PRINCETON, N.J.—Three lead changes, one tie, a late score, and a critical sack that highlighted a game-ending defensive stand. The 10,189 fans in attendance at Princeton Stadium on Saturday certainly got their money’s worth in a 24-20 victory for the Crimson (5-1, 2-1 Ivy) over a game Princeton (2-4, 1-2) squad.
The outcome was in doubt until a crucial sack by senior linebacker Eric Schultz. With the Tigers attempting a last-ditch drive and facing 3rd-and-5 at their own 47 with just over a minute remaining, Schultz chased Princeton quarterback Brian Anderson down before he could get rid of the football and sacked him for a 13-yard loss. The ensuing 4th-and-18 play was unsuccessful, and the Crimson knelt out the clock.
“From the sidelines, the first thing you’re saying as a coach is ‘don’t take the sack,’” Princeton coach Roger Hughes said. “We’ll have to see the film. You know, what I see and what he sees with 300 pounders coming at him…are two different things.”
That defensive stand was an appropriate end to a thrilling fourth quarter that saw several changes of momentum. After junior Thomas Hull pinned the Tigers inside their own 2-yard line with a fantastic punt on the final play of the third quarter, Princeton marched down the field with a combination of short passes and effective running—converting two third downs—before facing 3rd-and-4 at the Crimson’s 11. Anderson dropped back and hit receiver Trey Peacock with a perfect pass as Peacock streaked uncovered in the end zone, but Peacock dropped the ball and the Tigers were forced to settle for a 28-yard field goal from Ben Bologna to make the score 20-17 in Princeton’s favor.
The Crimson responded immediately, reaching its own 46 before facing 4th-and-1. After a timeout, senior quarterback Chris Pizzotti connected with senior tight end Jason Miller in the flat, and Miller rumbled for 13 yards and a crucial first down.
“We didn’t feel like there were any guarantees we were going to get the ball back, and we just had to have a play,” Harvard coach Tim Murphy said. “To Chris’ credit, they covered it relatively well, and Chris found a spot he could lay it in on the flat route.”
On the next play, Pizzotti went deep to the middle of the field, and junior wideout Matt Luft came down from between a slew of Princeton defenders with a 35-yard catch and a 1st-and-goal at the Tigers’ six, turning a possible interception into a huge gain.
“It just came off my hand a little funny, and Matt just went up and made a great play,” Pizzotti said.
Two plays later, sophomore running back Gino Gordon burst through the line for a 6-yard touchdown run, and the Crimson secured a 24-20 lead.
“The line opened up a wide hole, and I saw it and I ran through it,” Gordon said. “You couldn’t see it, but I had the biggest smile on my face.”
The score marked the second time Harvard had come back from a deficit. Princeton opened the scoring in the first quarter with a 1-yard plunge from running back Jordan Culbreath after driving just 20 yards because of a fumbled punt return by the Crimson. Although Harvard responded with a field goal on the ensuing possession, the Tigers, again behind Culbreath, managed to open up a 14-3 lead as Culbreath tacked on a 10-yard touchdown scamper.
The Crimson’s defense stiffened at that point, managing to keep Princeton just outside of scoring range. On the next two possessions, the Tigers moved to Harvard’s 32- and 31-yard lines, but both times were stopped on 4th-and-long plays after passing on long field goal attempts.
The Crimson converted the first failed attempt into a touchdown, as Pizzotti went 4-of-4 for 65 yards and a touchdown, hitting sophomore Chris Lorditch in the end zone to make the score 14-10.
On Princeton’s final possession of the half, the Tigers appeared poised to make it a 10 point halftime advantage, moving the ball to the Crimson’s three on the strength of four carries for 26 yards from Culbreath and a 24-yard completion from Anderson to receiver Will Thanheiser. Facing 3rd-and-2 on Harvard’s three with 10 seconds remaining in the period, Anderson’s pass was tipped by senior linebacker Glenn Dorris and intercepted by diving freshman corner Matt Hanson, leaving the score 14-10 at the break.
“I thought we played an outstanding game except when we got inside the red zone on offense,” Hughes said. “We had a number of opportunities to put this game away, [and] we didn’t do it.”
That stop before the half precipitated a marked improvement from the Crimson’s defense in the second half. After allowing Culbreath, the Ivy League’s leading rusher, to run for 118 yards and two scores in the first half, Harvard held him to just 36 second-half yards and no scores.
“I felt like they did a really good job scheming us up, and it showed in the first half,” Schultz said. “When you’re against a team that runs the read zone, it’s every guy just doing his job and when the ball commits getting to the football. So we knew where to be in the second half, and we made a couple of adjustments, and that definitely made a difference.”
—Staff writer Brad Hinshelwood can be reached at email@example.com.