Princeton, NJ (Oct. 18) – Brown QB Marcus Fuller attempted 71 passes to smash an Ivy League record, but that record was the result of futility as the third-ranked FCS Princeton rushing defense smashed the Bruins right from the start to hold Brown to -7 yards on 15 carries. They would carry the Tigers (3-2, 2-0) to a 27-16 victory in front of 5,807 fans including about 30 at our annual Big Tailgate held this year at Princeton Stadium. Our group surprisingly watched back-up Princeton QB Connor Michelsen replace last year’s Ivy League Player of the Year, Quinn Epperly, who sat out with an injury, throw for 367 yards and two touchdowns. He led his Tigers to four consecutive scores on their first four possessions to take a daunting 24-0 lead early in the second period. The Tiger defense bent but didn’t break as they checked the Brown offense in the red zone forcing three FGs and intercepting a pass in the end zone despite 454 passing yards and a late TD pass by Fuller (29 for 71, 1 TD). On a beautiful sunny, fall, day where our Big Tailgate got to bask by the Princeton observatory before the game, many got a taste of Ivy League football for the first time. The tailgating was fun eating, drinking, and talking to both new and old friends, but most came away with mixed reviews of what they got to watch during the game. Most found it a unique football experience to say the least.
PK Nolan Bieck finished the first Princeton possession with a 26-yard FG. On the Tigers’ second possession, they kept Brown (2-3, 0-2) off balance with the no-huddle offense. RB Will Powers (13 rushes for 69 yards, 1 TD), for whose father Will Powers Field at Princeton Stadium is named, swept nine yards around right end for a 10-0 PU lead. After a Brown three-and-out, Michelsen tossed a 49-yard TD pass to WR Matt Costello (8 catches, 121 yards, 2 TDs). At the end of Q1, Princeton was rolling along again after another BU three-and-out. The drive resulted in another pass from Michelsen to Costello for a 17-yard score and a 24-0 lead early in the second.
Brown took to the air consistently after that. A 70-yard completion to WR Troy Doles (six catches for 200 yards) brought Brown to the PU seven. An illegal block pushed them back on a supposed scoring play, but the Bruins had to settle for Grant Zenne’s 28-yard FG instead. An interception of a Michelsen pass by FS Zach Gillen gave BU possession from the 32. A 42-yard pass to Doles put Brown in the red zone once again at the 16. Three incomplete passes forced Zenne’s second FG from 33 yards to trail, 24-6. That’s the way the scoring ended in the first half. We were entertained by the combined Ivy League bands of both schools. It seems like the Tigers and the Bruins have one of the more amicable halftime relationships among the Ivies.
PU relinquished the ball (Ivy “speak”) after three plays to start the second half. On a fourth and four at Princeton’s 16, a completion to RB Brian Strachan put Brown on PU’s doorstep at the one. A one-yard loss and two incompletions later, Zenne converted again for his third FG, 24-9. PU started a 60-yard drive later in the period, and Bieck added a 19-yard FG to give Princeton a 27-9 lead before moving into the final period.
Fuller continued his air assault on just about every play. From the Brown 20, the Bruins made it to the PU 14. His next pass into the end zone got picked by DB Andrew Frisby. Again BU took possession from their own 15, and moved down to the Tiger 20 with the aid of a confusing “targeting” call for which Tiger leading tackler LB Rohan Hylton was ejected. Fuller finally brought his team through the red zone with a 20-yard TD pass the Strachan (10 catches, 146 yards, 1 TD). With 6:13 left, I expected to possibly see a two-point conversion to get within ten to give Brown a chance for a TD and FG to at least go for a tie, but HC Phil Estes fresh off his 100th win at Brown, opted for one for a 27-16 score. Several of us anticipated an onside kick next. GGA Paul Fraley’s jaw dropped when we watched Brown’s kickoff sail down field. It looked like Brown was going down without a fight and they did. Without a chance to take possession to score quickly or to prevent the Tigers from consuming more clock, that’s where the score eventually settled, 27-16.
