Early favorites Princeton and Harvard vie for an edge in the Ivy title race

Anthony Gaffney ’16’s long kick return helped to spark Princeton’s memorable comeback against Harvard in 2012.
Anthony Gaffney ’16’s long kick return helped to spark Princeton’s memorable comeback against Harvard in 2012.
Beverly Schaefer

In a rivalry that has been filled with unpredictable reversals, one thing is certain: This year’s Princeton-Harvard game will not be decided by a Roman Wilson ’14 touchdown catch. Wilson, the hero of wins against the Crimson in 2012 and 2013, graduated in June. Nearly any other outcome seems possible for the two teams, which have combined for more than 2,000 yards of offense in their last two meetings. 

“It’s been just amazing to watch because of the fact that these teams are playing at such a high level,” said Dan Loney, WPRB radio’s play-by-play announcer, who has navigated the twists, turns, and touchdowns — 22, to be exact — of the last two Princeton-Harvard games. Loney compared the matchup to a Football Championship Subdivision playoff game, with crisp, dynamic offenses and few mistakes on either side.

The 2012 game featured Princeton’s improbable, incomparable comeback, a 29-point fourth-quarter eruption that erased Harvard’s 24-point advantage. Wilson made the decisive grab with 13 seconds left, snapping a five-game losing streak against the Crimson. At the Big Three bonfire a month later, President Shirley Tilghman chided fans who’d left at halftime: “You will never live it down.” 

In the 2013 rematch at Harvard, the lead changed hands six times before the Tigers prevailed, 51-48, in their third overtime possession. Quarterback Quinn Epperly ’15 set a school record with six touchdown passes in the game. The loss proved to be the only blemish in a 9-1 season for the Crimson. The Tigers went on to finish 8-2 and share the Ivy League title with Harvard.

This fall, voters selected Princeton as the favorite in the Ivy preseason media poll, with Harvard one point behind in second place. The Oct. 25 meeting at Princeton Stadium could provide new fireworks, if the season’s early games are any indication. Crimson running backs Andrew Casten and Paul Stanton Jr. posted 100-yard games against Holy Cross and Brown, respectively. Harvard won both contests. For the Tigers, Epperly has picked up where he left off last year, leading his team with seven touchdowns — five rushing and two passing — in Princeton’s first two games, a loss at San Diego and a win over Davidson.