stops of threatening Yale drives kept their margin at seven points.

But as soon as the teams switched sides for the second quarter, the mood changed. Princeton marched 70 yards down the field in three minutes, led by efficient passing by Connor Michelsen ’15. The sophomore was eventually picked off in the end zone, but after a quick defensive stand, quarterback Quinn Epperly ’15 led a 77-yard touchdown drive on the next possession.

Yale reached the Tigers’ five-yard line in the final minutes of the first half and was poised to take a lead into intermission. But running back Mordecai Cargill attempted a trick pass, running to the right side and throwing back to the left — and cornerback Trocon Davis ’14 was ready for it. Davis snagged the ball at the goal line and ran with it the length of the field for a 100-yard score, the second-longest interception return in Ivy League history.

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The comeback: Princeton football stuns Harvard, 39-34

Roman Wilson ’14 caught five passes, including the game-winning touchdown, as Princeton erased a 24-point deficit in the fourth quarter. (Photo: Beverly Schaefer)
During Saturday’s football game against Harvard, 10,823 Princeton fans learned how wide a range of emotions they could feel in a three-and-a-half-hour span. At the start of the game, orange flags were flying and excitement was high on campus — the Tigers were 2-0 in the Ivy League for the first time since 2006, on a three-win streak and entering their biggest game in several seasons.
And then the game started, and that optimism was quickly laid to waste. Princeton’s defense, the second-stingiest in the nation, was no match for Harvard’s third-ranked offense, which stalled in Princeton territory on its first series before scoring touchdowns on its second, third, and fourth drives. Meanwhile, the Tigers could not solve Harvard’s defensive front, punting on all six of their first-half possessions. Harvard was up 20-0 at halftime, and though the Tigers surged momentarily in the third quarter, the Crimson rebounded to go up 34-10 early in the fourth.
Twelve minutes and 45 seconds of game time later, all those struggles were long forgotten. Roman Wilson ’14 caught a prayer of a pass from Quinn Epperly ’15 for a 36-yard touchdown with 13 seconds left, completing a four-touchdown comeback and giving the Tigers a shocking 39-34 victory. The mood inside Princeton Stadium had gone from agony back to ecstasy, as students stormed the field after the final whistle to congratulate the sole leaders of the Ivy League.
“It’s an incredible feeling, looking up and seeing all the fans, seeing all the alumni, seeing all my teammates,” Wilson said after the game. “I don’t know if it’s sunk in yet.”
One online calculator says that, even after a 59-yard kick return by Anthony Gaffney gave Princeton great field position down 34-10, the Tigers had only a 2 percent chance of coming back to win. In reality, their odds were probably even lower — those calculations assume the teams are equal strength, while Princeton and Harvard sure didn’t look evenly matched for three quarters on Saturday. “I’m glad we don’t play a seven-game series, to be honest with you, because they’re senior-led and they’re that good,” head coach Bob Surace ’90 said after his team was outgained by more than 200 yards. “We were lucky to have one more play today.”
To overcome the deficit, Princeton had to score at least 24 points in the final quarter — something it hadn’t done in a period since Nov. 23, 2002 — and do so against the league’s second-best defense. Meanwhile, the Tigers had to get quick stops against a Harvard offense that had advanced into Princeton territory in all nine of its drives to that point.

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Reid ’13, defense show promise in Princeton football opener

