Monday, November 21, 2016

Dartmouth Big Green 21 at Princeton Tigers 38 (NCAA Football, Ivy League) - November 19, 2016


A good friend was visiting Philadelphia this past weekend, so I decided to pop down to meet up with him. Rather than take a bus or train directly to Philly, I used New Jersey Transit’s Northeast Corridor route which allowed me to stop in Princeton, where the Tigers were hosting the Dartmouth Big Green on the final weekend of the Ivy League football season.

The Tigers played in the first ever college football game back in 1869, thus making them and their opponent (Rutgers) the oldest football teams in the land. Between then and 1950, Princeton won 28 national titles in football, but after the Ivy League formed in 1955, the program faded from national attention as those schools decided to focus on academics. How quaint.



The Tigers play on Powers Field at Princeton University Stadium, which was opened in 1998 to replace decaying Palmer Stadium, which had hosted the team since 1914. The field is named for a former punter who donated $10 million to the program back in 1997. NJ Transit offers the simplest way to get there should you be without a car. Disembarking at Princeton Junction, you switch to the Dinky, which is small 2-car train that takes five minutes minute to reach campus, making it the shortest commuter line in the country. It is also one of the least frequent, particularly on weekends, so plan ahead to make sure you are not waiting at the station. The ride costs $3 if you buy on board but you can reduce this charge slightly by ensuring that your tickets are to and from Princeton (not Princeton Junction). The ride from NYC is $17.75 one-way, while Trenton is $6.75.



From the train station, the stadium is a short walk through campus, passing by Poe Field and several interesting buildings. As you approach over a pedestrian bridge, you will see the west side of the structure (above), which is only revealed to be a sports venue through the lights atop the exterior and the seats visible through the many openings. That structure is actually a horseshoe-shaped "wall building" that holds many offices and other rooms that can be used throughout the year for events.



Walk north to the main entrance where the box office is located (above). If you want a specific seat, buy it online in advance because at the window you will be handed the next ticket on the roll, which will cost you $12. Make sure to pick up a free program before entering; it is one of the best I have seen with a lot of useful game-day information.



Concourses are covered by the upper level of seats. There are two sets of stairs at every breezeway, one to enter the main walkway that encircles the seating bowl, while another will take you to the upper deck. Note the landing flush against the exterior wall below; this is a good spot to relax at halftime and avoid the crowd on the concourse.



There are no ushers so you can generally sit where you want as long as it is not down low at midfield.  As you can see, the lower level of seats is very close to the field.  The Princeton sideline is on the west and that is the place to sit to avoid the sun, which shines into the other seats throughout most of the game.



The venue holds 27,773 but rarely sees even half that number, so it is easy to move around, which is good because all seats here are of the metal bleacher variety and not particularly comfortable. There are two levels of seating on three sides, with the fourth side in the south end zone currently closed due to construction.



Food here is actually pretty good, with a truck offering some Mexican dishes right by the main entrance, and a grill in the southwest corner of the concourse that provides freshly cooked burgers and chicken tenders at reasonable prices. There are also several identical concession stands with your typical stadium fare such as pretzels, hot dogs, and giant bags of popcorn. Of course, no alcohol is provided as this is a campus venue. Bags are not searched upon entering, so you can try to bring in some of your own chow if you so desire, but forgo the booze as you will be immediately ejected if discovered.



There’s not much here in terms of attractions. A bounce house for kids works well with with the upside down tiger motif.



I particularly enjoyed the smiling face and was disappointed that it was shut down at halftime.



The band occupies the southwest corner of the Princeton sideline and do keep things lively during the timeouts…



…as do the cheerleaders who must do a push-up for every point every each Tiger score. That means 7 push-ups after a touchdown, 14 after the next, and so on.



Despite these energetic endeavours, I found Princeton University Stadium to be relatively sterile considering the team’s place in gridiron lore, with no meaningful history on display. It was an ideal autumn afternoon and the team was playing for a championship, yet the turnout was just over 8,000 and many of the fans were supporting Dartmouth, which made things even less compelling. I guess those 28 titles just got boring after a while.



The Game

Princeton came in at 6-1 in Ivy League play (tied with Penn and Harvard) and a win would clinch at least a share of the title (there is no postseason play in the Ivy). The visiting Big Green were 1-5 and not expected to provide much in the way of a challenge.



After Princeton punted on their first possession, Dartmouth started at midfield and took 7 plays to score as QB Jack Heneghan ran the ball in from 20 yards out. Princeton replied near the end of a quarter with a 77-yard drive, capped by a 1-yard plunge from backup QB John Lovett. Dartmouth regained the advantage early in the second quarter with a TD pass to Cameron Skaff to complete a 75-yard march. Both teams then turned the ball over on downs as offenses got bogged down a bit. After a subsequent Dartmouth punt trapped the Tigers at their own 10 with 2:35 left, it looked like the half would end with the visitors up 14-7. QB Chad Kanoff thought otherwise and quickly led his squad to the Princeton 5, but they could only manage a last-minute field goal as they went the locker room down four.



The third quarter saw Princeton pocket the only points on another Lovett goal line push that finished a superb 85-yard drive (above). It was Lovett’s 20th rushing TD on the season to set a new school record while also leading the FCS. The atmosphere was tense with the Tigers up only 17-14 as the final frame got underway, but things quickly fell apart for the Mean Green. First, Kanoff found Spencer Horsted on a short pass and he rumbled around the corner and into the end zone to make it 24-14. Dartmouth fumbled the ensuing kickoff, and Princeton recovered on the 9. Three plays later, Lovett found Scott Carpenter in the end zone for some insurance. Dartmouth again turned the ball over when Heneghan was intercepted on the next drive, and four plays later, Charlie Volker galloped 39 yards to put the game out of reach.



At this point, I had to leave (more on that below) and snapped the scoreboard showing Volker's run. Dartmouth scored a late touchdown to make the final 38-21. An entertaining game that was close, until it suddenly wasn’t.



With the win, the Tigers clinched a share of the title with Penn and the banner above now requires an update. Highlights can be seen on the Tigers Twitter feed.

Notes

The game started at 1:30 and there were two possible Dinky trains back to Princeton Junction: one at 4:30 and the next at 6:01. That’s 91 minutes between the two so I hoped for a quick affair, but TV timeouts put paid to that dream. I really didn't want to spend 90 minutes waiting for a train, so once Princeton clinched the game, I scurried back to the station to catch the earlier one. I don’t know why they didn’t add an additional train for this game; I can only surmise that few fans take transit to make it worthwhile. At any rate, some thought as to coordinating game times with the train schedule would be helpful. I'm going back in February for a hockey/basketball weekend and I'll see if there is any improvement.

Best,

Sean

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