Last weekend, Princeton junior Quinn Epperly became the first Tiger in two decades to rush for four touchdowns in a single game. Running back Keith Elias, who graduated from Princeton in 1994 and went on to play for the New York Giants and the Indianapolis Colts, was the last man to accomplish the feat in the early ’90s.
“Any player that approaches individual accomplishments by Keith is doing something very well,” said Tigers head coach Bob Surace, who played for Princeton just before Elias.
Although Epperly’s recent performance has elicited well-deserved comparisons to Elias, he is humbled even to be spoken about in the same breath as the Princeton legend.
“It’s a true honor to be mentioned with Keith Elias,” Epperly said. “Coaches still to this day talk about the chip on his shoulder he played with and how he demanded the respect of other teams, because they were pounding opposing teams.”
The Princeton quarterback, who splits snaps with fellow junior Connor Michelsen, is not expected to focus on getting rushing touchdowns every game. It is his running ability and how it contrasts with Michelsen’s pocket passing game, though, that makes him a major strategic headache for opposing defenses. Next up: Columbia, in the Lions’ Ivy opener this Saturday.
“Quinn is a versatile quarterback with good size that can both run and throw,” Surace said. “He is also one of the leaders of our team.”
But Epperly said the threat he poses to other teams is directly related to how the entire offense plays.
“Really I attribute the strong performance to great blocking and being put in good situations,” he said. “When looking closely, two of the touchdowns were practically walk-ins. So I’m not sure if it was necessarily anything spectacular I did or more so my teammates really setting me up.”
He has enjoyed the recognition and has lofty goals for this season, but there is nothing more important to Epperly than always focusing on being the best player he can be.
“My individual goals for the year were to be mentioned on an All-Ivy team and try to be the most dynamic player on the field every given week,” Epperly said.
Although he has been performing well in 2013, the Tigers’ scrambling signal-caller thinks the Light Blue front line can pose problems for his explosive playing style.
“From the film I have watched, Columbia poses some challenges on the defensive line,” Epperly said. “They play hard up front.”
“Defensively, they have a strong front seven and an athletic secondary,” Surace said. Sophomore defensive tackle Niko Padilla “especially gets excellent leverage and very good push in the pocket. Offensively, they have a veteran group of skill position players that also has rare length at the wide receiver and tight end spots, and an offensive line with a mix of solid veterans and talented young players.”
In order for Columbia to overcome the challenges that the Tigers’ offense presents, the defense will need to adjust to counter the varying styles of Princeton’s one-two punch.
“You have No. 12 [Michelsen] going in there and playing one style, then you get No. 4 [Epperly] going in there and playing a different style,” Lions head coach Pete Mangurian said. “It’s about keeping up with the changing pace. No. 4 will come in and do it, then No. 12 will come in and do it.”
Mangurian has been prepping his team to deal with this varying attack by trying to put the players in different situations, including in the red zone—where Epperly tends to thrive. Mostly, though, he is trying to ensure that the Light Blue is prepared to handle anything, not just one facet of Princeton’s offense.
“Some people say, this is a red zone guy, this is a deep guy. I don’t look at it that way,” Mangurian said.
Either way, the Light Blue defense will need to bring its A-game to ensure a Columbia victory.