Princeton’s defense held Lehigh scoreless in the second half, but the Tigers’ comeback attempt fell short in a 17-14 season-opening loss. (Photo: Beverly Schaefer)
Three and a half minutes were left on the clock as host Lehigh prepared to run a third-down play with the game on the line. A conversion would allow the Mountain Hawks, undefeated and ranked 13th in the Football Championship Subdivision, to run more time off the clock and force Princeton to dip into its well of timeouts; a failure would give the Tigers possession with a chance to win the game. Quarterback Michael Colvin dropped back and threw under pressure — but the ball never got near his target, as defensive lineman Caraun Reid ’13 knocked it away at the line of scrimmage.
Though he was relatively quiet for parts of Saturday’s game, Reid has plenty of experience making big plays with his big arms. He batted down three passes and also blocked three kicks last season. He’s also rather adept at using the rest of his body. He recorded eight sacks and 16 tackles for losses in 2011 en route to first-team All-Ivy honors.
Here’s the scary part for the rest of the league: That wasn’t even Reid at his best. After missing the final nine games of the 2010 season with a pectoral injury, he had surgery in the off-season, which limited his ability to practice and bench-press that summer. Reid felt the effects throughout the season, but it didn’t show in his play. “I was expecting to have a good season, but not to the extent I had last year,” he says. “It was surprising, because I thought I was really weak.”
Caraun Reid ’13 (Photo: Office of Athletic Communications)
In many ways, Reid doesn’t look like a football player off the field. He dresses well, wears glasses, and is a member of the a cappella group Old NasSoul. But his size is a giveaway — after putting on 20 pounds with a full off-season of lifting, the defensive tackle stands at 6 feet, 2 inches, and 300 pounds — an intimidating figure for opposing linemen.
Reid isn’t the only standout senior in the Tigers’ front seven, which looks like Princeton’s biggest strength at this stage. Defensive end Mike Catapano ’13 and linebacker Andrew Starks ’13, the two defensive captains, also have earned all-Ivy recognition in the past. The defense led Princeton’s second-half resurgence Saturday, stopping Lehigh on several other third-down plays and holding the hosts scoreless after halftime.
The Tigers’ offense also turned its fortunes around in the second half. Connor Michelsen ’15 was named the starting quarterback — which he knew on Monday but the rest of us didn’t learn until game time — and played all but two series under center, hitting some receivers and overthrowing some others. Running back Akil Sharp ’13 was quiet in the first half, but he eventually found his stride, scoring Princeton’s first touchdown with an impressive 13-yard scamper and fighting for a second score from one yard out.

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Football standout Chuck Dibilio ’15 suffers a stroke

Chuck Dibilio ’15 (Beverly Schaefer)
Football standout Chuck Dibilio ’15 suffered a stroke Jan. 19, the University said in a statement.
He was taken to Thomas Jefferson University Hospital in Philadelphia, where doctors removed a clot in the main artery of Dibilio’s brain, according to the player’s father, Chuck Dibilio Sr. He said doctors were uncertain about his son’s long-term prognosis or the cause of the stroke.
Dibilio suffered the stroke in the evening while studying with a group of people during the University’s finals period, according to The Daily Princetonian.
Rob Melosky, who was Dibilio’s football coach at Nazareth (Pa.) High School, told the Allentown, Pa., newspaper The Morning Call that Dibilio has movement in his extremities but is struggling with his speech.
Dibilio, a tailback, was the breakout star of the Ivy League during the 2011 season. He rushed for 1,068 yards, the most by a non-transfer student in Ivy League history. He was named the 2011 Ivy League Football Rookie of the Year.

Freshman-led Princeton football falls at Dartmouth, 24-17

HANOVER, N.H. – Despite 11 penalties, despite just 93 yards passing for the game, Princeton still had a chance.
This year’s team usually did, unlike the 1-9 Tigers of 2010. But after Chuck Dibilio ’15 gained only two yards on first down at the Dartmouth 19 and quarterback Quinn Epperly ’15 next was buried for a five-yard loss on an option run, Princeton, down seven with just over three minutes to go, faced third-and-13.
Coach Bob Surace ’90 rolled the dice. He pulled Epperly, who had run for two touchdowns and 88 yards as a first-time starter, and put in Connor Michelsen ’15, who had not played all season. Michelsen spotted Isaac Serwanga ’12 open on a slant in the end zone, but did not see linebacker Bronson Green lurking nearby. Green picked off the pass, and Dartmouth ran out the clock, sealing the win and extinguishing what little chance remained for Dibilio to win the 2012 Ivy League rushing title.
A second consecutive 1-9 Tiger season (1-6 Ivy) ended with another whimper, a 24-17 loss to the Big Green (5-5, 4-3).
“We prepared [Michelsen] to run those plays,” said Surace. “It’s like going to the bullpen.
“We have quarterbacks who run the ball well and some who throw the ball well. We’ll see [what freshmen] we bring in, but this is the way it’s likely going to be [next season].”

