Another heartbreaker for PU

Tigers fall in overtime to Yale

By: Justin Feil
   The Princeton University football team may need a pacemaker by season’s end.
   For the third time this season, the Tigers lost in heartbreaking fashion on the final play of a game. It was the third different way, following a Hail Mary against Columbia and an overtime touchdown pass by Harvard.
   Saturday, after Yale tied the game on the final play of regulation, it was a Princeton fumble in overtime that gave Yale a 27-24 win in front of 16,369 Princeton Stadium fans. It made for a difficult Senior Day for the Tigers.
   "I told them obviously they played with the emotion and intensity to win the game," said PU head coach Roger Hughes after his team slipped to 2-7 overall, 2-4 in the Ivy League. "We didn’t make the plays on both sides of the ball to knock Yale out. No one play wins or loses this game for us. There were a number of plays along the way that obviously dictated the outcome of the game, whereas one play at the end appears to have."
   There haven’t been too many tougher losses for the Tigers during the nation’s second-longest rivalry. Princeton led the 126th meeting with Yale for all but the second overtime series when the Bulldogs were held to a 26-yard John Troost field goal for a three-point lead that ultimately was the difference.
   Princeton had a chance to tie or win the game on its second possession of overtime, but on its first play B.J. Szymanski fumbled at the 5-yard line after a 20-yard completion from Matt Verbit, and Yale’s Bryant Dieffenbacher pounced on the loose ball to end the game.
   Princeton had a chance at the end of regulation to put away the Bulldogs, who improved to 6-3 overall, 4-2 in Ivy play. The Tigers took control of the ball with 7:49 left in the fourth quarter and drove deep into Yale territory after converting a fourth-and-1 from its own 41 and a third-and-5 from the Yale 38.
   On fourth-and-1 from the Yale 23, Verbit ran a bootleg to the right for a first down that would have given the Tigers the chance to run the clock down to mere ticks of the clock as Yale still had two timeouts. But a holding penalty negated the first down, backed the Tigers up 10 yards and forced them to punt.
   Colin McDonough’s 25-yard pooch punt set Yale back on its own 8-yard line with 1:03 remaining. The Bulldogs moved efficiently and meticulously down the field, throwing nothing more than 8- and 9-yard passes until they reached their own 45. A 14-yard pass from Alvin Cowan to Nate Lawrie was followed two plays later by a strike on the sidelines to Ron Benigno to move the ball to the Tiger 22 with seven seconds left. Chandler Henley then went high over Tim Strickland for a leaping touchdown in the left corner, and Troost’s extra point sent the game to overtime.
   "We tried to mix up both zone and blitz in the secondary," Hughes said. "It’s just a deal where they executed at that time and certainly we didn’t. You take 59 minutes of the game, our defense played outstanding against the No. 2 team in the country in total offense."
   Yale, which came in averaging 481 yards per game, was held to 231 for the first 58:57 of the game. The Bulldogs finished with 364 total yards. Princeton had a balanced 442 yards for the game as Verbit finished 18-for-29 for 265 yards and two touchdowns while Jon Veach led the rushing attack with 130 yards on 25 carries.
   Even with Yale’s momentum-breaking score, the Tigers regrouped quickly. Veach caught a 25-yard touchdown pass from a scrambling Verbit in the first overtime possession to open a 24-17 lead for the Tigers, but Yale answered in four plays with a 3-yard touchdown pass from Cowan to Alex Flaherty.
   "If you look at our games, we’re one play away," said Veach, who also had four catches for 61 yards. "One play the other way in Columbia, Harvard and Yale, and we have one loss in the league and we’re still battling for a title. So we’re not far off. The coaches are doing a great job. Games go that way. You have to deal with it.
   "I think we should have confidence. We’ve played with every team. We made a lot of mistakes against Penn, but take that game away and we’ve played with every team in the league. We know we can beat every team. We’re one step away."
   Princeton looked in control with a 17-3 halftime lead. Princeton failed to take its momentum from the first half on its first drive of the second half. A dropped pass eventually forced Princeton to punt. McDonough’s best punt of the game, a 52-yarder, put Yale at its own 3-yard line.
   But the Bulldogs then responded with an impressive 97-yard drive to pull within seven points, 17-10, when Alvin Cowan hit Ron Benigno in the left corner of the end zone on an 8-yard fade pass over Strickland.
   The Tigers couldn’t find another score until overtime and Yale found the game-tying touchdown on the final drive of regulation. It was a complete reversal from the second half, when Princeton started so well offensively and defensively.
   The Tigers took the opening kick 73 yards for a 7-0 lead. Veach carried five times for 44 yards, including a 20-yard run for the Tigers’ first score just 3:54 into the first quarter.
   Yale got on the board when it capped a 15-play drive with a 23-yard field goal by John Troost to cut the Tigers’ lead to 7-3 with 11:45 left in the second quarter. Yale had the ball first and goal at the 10, but a run and pass moved them only to the Princeton 2 before the Tigers’ Blake Perry threw Robert Carr for a 4-yard loss to force the field goal.
   The Tigers were able to answer on their ensuing possession with a field goal of its own, but could have had more. A clipping penalty nullified Veach’s apparent second touchdown of the game and Princeton settled for a 25-yard kick by Derek Javarone to end a 15-play drive.
   The Tiger defense again came up with a key stop on its second straight possession, this one on fourth-and-3 on its own 43, and the Princeton offense quickly turned it into points. On its first play, Verbit was hit hard but had enough arm strength to reach tight end Jon Dekker, who rumbled 30 yards to the Yale 29. Verbit then found Szymanski streaking down the left sideline for a 29-yard completion and a 17-3 Princeton lead.
   After the Tiger defense held again, the Princeton offense drove 75 yards, but could not add to its lead when Javarone’s 42-yard field goal attempt was partially blocked by James Beck as the first half horn sounded. It was a play all too familiar to the Tigers — one that haunted them at the end of another heartbreaker.
   "I’m hugely disappointed," Hughes said. "I thought we had done the things to win the game, and when you’re playing a good team like Yale, they made the plays when the game was on the line to win. We need to learn to do that."