Next week, Princeton will tangle with Harvard, also 2-0 among the Ivies, at home next week. We wait to hear if Quinn Epperly will return, but Michelsen, also a senior, looks quite capable to get things done on offense. The Tiger defense may have to buckle down on its pass defense. Brown will host Cornell (0-5,0-2) back in Providence, Rhode Island. CFF.com steps back out of the Ivy and into the SEC where we will see No. 5 Auburn host a disappointing South Carolina team at Jordan-Hare Stadium on Saturday for a 7:30 pm kickoff.
Extra Points: GGA Bob Marcello noted that when the FG net went up, there must have been lot of “concern” that the one spectator in the end zone might run away with the ball! Reality is though that the game was nationally televised on NBC Sports Regional, and the All State “Good Hands” net had to go up as it was prepaid advertising. Even at this level, it’s all about the money.
I think this was the second time we watched this particular FCS officiating crew. Like the URI at Fordham game, I could tell since the largest person on the field was the Umpire who lines up behind the defensive line. In the Princeton Athletic New Program, the Umpire is listed as Robert Kinter. He must have played on somebody’s line at one time.
This game as mentioned was televised by NBC Regional Sports TV (SNY in the New York market). A good thing – not many TV timeouts. St. Laurie was pleased, and noted no one wore red the few times the game was held up for commercial breaks. However, the game was slowed by all those Brown incompletions (42). Bad thing – only 5,807 showed up to watch in person. Those few watching on TV probably changed stations before the first period was over and watched something else. Charlie Roberts and I attended a Thursday night game in 2006 between Brown and Princeton that was also televised. The crowd seemed much bigger, Princeton won, and the Tigers went on finish 9-1 for a share of the Ivy League title. We saw four Princeton games that year during a very exciting season for the Tigers.
Entering the game, Princeton’s defense allowed 78 yards per game rushing. Brown RB Andrew Coker led Brown in rushing coming in with 70 yards per game. Today, he had seven carries for 14 yards. Unofficially, PU now allows only 12.5 rushing yards per game. The subtitle in the Game Program read: “The six-week Ivy League sprint starts this afternoon for two physical, run-first squads.” Could’ve fooled us – 367 passing yards to 454! Rushing : 118 to -7.
Will Powers scored a touchdown in his fourth consecutive game. It was Princeton’s sixth straight home win. Costello doubled his total of TD catches for this season with four, and he’s now fifth all-time in career receptions at Princeton with 132 snags. Bieck has now converted 12 consecutive FGs. All these Princeton steaks will need to continue to get the Tigers this year’s Ivy title starting with the Harvard game at home next week. They defeated Harvard the last two seasons in a 39-34 comeback win after trailing 34-10 in 2012, and then Quinn Epperly threw six TD passes a year ago for a 51-48 triple overtime win. There’s a lot on the line in next weeks’ premiere Ivy League game. This will be available on ESPN3.
After the 27-9 lead, someone said, “No more Bruins’ games.” It wasn’t our Boonton K of C Grand Knight Ed Mainardi. Not only is he a Brown graduate, but he told us he was a team manager for his alma mater in the late 70s when they started to turn things around there.
GGAs Kevin McCormick and Steve Hopkins reminisced about their first Princeton game at Palmer Stadium many years ago. For each, it was on a Boy Scout trip out of Boonton. As we talked about it more, it turned out it was the same trip I had taken with my Rockaway Valley grammar school in 1966 when we all saw Colgate defeat Princeton, 7-0. Evidently it was big promotional Kids’ day of some sort at Princeton.
We had some long distance tailgaters join us this year. Lew Fowler returned from a business trip in Germany the day before, and had his daughters join us from Maryland. Also, Boonton HS alum and classmate Paul Kleim came up for the weekend from Tennessee and was able to join us for this year’s Tailgate. It was great to have them all join us for the trip to Princeton this year! I mentioned to all that next year I will try to come up with something special to celebrate the 500th game of Collegefootballfan.com.