By Bob Nuse, Sports Editor
Sometimes the ball doesn’t bounce your way. And when that happens it can mean the difference between competing for a league championship and being a .500 team.
The Princeton University football team played well enough to win in nine of its 10 games this season. But in the end, the Tigers were a .500 team, finishing 5-5 overall and 2-5 in the Ivy League.
After a 4-0 start the Tigers lost five of their final six games. But of those five losses, four came by seven points or less, including an overtime loss to Ivy League co-champion Penn.
“It’s a very competitive league,” Princeton coach Bob Surace said. “Unfortunately we didn’t come up on the right side of those games. There were some really good teams. I though the Dartmouth team we played last week was one of the most talented we have played in my six years here and we went toe to toe with them.”
While Surace would never use injuries as an excuse, the Tigers had way more than their fair share this season. As one player would go down another would step up. But over the course of the season the abundance of players missing time on the field was too much to overcome.
“We had some really good guys step up when they had the opportunity,” Surace said. “You don’t want to make excuses but we had seven guys returning that were either All Ivy or you’d call their names (Tuesday) for All-Ivy and they missed significant portions of the season. It shows how important depth is.
“In these close games getting guys more prepared and ready to play is so important. Even with all the ifs and buts and everything else we have to find better ways to get the job done.”
The injuries did allow the Tigers the opportunity to play more young players and several of them stepped up this season.
“Guys like Luke Catarius really played well,” Surace said. “Rohan Hylton is one of the best linebackers in the conference and he goes down with an injury and Luke was playing a role and stepped up and played well the last half of the season. There were a number of stories like that. We were able to play some guys and see them take advantage of the opportunity. You never want to see injuries or poor performance, but that is often the reason some players get the opportunity.”
Princeton had two players make the All-Ivy First Team – senior kicker Nolan Bieck and sophomore quarterback John Lovett. Four other Tigers – senior linebacker Matt Arends, junior running back Joe Rhattigan, senior lineman Britt Colcolough, and junior safety Dorian Williams were named to the second team.
The three seniors who earned first or second team honors were part of a special senior class for Surace.
“It’s really tough when you go into the locker room after the last game,” the Princeton coach said. “It is like that every year. But this group was such a special group the way they handled some really good highs and some of the lows. It was fun going to work every day and seeing them grow and mature and see them become stellar players and people.”
In the ever-changing Ivy League, next year could be the year those bounces go the Tigers way and a 5-5 mark could become 8-2 or 9-1.
“We start next Monday when they get back from Thanksgiving with their lift tests,” Surace said. “Everybody starts with same record. The only carry over is experience. But the rest is how hard we work and how they do things. We have had some great leaders the last few years with guys like Mike Catalano and Quinn Epperly who have helped teach guys how to work.
“Now we have to take those lessons and get back to work and find better answers. I look at some of the analytics. It’s a long bus ride back from Dartmouth and you can get right to work and look at some of the things. We were plus five in turnovers, plus 12 in sacks. We were plus in the red zone and third down situations and some of the key areas that lead to victory. You are always looking at ways you can get better and we’ll keep doing that.”
By Bob Nuse, Sports Editor