Epperly ’15 sparks high-powered offense as Tigers are off to best start since 2006

Quarterback Quinn Epperly ’15 is congratulated after his sixth touchdown pass of the day beat Harvard, 51–48.
Quarterback Quinn Epperly ’15 is congratulated after his sixth touchdown pass of the day beat Harvard, 51–48.
Conor Dube ’15/The Daily Princetonian

Last year, Quinn Epperly ’15 threw one of the most memorable passes in Princeton football history, a last-minute touchdown pass that gave the Tigers a dramatic upset victory over Harvard. It seemed that that pass would define his Princeton career — until he did it again this year.

Epperly’s 6-yard pass to Roman Wilson ’14 in the corner of the end zone, so similar to the one he threw in last year’s upset of the Crimson, gave the Tigers a 51–48 win in triple overtime in Cambridge Oct. 26. The quarterback set two school records: most passing touchdowns in a game (six) and most completions in a game (37).

After struggling to find his rhythm as a sophomore, Epperly is dominating the Ivy League in his junior year. Through six games, he leads the league in scoring with 15 touchdown passes and 11 rushing touchdowns as Princeton roared to its best start (5–1 overall, 3–0 Ivy League) since 2006.

He became the first Tiger in 20 years to rush for four touchdowns in a game when he did so against Georgetown Sept. 28; he went 19–25, throwing for four touchdowns and running for two more, as the team blew past Columbia 53–7 Oct. 5. He threw four touchdown passes in a 42–26 win over Lafayette the next week and then rushed for three more in a 39–17 victory at Brown.

The big difference this year, Epperly said, has been his passing accuracy. “Completing passes, that’s just something I worked hard on this summer,” he said. “That’s the thing the coaches told me I needed to improve on the most.”

Epperly is the league’s most efficient passer, throwing just one interception in the first six games. “He just continues to develop, get better and better,” head coach Bob Surace ’90 said. “He makes the right decisions.”

Epperly also has thrived as a ball carrier, a role quite different than the one he filled as a high school quarterback in Knoxville, Tenn. “I literally never had called running plays in high school,” he said. “They just had me sit in the pocket and pass, and if I had to scramble and use my feet I would.”

Epperly and Connor Michelsen ’15 shared the quarterback duties through the first half of the season, though Michelsen did not play against Harvard because of an injury. After six games, Epperly was 93–132–1 for 1,075 yards and 15 touchdowns, while Michelsen was 62–111–2 for 663 yards and two touchdowns. Epperly acknowledged that each would like to be the sole starter. By all accounts, however, the two have an excellent working relationship.

“That competition — I want it on the field. I want those guys wanting to be the best player on the field every snap,” Surace said. “But I think in the meeting rooms, they’re really helping each other out.”

Surace and offensive coordinator James Perry have designed an offense that regularly baffles defenses, often putting two or even three quarterbacks in at the same time and using them as running backs or receivers (Epperly had three pass receptions in the first six games). “I think it’s just ways to find a way to get me the ball a little bit more — it puts a lot of stress on defenses,” he said.

With the team’s offense in high gear, football fans hope that Epperly might lead the Tigers to a second straight bonfire season. They were to face a tough Penn team at Franklin Field Nov. 9 before taking on Yale at home Nov. 16.