Comeback in football’s fourth quarter flips #22 upside down Princeton, 20-19

PRINCETON, NJ – The University of Pennsylvania football team entered Saturday with a chance to win a share of the Ivy League championship.

When the final shot rang out at Princeton Stadium, the Quakers celebrated as if they had actually won a championship—even though they hadn’t.

Penn’s chances of winning the title were dashed early in the fourth quarter when Yale’s 19-14 victory at Harvard was consummated at Cambridge. You never would have known after the Quakers pulled off a stunning last-second comeback to beat the Tigers 20-19.

On the fourth and gate of Princeton’s 5-yard line, Penn quarterback Aidan Sayin found fifth-year running back Trey flowers in the middle of the end zone with just five seconds left and capped a rousing comeback as the Quakers overcame a 19-7 deficit in the last quarter. It was Penn’s third fourth down conversion on the final ride.

Penn and Princeton finish the season in second place in the Ivy standings, both 5-2 and a game behind the champion Bulldogs (6-1). Overall, the Quakers won at Princeton Stadium for the first time in a decade and finished the game with eight wins for the first time since 2010.

Quaker touch meal

*Penn wins his first game against Princeton since 2017 and first away since 2012. 8-2 the Quakers end the year with eight wins for the first time since 2010, when they won 9-1 on aggregate and 7-0 in Ivy games to win the overall title.

*The win over #22 Princeton is the Quakers’ first win against a high-ranking opponent since defeating #22/24 Harvard, 27-14, on November 11, 2015 at Franklin Field.

* Trailing 19-7 going into the fourth quarter, the Quakers had 13 unanswered points to lead the Tigers to victory. It’s Penn’s first win after three quarters since a 24-20 win over Harvard on Nov. 16, 2019 in Cambridge.

*Francesco Barones punt block and Jordan Niles The return for a touchdown is Penn’s first since Mozi Bici scored one against Cornell on November 6, 2021.

*Second quarterback Aidan Sayin completed 38 of his 47 pass attempts for 261 yards and two touchdowns to win. His 38 completions is a career high and the most by a Penn player since Alek Torgerson threw 40 passes against the Tigers at Princeton Stadium on Nov. 8, 2014.

*Rory Starkey Jr. ended his Penn career with 12 catches for 95 yards, 31 by catch. Trey flowers caught eight passes for 48 yards and the game-winning TD. Malone Howley and Julien Stokes both a total of five receptions.

*Jack Fairman led the defense with a total of 10 tackles while Garret Morris had seven tackles. Jonathan Melvin, Micah Morris and Jake Heimlich each bag picked up.

*Heimlicher finishes the year with nine sacks and leads the Ivy League. His nine sacks is the most by a Penn player since Mike Germino’s 9.5 in 1999.

*Penn had a total of 315 yards in offense, 261 through the air and 29 on the floor.

How it happened

Princeton took the ball to start the game and wasted little time getting onto the board. It took the Tigers 10 games to march 78 yards to paydirt, converting two third downs and a fourth along the way. The scoring game came in third and third at Penn’s 23, Princeton QB Blake Stenstrom threw a jump ball to the front left corner of the end zone, which was won by Andrei Iosivas. The PAT was not good leaving the score at 6-0.

Penn’s first drive, meanwhile, ended in a punt, but it was certainly an adventure. Sayin was picked up in Princeton territory and the ball was almost returned for a touchdown, only to be recalled after Princeton was called for two penalties. A few games later, Sayin lost the ball trying to pass, though the Quakers recovered. In the very next game, Sayin went over the middle and was almost picked up again. Finally, Penn from Princeton’s 35 punt, and after the ball hit the ground, it bounced off a Quakers player and rolled into the end zone for a touchback, making the punt a 15-yard net.

Princeton again marched through the Penn defense, and by the second play of the second quarter the Tigers were back in the end zone when Ryan Butler charged up the gut for the last four yards of an 11-play 80-yard drive, Princeton went two-on-one , but unsuccessfully, and the score was 12-0.

Princeton’s third drive looked like he was headed for another goal, but the Penn defense stiffened just inside the red zone and Niko Vangarelli was stopped by a first down on the fourth down Jaden Key and Paul Jennings. That gave the Quakers the ball on their own 16. Penn put the ball near midfield, but at seconds and nine, Sayin’s pass was intercepted over the right touchline by Princeton’s CJ Wall to give the Tigers the ball on their 36 .

Penn’s defense held and forced Princeton’s first punt of the day, and the Quakers got on the board as they made it Francesco Baron blocked the kick and the ball rolled into the end zone wo Jordan Nils fell on it. The extra point was good, and suddenly the Red-Blues, who had been completely overplayed up to that point, were within five at 12:7. That was still the state when the game reached halftime.

Penn got the ball to start the third quarter and the Quakers drove straight across the field into Princeton’s red zone. However, in a stunning turn of events, Starkey caught a Sayin pass at Princeton’s 8-yard line, but the ball was snatched from his hands as he was tackled. Princeton’s Liam Johnson picked it up and pulled down the right touchline, 92 yards to the end zone to score. After a review that confirmed the fumble call, the extra point was good and the Tigers held a 19-7 lead.

Penn’s attack moved the ball again but came up empty, Sayin’s fourth-down rush fell two yards short of a first down at the Tigers’ 33-yard line. However, the defense got their first turnover of the day when Stenstrom’s pass was deflected Joey Slackman and picked up by Key at the Quakers 32-yard line.

Penn methodically moved the ball down the field, taking 15 plays and more than six minutes to haul 66 yards. The Quakers had fourth place at the Princeton 2-yard line and had to start down 12. The gamble paid off Julien Stokes came in motion from the right side, took a flip pass from Sayin off the snap, and ran around the left side of the line to take the score. After the kick it was 19-14 with more than 10 minutes to play.

Princeton held the ball for the next five minutes, taking it from his own 25 to Penn’s 35. On the fourth and tenth points, however, Stenstrom’s pass to Iosivas went only four yards and Penn had 72 yards left and 5:16 to play the ball .

They needed 17 plays, three fourth down conversions and almost all 5:16.

The first sign that something significant might happen came when Sayin found Starkey in a fourth and 2 play that covered 12 yards and got the ball near midfield. The Quakers got the ball into Princeton territory but faced another fourth deficit at the 33 and then compounded the situation with a false start. Sayin faced four and nine and found Julien Stokes on the left for another 12 yards and a first down at the Tigers ’26.

Penn gave it his all in the next game and Princeton was called on to move the ball to the Tigers’ 11 due to pass interference in the end zone and on the third down Flowers rushed down the middle for another first down inside Princeton’s 1 with just seconds remaining on the clock.

Penn went back to the well and ran Flowers to the middle, but this time Princeton’s L Johnson broke the line and stopped him for a four-yard loss. After a time out to stop the clock, Sayin matches Flowers and Stokes falls incomplete to take fourth place. The third pass was the spell, Sayin finding Flowers with just five seconds on the clock. Penn then braced for a two-point conversion, but rather than risk a fumble, the Quakers knelt.

Princeton Fair caught the impetus at his 22-yard line and attempted a few tricks on his last play. However, the ball was fumbled wide and Penn’s unlikely victory was perfect, prompting a wild cheer from the Quaker touchline.