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Football preview: Princeton at Dartmouth

Chuck Dibilio ’15 crosses the goal line for one of his three touchdowns against Yale. (Beverly Schaefer)
Regrets? Matt Allen ’12 has had a few in four years of losing Princeton football. But there is only one worth mentioning.
“I’m really disappointed that I only got to play with Chuck Dibilio [’15] for one year,” said the guard.
So having been told repeatedly that the game you remember the most from your career is your last one, Allen doesn’t see a door closing Saturday, but rather the holes he can open toward the first rushing title by a freshman in Ivy League history.
Dibilio goes to Dartmouth with 749 yards in six league games, only 17 behind Big Green senior Nick Schwieger, a head-to-head battle that makes the bus well worth boarding for the long drive at the end of a 1-8 season.
“Linemen don’t get stats – you measure your success by how well your running backs do,” said tackle Kevin DeMaio ’12, the only other senior starter on the offensive line. “We really want to get this.”

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Dibilio ’15 shines, but Princeton falls to Yale, 33-24

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.

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Football preview: Princeton vs. Yale

(Beverly Schaefer)
With Princeton football entering the Yale game at 1-7 for the second straight year, alumni and diehards are anxious to buy into the youth movement for 2012.
Four freshman and five sophomores are already playing first string, and fans may wonder what is holding back coach Bob Surace ’90 from moving on from Tommy Wornham ’12 to Quinn Epperly ’15, the presumed quarterback of the future. The coach thanks them for their interest and asks them to send him their crystal balls.
“We may have another freshman next year who is better than Quinn Epperly,” said Surace.   “There is no saying he is going to be it.”
Wornham will remain the starter and Epperly the change-of-pace backup Saturday against the Bulldogs on Powers Field at Princeton Stadium, subject to changes like those that occurred the previous two weeks against Cornell and Penn.
“I expected Connor Kelley [’14, converted quarterback-to-wideout] to take 10 reps a game at quarterback minimum,” said Surace. “When we lost him [to season-ending knee surgery], we tried to find ways to add that package back.

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Red-zone woes continue as Princeton football falls at Penn

PHILADELPHIA – Wearing are the red-zone failures, the big plays surrendered, the turnover ratio of minus-13 for the season, and the losses, which reached 16 in the last 18 games for Princeton’s football team with a 37-9 defeat here Saturday by Penn.
Chuck Dibilio ’15 ran for 130 yards and increased his season rushing total to 824, an Ivy League record for freshmen. (Beverly Schaefer)
Certainly Chuck Dibilio, who with 130 yards rushing broke Brown’s Marquis Jesse’s Ivy League season record for a true freshman (Harvard’s Clifton Dawson, who had 1,197 yards in 2003 to Dibilio’s 824 in 2011, was a transfer), remains at least one Tiger not worn down by failure. But Princeton’s lack of other weapons makes Dibilio a bullseye in an eight-man box whenever the Tigers get inside the 20, which is amazingly often for a 1-7 team.
Princeton’s Will Powers ’15 and Seth DeValve ’15 both blocked first-quarter punts, each time setting up the Tigers at the 11-yard line, and they settled for two Patrick Jacob ’12 field goals.
With Princeton (1-4 Ivy) suspect on pass defense, there was little way for them to beat Penn (5-3, 4-1) three points at a time.  No wonder that trailing 14-6 on his next opportunity, Coach Bob Surace ’90 decided to fake a field goal from the 9-yard line.
“If we didn’t have a good fake, I wouldn’t have done it,” said Surace. “[Penn] had seven guys on the one side, four on the other, and with two of them dropping off, it should have been a walk in, but there was penetration.”
The shovel pass by holder Otavio Fleury ’12 for fullback Jason Ray ’14, was easily broken up, another opportunity died, and though Jacobs nailed his third field goal of the day on the next possession to make the score 14-9 at the half, it remained only a matter of time until Penn abandoned the run and started to make big plays against the Princeton secondary.

