Princeton, N.J. — Princeton football Coach Bob Surace wasn’t greeted by bottles of champagne being popped when he came into the locker room after the Tigers clinched their first outright Ivy League title in 23 years; rather, he was greeted by cheese being hurled across the room.
The celebration fit the team’s "don’t take the cheese" motto, as Princeton senior quarterback John Lovett explained.
“We have this saying in the locker room: ‘don’t take the cheese.’ That motto came across our whole entire team. We’d be 8-0 and some guy would be like ‘wouldn’t it be cool if we went 10-0’ and they’d get the cheese,” Lovett said.
Outplayed across the board from the opening whistle, Penn took its fourth Ivy loss of the year on Saturday — the most losses in Ray Priore’s tenure as head coach — in a 42-14 drubbing at the hands of No. 9 Princeton. The Orange and Black (10-0, 7-0 Ivy) out-gained the Red and Blue (6-4, 3-4 Ivy) 579 yards to 282 yards, as Penn struggled to get anything going on the ground, finishing with just two rushing yards.
Though Princeton had already earned at least a share of the Ivy title with a win last week over Yale, the Tigers were fighting for their first undefeated season since 1964. The Red and Blue, on the other hand, were coming off a blowout loss to Harvard and looked to play spoiler to the Tigers’ perfect season.
While the Quakers caught a break after a missed field goal on Princeton’s first drive, they didn’t have much success slowing down the high-powered Princeton offense thereafter. After a Penn punt, senior quarterback John Lovett confidently lofted a deep ball to senior wideout Jesper Horsted for a 48-yard touchdown to put Princeton on the board. It wouldn’t be the last time Horsted laid foot in the end zone.
On the three ensuing drives, Horsted found the end zone: on a 42-yard pass, a 19-yard run, and a 3-yard pass. He’d score again in the second half on a 20-yard pass. Horsted, who set the record for most receptions in Princeton history, maintained that he wasn’t focused on getting in the record books.
“Yeah it’s cool. I think when I’m older I’ll be more excited about that. But more importantly I’m more excited about going 10-0,” Horsted said.
After Horsted’s 19-yard rushing touchdown, Princeton stretched its lead to 21-0. On the ensuing possession, though, the Quakers saw a burst of life: junior quarterback Nick Robinson threaded the needle between two defenders on a 27-yard pass to senior wide receiverChristian Pearson. On the Quakers’ next drive, Robinson connected with junior wide receiver Tyler Herrick for a 69 yard touchdown to cut the Tigers’ lead to 21-14. Priore lauded Robinson’s performance at postgame.
“[Nick Robinson] did a great job to get us back in the game with that pass to Christian Pearson to get us on the board,” Priore said. “Nick did a great job. He missed the first three [passes of the drive] and then sort of gathered again and hit Tyler Herrick on a great play.”
After the two teams traded punts, Princeton extended its lead to 28-14 on another touchdown from Jesper Horsted. When the Quakers took the field again, though, it wasn’t Nick Robinson behind the center; instead, sophomore quarterback Ryan Glover was back in the game. Priore defended his decision to put Glover at quarterback at postgame.
“Well it was just a rotation and quite frankly, but our thought was that we’ve been playing them both throughout the season and during this game and we wanted to continue that,” Priore said. “Not any one of [the quarterbacks] was the main problem, we just didn’t function collectively as well as a team. But I’m very high on both of them. They’re both fine young men and they work really hard.”
Glover threw an interception on the next drive — though Penn got the ball right back on a leaping grab by freshman cornerback Mohammed Diakite — before going three-and-out on his next drive.
Princeton, meanwhile, continued to pile up points, scoring two more touchdowns en route to a 42-14 final score. After using explosive plays to get ahead of the Quakers early, the Tigers were extremely effective at running down the clock in the fourth quarter. Their final two touchdown drives took over 11 minutes and featured 19 running plays. Surace remarked that their last touchdown drive was “one of the best [he’d] ever seen.”
Even with an undefeated season, Princeton is left craving more competition. Ivy League rules prevent teams from participating in the FCS playoffs, and Surace, Lovett, and Horsted are upset that they can’t continue competing.
“It’s an empty feeling. We want to play in the playoffs. It’s gonna be Tuesday at 4:45 and we’re gonna be sick to our stomachs because we don’t get to practice,” said Surace. “For us, it’s a lot of uncertainty. We’ll never know if we could have won a national championship. The [Ivy League] commissioner will never know how much hurt these guys will feel next Tuesday not getting to play for the Orange and Black.”
Coming into this weekend’s game, Penn knew how explosive the Princeton offense could be. Priore agreed with former Penn coach and current Columbia coach Al Bagnoli in that this year’s Princeton offense is the best he’s ever seen.
“I would say yes. They have explosive weapons on offense, and the dynamic John Lovett is just so difficult to defend. You watch Harvard and Dartmouth defend them and if they start blitzing and doing trick plays on defense they make you pay for it,” Priore said. “They make you defend sideline to sideline, end zone to end zone, they’re a very tough offense to defend. And you’ve also gotta keep pace with them on offense.”
For Penn, the focus shifts to next season. Senior linebacker Nick Miller believes the team is ready to take the next step next year.
“I see it going up. We got a lot of talent and those lowerclassmen and juniors, and those juniors I’m pretty sure are ready to step up and do well for us next year,” Miller said. “I think we as a senior class left it going in an upward swing, so I think those in the program next year are going to take the next step next year.”
At quarterback, Priore stuck to rotating between Glover and Robinson like he has for most of the season. He maintained that the quarterback situation contained more than meets the eye
“Nick [Robinson] in the early part of the year was hampered by a hamstring pull and told us he couldn’t play. So we stuck with Glover,” Priore said. “They both manage the game differently and have different playing styles, strengths and weaknesses. But truth be told, it’s more than just that one position. I think there’s a lot of other positions we have to take a look at as we look to restock and reload as we had into the offseason.”
Princeton may have taken the title this year. But with things looking up, Penn will look to take the cheese next season.