Princeton’s season finales in each of the last six seasons had been spoiled by Dartmouth, but not this year.
The Tigers ended a six-game losing streak against Dartmouth with a 38-21 come-from-behind win over the Big Green on Saturday to share the Ivy League championship with Penn, a team that Princeton beat, 28-0, on Nov. 5.
“I do feel like we’re the best team in the league,” said Princeton captain Dorian Williams ’17. “The way we performed on both sides of the ball and special teams kind of proved that we’re the best team in the league. Not to be too arrogant, but I think it’s known around the league too.”
The Ivy title is Princeton’s second in four seasons and the 11th in program history. Princeton, Penn, and Harvard all entered the day 5-1 in the Ivies. Penn stopped Cornell, 42-20, while Yale knocked off Harvard, 21-14.
Princeton trailed 14-7 in the first half and 14-10 at halftime. Their 28 straight second-half points helped them thwart an upset bid by Dartmouth, the defending Ivy champions, and finish 8-2 overall, 6-1 in Ivy play. Princeton’s only loss was a 23-20 overtime defeat at the hands of Harvard.
“We’d love to have it back,” said Princeton quarterback Chad Kanoff ’17, “but you can only control what you can control and we did a great job of doing that.”
Kanoff’s senior class will graduate with 26 wins, equaling the Class of 1997 for the most by a Princeton class since the Ivies began formal play. They also have two Ivy rings, something no Princeton player has had since the 1960s (the 1995 seniors were not allowed to play as freshmen when Princeton won in 1992).
“Nobody’s won that many since the 1950s before Ivy play started,” said Princeton head coach Bob Surace ’90. “That’s a really good accomplishment when you see that.”
John Lovett ’18 rushed for two touchdowns to set a new Princeton season record with 20 rushing touchdowns. He leads Football Championship Subdivision with 21 total touchdowns. The junior quarterback also passed for a touchdown, his 10th passing touchdown of the season.
“I just think it’s a product of how hard we worked all year,” Lovett said. “Our offensive line has done a phenomenal job.”
Jesper Horsted ’19 and Scott Carpenter ’17 each caught a touchdown pass, Trevor Osborne ’17 had five receptions for 72 yards. and Isaiah Barnes ’17 had three catches for 60 yards. Charlie Volker ’19 rushed 18 times for 111 yards and a touchdown. Kanoff ’17 was 14-for-24 for 200 yards and a touchdown.
Princeton’s defense and special teams came up big in the second half as well. Chance Melancon ’18 and Rohan Hylton ’17 intercepted passes. Mark Fossati ’18 stripped a Dartmouth kick returner of the ball and Ryan Quigley ’20 recovered it, setting up the score that broke the game wide open.
Princeton last won an Ivy championship in 2013 when a season-finale loss to Dartmouth forced them to share the crown. This time, Princeton earned a share of the championship with a dominant second half.
“It’s unreal,” Williams said. “When we won the title when we were freshmen, we lost our last game and it was kind of bittersweet. It was like we had the outright chance and we didn’t take full advantage of it. It’s awesome to win at home. We had the home crowd involved. It’s something you’re going to remember forever.”
The game started ominously for the Tigers after they celebrated and recognized this year’s 34 seniors. Princeton went three-and-out on its first series, then punted to Dartmouth who returned it inside Princeton territory. Seven plays later, Dartmouth quarterback Jack Heneghan scrambled up the middle 20 yards for a 7-0 lead. On the ensuing kick return, Princeton was flagged for a block in the back and started at its own 9-yard line. They got one first down and punted again.
“I was more thinking about, how do we get these guys back?” Surace said. “Because I felt like our minds were elsewhere and Dartmouth was attacking us in areas where we struggle and how do I get our guys snapped back and locked in and get them ready to play. The big picture is we were either going to have a great banquet tomorrow, or it was going to be really depressing. A 7-3 season should not be depressing, but it was going to be really depressing [if Princeton lost to Dartmouth]. I don’t even know what I’d say.”
Princeton tied it, 7-7, with Lovett’s 1-yard touchdown run with 2:21 left in the first quarter. Lovett started the drive with a 17-yard reception from Kanoff, and hit James Frusciante ’17 for a 19-yard completion to help set up his own score.
Dartmouth went ahead early in the second quarter, 14-7, on Heneghan’s 8-yard pass to Cameron Skaff, one play after he found running back Miles Smith down the sidelines for 32 yards. The 14 points were more than Princeton had given up in their previous three games combined, but that would be all Dartmouth would get over the next 40 minutes.
The Tigers gained momentum with an 85-yard drive before they settled for a 23-yard field goal from Tavish Rice ’20 with 12 seconds left to cut the Princeton deficit to 14-10 going into the locker room for halftime.
“There wasn’t a feeling of doubt,” Williams said. “We knew what we were doing – self-inflicted wounds. It’s conflict inside that was tearing us apart. And that’s something we got rid of in the second half. We played as a team in the second half.”
Princeton converted only 2-of-8 third-down attempts in the first half plus 1-of-2 on fourth downs, while Dartmouth kept drives alive with conversions on 5-of-8 attempts. In the second half, Princeton was 5-of-7 on third down and Dartmouth was 3-of-8.
“I thought we just kept playing our game,” Kanoff said. “And we started playing better. They were playing well at the beginning of the game for sure. They had a lot of energy. People get tired and the rush always gets a little less at the end of games. We kept playing our game.”
A sack by Kurt Holuba ’18 highlighted the Princeton defensive effort on Dartmouth’s first possession of the second half. The drive continued after his sack due to a Princeton penalty, but the Tigers defense went right back out and stopped the Big Green again to force a punt.
“We had that big stop, we had that roughing the kicker, and I went out there and said we’re going to stop them again,” Williams said. “As soon as we stopped them, the offense went out there and scored.”
The Tigers got the ball back and mounted a 15-play drive that culminated with history. Lovett’s 1-yard rush up the middle for a touchdown gave him the Princeton program record of 20 rushing touchdowns in a season to eclipse Keith Elias ’94’s 19 set in 1993.
Princeton opened the fourth quarter by finishing off a drive with Kanoff finding Horsted on an inside pitch that he took into the right side of the end zone on a 14-yard catch and run.
On the kickoff, Dartmouth’s Rashaad Cooper was stripped of the ball by Fossati, and after a scramble, Quigley came up with it on the Dartmouth 9-yard line.
“I think our kickoff coverage is No. 1 in college football or close,” Surace said. “We have a kicker who’s been awesome, our coverage unit has been awesome.”
Three plays later, Lovett rolled right, then threw all the way back into the left side of the end zone to a wide open Carpenter for a 31-14 edge with 12:10 left in the game. That helped Princeton pull away from a Dartmouth team that had outscored opponents, 69-11, in the fourth quarter this season.
“You don’t want to be in a game where that’s all they’ve done is dominate there,” Surace said. “That really helped us get over the hump.”
Princeton’s first-string defense closed out their second-half masterpiece with an interception by Melancon in Princeton territory and another interception by Hilton in the end zone to quell any comeback attempts for the Big Green. Dartmouth scored with 21 seconds left in the game before Princeton swarmed the field at the final buzzer to celebrate its Ivy title.
“I know I’m going to be emotional tomorrow having to flip the page,” Surace said. “We’re going to celebrate this tonight and this week, but then you have to flip the page.”