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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.
“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.”

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After slow and snowy start, Cornell pulls away from Princeton football

Quarterback Quinn Epperly ’15 tries to break free from a Cornell defender. (Beverly Schaefer)
Whatever fire Princeton thought it had kindled with a sudden and remarkable 30-point second half in last week’s loss at Harvard was doused Saturday by the wind, snow, rain, and Cornell on a slippery Powers Field. Quarterback Tommy Wornham ’12 went down with a left-hand injury early in the third quarter and ultimately so did the Tigers, 24-7.
When the conditions got better in the second half, so did Cornell, which completed 80- and 73-yard touchdown drives while Princeton floundered.
“What kills a passing game is wind,” said Coach Bob Surace ’90. “The first half it was horrendous, wasn’t just snow on the ground but whipping in guy’s faces. It was hard to see signals on both ends.”
The X-rays on Wornham’s left (non-throwing) hand proved negative, and Surace said that swelling permitting, the senior still will be the quarterback next week against Penn at Franklin Field.  

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Football preview: Princeton vs. Cornell

Out of the deep blues of 12 losses in the previous 13 games, Princeton scored 30 offensive points in 8:31 of possession time last Saturday to improbably shrink a 26-point Harvard lead down to three.
But even at a thinking man’s university like Princeton, it is not incumbent on the engineer of that rally to explain it as much as it is his duty to sustain it.
“I don’t know exactly what it was,” said quarterback Tommy Wornham ’12. “I just think no one was overthinking anything, trying to score a million points on one play. [We were] just playing the game we practiced all week.
“Like [offensive coordinator James] Perry has said for a year and a half. ‘That three touchdown flurry will come – trust it.’”
Now, can anyone at Harvard Stadium who saw it trust his or her eyes? The Tigers still gave up two fourth quarter touchdowns and fell to 1-2 in the Ivy League (1-5 overall) with a wild 56-39 loss. Exhilarating as that second half was, it only represented progress should it carry over into Saturday’s 1 p.m. game on Powers Field at Princeton Stadium against Cornell, still winless in the league.

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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.

Princeton     39
Harvard        56

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.  

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Football preview: Princeton at Harvard

After a 1-9 season in 2010, Bob Surace ’90 said he found out who the fighters were. And at 1-4 this year, the Princeton coach is about to identify them again.
The Tigers, who finished off Columbia and who were one play away from a remarkable upset at Hampton, were flattened last week in a 34-0 loss at Brown. Next we’ll see whether their spirits were crushed.
 “They are angry, frustrated,” said Surace. “We’ll see whether they channel it, the way I am, into Harvard.”
Just at the point where they believed they were finding themselves, the Tigers were manhandled, albeit by an Ivy League contender. Another, Harvard, waits for them Saturday in Cambridge, so the schedule has not become the Tigers’ friend. But Princeton has proven to be its own worst enemy at times because of repeated failures to make well-timed plays on both sides of the ball.
“The red zone [five touchdowns for the Princeton offense in 22 visits] is the elephant in the room,” said Surace.

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Brown overwhelms Princeton, Tigers drop to 1-4

PROVIDENCE, R.I. – Coming off a 1-9 season and starting similarly slowly this year, the Tigers has insisted that the feeling nevertheless has been different. And a win over Columbia followed by a remarkably close loss at Hampton last week seemed to back up the team’s optimism.
But that was before Princeton went backwards Saturday in almost every way during a desultory 34-0 loss to 4-1 Brown.
“You think you see progress and then the other team makes more plays than you, out executes you, ” said Coach Bob Surace ’90. “It’s not good.”

