For seven drives on Saturday afternoon, Princeton was just about perfect.
The Tigers scored 48 points on those seven possessions en route to a 48-13 victory over Columbia, putting an end to any early optimism from the Light Blue. After all, the Lions scored first in their Ivy opener, with junior quarterback Anders Hill scoring on a 4-yard touchdown run.
Each team then punted, before the worst 7-drive stretch of the Al Bagnoli Era began. It lasted a total of 31 minutes and 46 seconds of in-game action, beginning in the middle of the first quarter and reaching the middle of the third quarter. When it was over, Columbia’s hope of beating Princeton for the first time in six years had all but vanished.
“We were in a scenario where we were kind of playing catch-up all the time, and we played into their hands a little bit,” Bagnoli said. “We got on the wrong end of the snowball. It turned into an avalanche, and we had no way to fix it.”
Princeton’s offensive onslaught began with just under three minutes remaining in the first quarter, when Princeton quarterback Chad Kanoff connected with running back Joe Rhattigan, who was wide open after a successful play-action. The Tigers failed to convert on the extra point, leaving the score tied at 6-6, but that mistake would prove to be their last of any consequence.
Over the ensuing 25 minutes, Princeton moved the ball in nearly every way imaginable. Columbia was unable to slow the Tigers’ two-quarterback system, as Kanoff and quarterback John Lovett accounted for 312 total yards passing, rushing, and receiving. Princeton also utilized an up-tempo, no-huddle offense to keep the Lions’ defense on its heels.
“We came in looking to slow them down so they couldn’t get in a rhythm,” Bagnoli said. “[We] weren’t able to do that. They caught us on a couple trick plays early—we started off strong, but we couldn’t sustain that.”
Graphic by Tj Givens and Janie Haseman
Perhaps the ultimate example of Princeton’s multi-faceted attack was a 31-yard flea flicker completion from Kanoff to Lovett. The Tigers did not rely only on those explosive trick plays, however. Their first drive of the second half lasted 15 plays and covered 60 yards, with Rhattigan getting the call twice on 4th and 1 and converting both times on short runs. That drive ended just like the previous five, as the Tigers found the endzone once again with Kanoff finding tight end Scott Carpenter for a 9-yard touchdown.
Meanwhile, Columbia was unable to keep up offensively. Between Princeton’s first and last touchdowns, the Lions gained only 73 yards, averaging just over 12 yards per drive.
The Light Blue only entered Princeton territory on one drive during that span, and came away scoreless after Hill overthrew senior wide receiver Scooter Hollis on 4th and 2 from the Tigers’ 20-yard line. Hill also turned the ball over at the Light Blue 5-yard line on a strip-sack, and Lovett promptly took advantage with a touchdown on a quarterback keeper.
That play proved to be one of Columbia’s most crucial mistakes in the 35-point loss—tying last year’s 42-7 loss to Penn for the largest margin of defeat in the Bagnoli Era.
In that home loss to the Quakers, the Lions also scored first. Then-junior quarterback Skyler Mornhinweg connected with then-junior wide receiver Cameron Dunn midway through the first quarter to take a 7-0 lead.
The Quakers punted on the subsequent possession, just as Princeton did after Columbia’s first score on Saturday, but the Light Blue’s attempt to build a two-score lead was cut short as then-junior wide receiver Scooter Hollis fumbled after a short catch.
Penn recovered and went on a 42-0 run, scoring touchdowns on six of their next seven drives while holding the Lions scoreless for the remainder of the game.
“We're obviously disappointed,” Bagnoli said after that game. “I didn't anticipate making the amount of mistakes we made. ... We've got to do a better job of preparing them and I'm not sure what happened.”
Bagnoli struck a similar chord on Saturday, but with seven games remaining for the Lions, he was also quick to emphasize the importance of the lessons that can come from tough losses.
“If you don’t learn from it, then it’s a complete miss,” Bagnoli said. “We’ve got to get ready for the next game and not wallow in this one, but we’ve got to learn.”
Next up is a chance to beat Wagner for the second straight year, with Columbia hoping to showcase exactly how much difference a week of practice can make.