The Princeton University football team capped off a perfect season last Saturday with a 42-14 victory over Penn in its season finale at Princeton Stadium.
The victory clinched the Tigers’ first outright Ivy League title since 1995 and marked the second time the team had finished 7-0 in Ivy play, having previously accomplished the feat in 1964.
“The outcomes are the outcomes,” Princeton coach Bob Surace said. “The thing that is so awesome is how these guys do everything everyday. It is the easiest team I have ever had to coach and I am not saying that because of their talent They are certainly talented. It is because they are on time, they are accountable, they fight through injury at practice. It is never, ‘Coach I need an off day.’ It is, ‘Coach, I am practicing,’ when the trainer is telling them not to go.
“It is just so enjoyable to be around this group. They are terrific in the classroom. They brought up the young players and they are mentors, They take that responsibility It is just awesome. All of our coaches would say the same thing. The support staff would say the same thing.”
Princeton had an Ivy title in its crosshairs once it defeated Dartmouth, 14-9, on Nov. 3. But there were still two games to play and the Tigers needed to take care of business to finish 10-0. They did just that, winning at Yale, 59-43, before topping the Quakers last Saturday.
“Certainly (being 10-0) was our larger goal,” said senior Jesper Horsted, who caught three touchdown passes in the game. “Before the season we got together and talked about our goals for the year and that was the biggest stated one that we were all working toward. That being said, it was a game by game the way that we approached things. We never looked beyond the next Saturday and that is just how we approached the business.”
The victory over the Quakers came the way so many have this year for the Tigers.
The offense was clicking as quarterback John Lovett threw the three touchdown passes to Horsted, who also ran for a touchdown. Lovett and Charlie Volker also ran for touchdowns in the win.
For the season, Princeton scored 470 points, the most in Ivy League history.
“It is cool,” Horsted said of going through the season 10-0. “I think I will look back and be more excited about that and brag about it a little more. I have plenty to be excited about going 10-0. My goal was never breaking the record or anything. I don’t do it for history purposes. We just did it because that was our goal and that was the way we could be the best we could be was to go 10-0. I haven’t really looked at the bigger picture yet.”
The Princeton defense, while often overshadowed by the prolific offense, was also championship caliber. The Tigers slowed down Dartmouth when it mattered most in the key win of the season two weeks earlier and then took care of business in the finale against Penn.
“There is so much fight and everyone was bought in from day one.” linebacker Tom Johnson said. “We had goals and we had a lot of guys who understood how we had to reach those goals. In terms of consistency, we showed that we could handle that and that is from the scout team on up. Everyone contributed, everyone had a role…everyone bought into their role. That is why we are here.”
Lovett, who seems destined for a second Bushnell Cup as the Ivy League Offensive Player of the Year, rushed for a touchdown in his record 20th straight game. He threw for 18 touchdowns and ran for 13 TDs this season. He and the rest of the Tigers came into the season knowing this one could be special.
“We absolutely thought we could be great,” Lovett said. “The reason why I felt strongly and confident that we could go 10-0 was because of what Jesper just said, we never looked ahead. We were eager to go out and play against each other in practice. From day No. 1 through 20 of training camp and finally get to play a different team against Butler and then came back and play Monmouth and just build off of that.”
The Tigers joined the 1964 team as perfect and were joined in the locker room after the game by the leader of that team, College Football Hall of Famer Cosmo Iacavazzi, as well as some of the other players from that squad.
“It is pretty amazing when you are in the locker room and the team that did it 54 years ago is in there,” Surace said. “They have been so supportive and these guys are in that rare air with them. When you do those things in the process you have got opportunities to have a season that is going to down with a lot of great teams that way.”
The Tigers are 10th in the nation in the latest FCS Coaches Poll. But due to Ivy League rules, the season won’t include a trip to the national playoffs. This was a team that certainly would have loved a chance to compete against the best, but won’t get that opportunity.
“It is an empty feeling,” Surace admitted. “It is the unknown. We would want to play. I will speak for them. It is not only that they want to play. It is going to be Tuesday at 4:45 and we are going to feel sick to our stomachs because we didn’t get to practice and we don’t get to bond. And when I watch other (Princeton) teams do it I love the fact that they get opportunities and they should never, ever reduce other opportunities.
“You root for those teams. We all know the players on those other teams. Whether it’s the field hockey team getting to the national semifinals or another team. You don’t get there if you are not a team that is bonded and they get to cry their eyes out. But they know they came that close. The soccer team lost in 14 penalty kicks and they get to know. For us it is an unknown. In a league where i know our commissioner is expanding opportunities, they don’t know the hurt theses guys feel on Tuesday this week not being able to go out and participate.”
But for all of training camp and 10 weeks of games, the Tigers got to bond and participate at as high a level as any team possibly could. And they did it to perfection.