Princeton    0
Brown        34

Princeton’s 34-9 loss to an average-at-best Bucknell team in week two was maddening for the self destructiveness of six turnovers. This one was just a dreary manhandling from start to finish.
There was one deflating turnover: the third interception run back from a touchdown off quarterback Tommy Wornham ’12 this season, on the game’s third snap. But 59 minutes remained and never did Princeton (1-4 overall, 1-1 Ivy) get a big stop or cash an opportunity.
The Bears, despite a narrow loss to Harvard in their Ivy opener, might still turn out to be the best team in the league, and they proved far superior to a Princeton squad that had believed itself improving enough to hang with the Ivy elite.
Instead, the Tigers struggled, beginning with the Wornham interception. When it looked like they would at least get on the scoreboard before halftime, a fourth-down drop by a receiver Matt Costello ’15 halted the drive. Linebacker Tom Kingsbury ’13 had a chance to intercept a deflected pass but could not hold on.
While that best chance for a turnover wound up on the ground, Princeton still committed just that one turnover of its own and only three penalties. The game’s result was a lot more about what Brown did to Princeton than what Princeton did to itself.

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Football preview: Princeton at Brown

Princeton leads the Ivy League in rushing with 180 yards per game. Chuck Dibilio ’15 ran for 147 at Hampton last week to become the Ancient Eight’s rookie of the week for the second time in four games and followed Brian Mills ’14 as the second 100-yard-plus gainer for the Tigers in two weeks.
“In the last two years, I haven’t seen an offensive front and running backs play as well as ours did against as good a defense as Hampton’s,” said offensive coordinator James Perry. “They really have some athletes.”
The Tigers pounded for 256 ground yards against a Hampton defense believed to have more talent than any in the Ivy League. Saturday afternoon at Brown, the Tigers’ next challenge will be pushing through for the final yards in drives: Princeton has only two rushing touchdowns this season and has converted just five of 19 opportunities inside their opponents’ 20-yard line.
Princeton’s red-zone package has been damaged by the loss for the season of Connor Kelley ’14 (knee), a quarterback-turned-receiver who was expected to take some snaps in a Wildcat formation. Another quarterback, Quinn Epperly ’15, ran an end-around option for a first down on Princeton’s one touchdown drive in the 28-23 loss to Hampton and will get further opportunities, as will Isaac Serwanga ’12 , who had his best game with seven catches at Hampton and has the size (6 feet, 3 inches) to come down with balls thrown into the end zone against mostly smaller cornerbacks.
Against Columbia, quarterback Tommy Wornham ’12 shook off a second interception return in two weeks to lead the Tigers back to their first win in 10 games. He could have had a better day, however, at Hampton. Wornham (19-for-39 with one interception) warmed up in the second half but still failed to complete a pass into the end zone on Princeton’s final three offensive plays.
 “Yeah, [receivers] were open,” Wornham said. “I need to throw the ball harder, make better decisions earlier, put the ball into a better spot.
“The routes were there, we had good designs down there. Hampton did play more [man-to-man coverage] in the end, made the windows a little tighter, but I’m a college football player. I need to put those balls in there.”
The quarterback’s performance has been up and down, but his confidence remains high, which is reflective of the team. There is a clear vibe that the Tigers feel they are improving.

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Hampton holds off Princeton football, 28-23

HAMPTON, Va. – The last of six catches by Matt Costello ’15, following a 15-yard Hampton punt, put Princeton just nine yards away from a go-ahead touchdown.
The Tigers, who scored one touchdown in six previous red-zone opportunities, first put the ball in the hands of Chuck Dibilio ’15, who gained the last of three of his 147 yards straight into the line, leaving the Tigers too far away to run it three more times.

