In an improbable comeback victory, the Princeton Tigers (4-2, 3-0 Ivy) upended the Harvard football team (5-1, 2-1) this weekend, scoring 29 unanswered points in the fourth quarter to notch a 39-34 win and secure sole possession of first place in the Ivy League.
In a way, the Crimson got an early dose of Halloween at Princeton this weekend.
The trick? A slew of misfortunes, in part inspired by missed opportunities from Harvard and in part exacerbated by a suddenly unstoppable Tigers offense, that led to the Crimson’s first loss of the season, ending its nation-leading 14-game winning streak.
At the half, the Crimson held a commanding 20-0 lead over the Princeton with two scores from senior tight end Kyle Juszczyk and a score from junior receiver Ricky Zorn. Harvard looked every bit the dominant force it has been all season, defeating its opponents by an average margin of 27.6 points and receiving a first-place vote in The Sports Network FCS poll.
The third period and beginning of the fourth were more of the same for the Crimson, with the defense limiting the Tigers to a touchdown and a field goal off a fumble recovery while posting two additional scores to Juszczyk and fellow tight end Cameron Brate to go up, 34-10, with 13:02 left in the fourth quarter.
Then, all at once, things started to fall apart. Princeton pounced on opportunities time and time again, capitalizing on good field position created by defense that forced the Harvard offensive side to go three-and-out and blocked a punt attempt and field goal attempt.
Three touchdown passes from sophomore Connor Michelson and two successful two-point conversion attempts brought the Tigers to within a possession of the Crimson, 34-32, with under three minutes remaining in the contest.
And then, it happened. Princeton forced Harvard to a three-and-out punt, but the Crimson was able to pin the Tigers at their 10-yard line with just under two minutes to go in regulation. A sack took Michelson out of the game with less than a minute to go, forcing Princeton to substitute sophomore Quinn Epperly.
With 13 seconds to go and mass confusion on the field, Epperly heaved a 36-yard prayer to the back corner that junior Roman Wilson was able to haul in, sealing the deal for the Tigers, 39-34.
Impossible? No, but very improbable.
While Princeton was supposed to be one of the Crimson’s toughest challenges en route to its second straight Ivy League title, no one could have predicted the wild finish to Saturday’s game.
This begs the question of whether the Tigers’ stunning finish is merely a pre-Halloween trick, a fluke loss that Harvard will be able to come back from and look past with ease, or something more serious.
The loss to Princeton puts the Crimson in a three-way tie for second place in the Ivy League with Dartmouth and Penn, two teams that are on the remaining part of Harvard’s schedule.
The Big Green is 4-2, 2-1 in the Ivy League, while the Quakers are 2-4 but still maintain a 2-1 record in the Ivy League. Taking a closer look at the box score against the Tigers, it doesn’t look like the Crimson offense struggled at all to put points on the board against Princeton, at least through three quarters and a good part of the fourth.
Senior quarterback Colton Chapple was 31 for 45, torching Princeton for 448 yards and five touchdowns with support from Kyle Juszczyk’s 15 receptions, 192 yards, three touchdowns, and Treavor Scales’ 21 carries and 104 yards.
The Crimson will need the continued hot play of its core players on offense and defense to remain in contention for its second consecutive Ivy League title. But after watching the secondary struggle defending consecutive scores against the Tigers and giving up a last-second heave by backup quarterback Quinn Epperly, allowing Princeton to march down with relative ease, nothing seems like a given anymore.
Harvard will have to treasure each and every victory moving forward as a treat. A loss is a loss and the Crimson will go into Halloween weekend with a different mindset than it had before, not basking in the glow of gaining national attention with its 14-game winning streak and high consideration in the FCS, but rather with a tough loss to a team that it should have beaten.
Hopefully it will be able to shed its mask of inefficacy and come back bigger, stronger, and badder.
—Staff writer Joesph Pak can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.