Al Bagnoli, who was Penn’s head coach in football for 23 seasons before taking the same post at Columbia this year, once summed up the rivalry between the Quakers and Princeton thusly: “It’s the proximity, it’s the history, it’s the alumni, it’s everything.”
Bob Surace knows all about it. The South Jersey native was recruited most heavily by Penn and Princeton before opting to attend the latter. In his senior season of 1989 the center earned All-Ivy recognition capping a year in which he and his Tigers teammates hoisted the league’s championship trophy.
Things came full circle 20 years later when Surace was named head coach at his alma mater.
“As a player you knew you had to buckle your chinstrap because Penn was going to be a physical opponent,” said Surace, who was 2-2 as a player against the Quakers and enters Saturday’s game on ASN 2-3 as Princeton’s coach.
“At Princeton we were building to be a physical team and by the time I graduated the games against Penn were among the most physical games I had been a part of. That really did not change when I got here as a coach 20 years later. No matter what out records have been the two teams really go at it with our guys fighting for the extra yard and their guys fighting for the extra yard. It is a fun game to watch.”
The Ivy League schools, separated by 37 miles driving distance, have been doing battle on the gridiron since 1876. When they face each other Saturday at Franklin Field, which opened in 1895 and is the country’s oldest collegiate football stadium, it will mark the 107th meeting. Princeton has won the last two and leads the series, 65-40-1.
Growing up two miles from Princeton’s campus Brian Schoenauer witnessed a few of the games as a youth. As a junior running back for Penn he will participate in his third game as a player Saturday.
“I am from the Princeton area, so I grew up watching Princeton football,” said the Quakers’ leading rusher. “I always loved Franklin Field and Penn football, too. It is cool to be a part of the rivalry and history. Naturally, the game means a lot for the team and you kind of feel that little extra energy with it coming up.”
Ray Priore experienced that energy as a Penn assistant coach for 28 years. Come Saturday he will experience the rivalry as the Quakers’ first-year head coach.
“It is one of those things where it is an important game for a lot of the folks around here,” he said. “In the middle of the summer I got emails from alums and at the end of the email, which was on a different subject, they would just put ‘Beat Princeton.’”
Penn did just that in a late-season 1993 encounter at Franklin Field when both teams were ranked and undefeated, a game Priore vividly recalls. The Tigers’ boasted Ivy League Player of the Year and future NFLer Keith Elias at running back. The Quakers held Elias to 59 yards on 15 carries in a 30-14 win to take the Ivy lead en route to winning the league title.
“We were undefeated, they were undefeated and it was a clash of the titans,” said Priore. “We have had some great battles against them and Saturday’s game will probably be no different.”
As far as Penn quarterback Alek Torgersen is concerned Saturday’s outcome better be different. While he equaled a school record with 40 completions he also threw two interceptions and was sacked five times in last season’s 22-17 loss. His Quakers also lost to Princeton, 38-26, two years ago when he was a freshman backup.
“This game carries more weight because of the rivalry,” he said. “We played them close the past couple of years, but unfortunately in my tenure here we have not been able to pull out a victory. That adds extra incentive for me, at least, because Penn/Princeton rivalry and not have a win …”
Torgersen’s thought trailed off, but spoke volumes.
Lining up on the other side of scrimmage from Torgersen will be Princeton senior corner Anthony Gaffney, who has twice earned first-team All-Ivy recognition. He will be seeking to make it three straight wins against Penn in a rivalry with which he has great appreciation.
“It is incredible to play in a rivalry that has so much rich history and to be able to be a part of it is a great feeling,” he said. “Twenty, 25 years down the road the rivalry is still going to be played and people are going to be talking about (Saturday’s game). I have spoken to alumni that have talked about the games they played against Penn and what it meant to play against them. It is something you really cherish.”