Princeton      23
Hampton       28

“Now, we’re in a passing situation,” said Coach Bob Surace ’90. “Hampton’s safeties are so good and play so close to the line, it’s very hard to run the ball in from there.”
It got harder when Matt Allen ’12 was called for holding, putting the Tigers in third-and-goal from the 16. Ultimately Hampton wrapped up its 28-23 win on fourth and long, when Tommy Wornham ’12’s pass for Dibilio was broken up the in the end zone by Delbert Tyler, dropping the Tigers to 1-3.
Coming oh-so-close to what would have been a remarkable win on the road against a team thought to be out of Princeton’s class only will begin to pay dividends if next week at Brown, the Tigers score more than one touchdown and don’t take two holding calls – including a previous drive-killing one by Kevin Mill ’13 – that nullify field position inside the 10.

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Football preview: Princeton at Hampton

Hampton may be the fastest team Princeton will face all season, and keeping with that theme, we’ll get to the point quickly:
If the Tigers’ offense stops turning over the ball and committing red-zone penalties, the defense appears strong enough to carry this team back to respectability. 
Last Saturday Coach Bob Surace ’90’s squad stopped the critical miscues just long enough to break a school record 10-game losing streak with a 24-21 victory over Columbia.
Princeton held Columbia, whose quarterback Sean Bracket had hit five touchdown passes against the Tigers a year ago, to only two of 15 third-down conversions and made another stop on fourth down. Through three games, including one against Football Championship Subdivision offensive powerhouse Lehigh, Princeton opponents are converting on only 30 percent of third downs.
“We had only five missed tackles last week,” said Surace. “Last year there would have been five in a series.”

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Princeton snaps streak, opens Ivy play with win over Columbia

Jason Ray ’14 (No. 43) celebrates Princeton’s second touchdown, a third-quarter run by Brian Mills ’14. (Beverly Schaefer)
Of course it wasn’t going to be easy, not with another nine penalties and three turnovers, not after a school record 10-game losing streak, not after 23 long months since Princeton’s last Ivy League win and last home victory.
And for all the interminable days the Tigers suffered during a 1-9 season in 2010, the final three minutes of their 24-21 victory over Columbia Saturday night on Powers Field at Princeton Stadium still seemed to take 22 of those months. Coach Bob Surace ’90, with the best field goal kicker in the Ivy League in Patrick Jacob ’12, twice tried to run out the clock on fourth down at the Lions’ four yard line and twice failed, leaving Columbia only a field goal from an overtime.
On the Lions’ first crack, Steve Cody ‘12 and Andrew Starks ’13 ran down quarterback Sean Brackett a yard short on fourth down. And on Columbia’s last gasp, an interception by defensive back Harrison Daniels ’12 sealed the deal, despite repeated attempts by the Tigers, hard as they played, to make themselves miserable for another week.

Columbia       21
Princeton       24

“I really thought to go from the five to the opponent’s 30, that’s a lot of yards,” said Surace. “If they get their [kick] returns out to where they were getting them, somewhere between the 30 to the 40, they only have to go 30 yards.
“Our defense was playing really well. We were missing three guys [Jaiye Falusi ’12, Blake Clemons ’12, and Phil Bhaya ’14] in our secondary who started in the opening game. And against the best quarterback in the conference last year and the best scheme we go against all year long, I thought we executed really well.”

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Football preview: Princeton vs. Columbia

Bob Surace ’90 says the issue is “not confidence, but frustration.” But when a team turns over the ball six times in one game and an offensive line that performs like the Six Blocks of Granite through midfield commits rockhead penalties in the last 20 yards, it seems to look like plain old hyperventilation regardless.
The Tigers suffocated themselves with mistakes in a desultory 34-9 loss to Bucknell last week that looked depressingly like repeated defeats on the way to last year’s 1-9. But the Ivy League portion of the schedule begins at 6 p.m. Saturday against 0-2 Columbia on Powers Field at Princeton Stadium. So it’s not just hot air that fresh air can still blow away the smell of an 0-2 start.
“We’ve got to believe everything is up for grabs right now,” said defensive end Mike Catapano ’12. “It doesn’t matter what happened last year or who won last week by how much.”
Columbia beat Princeton the last two years by a lot, a combined 80-14. But that’s not as big an issue heading into this game as how much more failure Princeton can take before this season dissolves like the last.
 “We have three coaches who were at Temple, which hadn’t won much until the last few years,” said Surace. “Princeton hadn’t won an Ivy title in [20] years until my senior year, and Brown had gone through a stretch like that when (offensive coordinator James) Perry got there and helped turn things around.
“We have a little bit of a glass jaw. There has to be something to get you over your frustration of trying to score two touchdowns on one play. Or, as a defensive player, getting angry and trying to close more than one gap. And that’s my job to get them through that.
 “You aren’t going to win every play. You go to the next play.”

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Six turnovers sink Princeton football in loss to Bucknell

Linebacker Andrew Starks ’13 brings down Bucknell quarterback Brandon Wesley in the second half. (© Beverly Schaefer)
If there is nowhere to go but up for a Princeton football team that has lost 10 straight games over two seasons, that’s because it would be impossible to gift wrap a game any more thoroughly than the Tigers did Bucknell’s 34-9 victory Saturday night on Powers Field at Princeton Stadium.
The Tigers could not block defensive end Josh Eden, who personally collapsed the left side of the Tigers offensive line in tackling Chuck Dibilio ’15 for a safety, leaped to intercept a pass by Tommy Wornham ’12 and ran it in for a touchdown, and fell on a fumble on a snap that went through the Princeton quarterback’s hands, setting up a first Bucknell touchdown drive of only nine yards.
But that only begins to detail the horror of Wornham’s night. Twice, on Princeton drives of some promise – one to end the first half, the other to begin the third quarter – he threw the ball up in the end zone to nobody but easily-intercepting Bucknell defenders.

Bucknell       34
Princeton       9

Wornham also overthrew an open Isaac Serwanga ’12 three times. And not surprisingly, the crisis of confidence spread throughout the offense. “I played horrible,” said Wornham, who was 15-for-33 for 174 yards, one touchdown, and three interceptions. “I had a horrible game.  
“I run the offense. I need to get us playing faster and better. I need to do more research during the week and prepare better.”
If that sounded like a harsh self-indictment for unpreparedness, coach Bob Surace ’90 said he never could have envisioned his team playing this terribly after the week of practice it had.
“The way we worked, I didn’t see any of that coming,” said Surace.

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Football preview: Princeton vs. Bucknell

Princeton’s strong safety says there is absolutely no safety in having one more tune-up before the Ivy League portion of the Tigers’ football schedule begins.
“It’s imperative to win this week,” said Mandela Sheaffer ’13.
In the looking glass, the Tigers liked some things they saw in their 34-22 opening loss to high-powered Lehigh. But as your side-view mirror says: “Objects are closer than they appear.” And the Tigers’ 1-9 season in 2010 will continue to tailgate them until they win some games.
The next one, 6 p.m. Saturday on Powers Field at Princeton Stadium against 2-1 Bucknell, certainly seems winnable enough that the consequences of losing are potentially unsettling.
“It is very important, especially since we haven’t had one in a while,” said coach Bob Surace ’90.
Indeed nothing succeeds like success, which the Tigers last enjoyed in week two of 2010 against Lafayette. That victory, inspirational as it seemed when Jordan Culbreath ’11, coming back from aplastic anemia, scored in overtime, turned out to be a springboard to nothing but the doctor’s office as key player after key player went down.
This Saturday, the Tigers will be missing only one starter, wideout Connor Kelley ’14. (Cornerback Phillip Bhaya ’14 is questionable.) That makes them much more hale and hearty at this point of this season than they were in 2010. But nobody wants to find out about their mental health should they be 0-2 headed into Columbia, which has mauled Princeton in successive seasons. 

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