By David Coulson
College Sports Journal
PRINCETON, N.J. — It was like seeing lightning strike the same place twice — nine years apart.
Appalachian State’s Richie Williams, meet Princeton’s Quinn Epperly.
On Oct. 9, 2004, I witnessed one of the most remarkable passing performances I’ve ever seen.
Williams completed 40-of-45 passes that afternoon at Kidd Brewer Stadium — including an amazing 28 in a row — to lead the Mountaineers to a 30-29 comeback win over arch-rival Furman.
The 89.9% accuracy rate was the highest ever accomplished by an NCAA quarterback in any division with 40, or more, attempts and the 28 in a row was the most ever by a Division I passer.
I didn’t think I’d ever see anything like that again. But then dawned Saturday at Princeton Stadium, an afternoon where the Tigers were set to honor the memory of their one Heisman Trophy winner, the late Dick Kazmaier.
Through the years, I’d watched other quarterbacks complete 14, 15, 16 throws in succession as the spread offense has led to an offensive explosion of passing.
Last season, I was covering a game at Morgan State when Delaware State senior signal-caller Nick Elko hit 17 straight passes on the way to a 28-23 nationally-televised win.
From the press box, I sent Williams a message on Facebook.
“Your record is under assault,” I warned him.
A few minutes later, I let Williams know his honor had survived the challenge when one of Elko’s receivers finally dropped a pass.
The classy quarterback, who came off the bench with a sprained ankle tendon to lead Appalachian State to a 21-16 win over Northern Iowa in the 2005 NCAA Division I championship game, was relieved.
Williams, after spending four years as a quarterback for the Hamilton Tiger-Cats and Winnipeg Blue Bombers, has now settled into a job as a jackman for the Roush Fenway Racing Nascar team.
Williams is enough of a pro that he would have enjoyed the poise — no matter how begrudgingly so — shown by Epperly as this Knoxville, TN. junior moved his name ahead of Williams by throwing 29 consecutive completions in Princeton’s 53-20 Ivy League stomping of Cornell.
“At times, it seemed like a seven-on-seven drill out there,” said Epperly, describing the practice regimen the Tigers and most other teams use to hone their passing game. “The offensive line did a great job blocking all day and the receivers were getting open.”
Epperly finished the day completing 32-of-35 passes (91.4%) for 325 yards and three touchdowns. He added three more scores on the ground on a day where this former backup rushed 11 times for 69 yards and even caught one pass from Connor Michaelson for seven yards, giving Epperly 401 yards of total offense for the game.
The 29 straight completions, which opened the game and continued into the third quarter, was the most ever by a college passer to start a game, breaking the old mark of 20 in a row.
“I didn’t even know we didn’t have an incompletion, to be honest,” Epperly said. “And then they said it over the loudspeaker in the middle of a drive. I was like, ‘All right, I can’t think about this. We got to get a score here.'”
Epperly wasn’t sacked and was seldom pressured when he dropped back to pass, facts that allowed him to get into a lethal rhythm against the forlorn Cornell defense. He threw completions to eight different receivers, with Seth DeValve catching a team-high eight for 81 yards and a touchdown and Roman Wilson hauling in seven for 79 yards and two scores.
“One of the things so amazing about him is that he’s just so efficient, such a great decision maker,” said Princeton coach Bob Surace. “He doesn’t get greedy.”
DeValve caught an eight-yard pass unmolested underneath coverage to give Epperly the record in the third period right after DiAndre Atwater (six catches for 40 yards) had helped Epperly tie Williams with a shovel pass for four yards.
After three consecutive rushing plays, a pass to DeValve went astray to finally end the streak at 29.
Epperly’s performance overshadowed the efforts of Cornell’s Jeff Mathews, the senior quarterback expected to be drafted first among Football Championship Subdivision passers next spring.
Harassed by a Tiger defense that includes tackle Caraun Reid (projected as a top-100 pick by some scouts in next spring’s NFL draft), Mathews was sacked seven times, but completed 24-of-40 passes for 230 yards and a touchdown on a day where the defense largely ignored the Big Red running game.
Epperly isn’t a history major at Princeton — economics is his thing. But he was respectful about what he learned of Williams, a one-time All-American and Walter Payton Award candidate, who was one of the elite quarterbacks in FCS during the decade of the 2000s.
But then Epperly is carving out a niche of his own in the FCS ranks and is also making history in the Ivy League.
The left-handed passer, who has patterned his game after former Florida Heisman Trophy winner Tim Tebow, was named Ivy League offensive player of the week for the fourth consecutive week as he has helped catapult Princeton to the stop of the conference standings with a 4-0 record and an overall mark of 6-1.
Epperly has completed 75% of his passes with 32 touchdowns — 18 passing and 14 rushing — to lead the Tiger attack.
But despite that success, Epperly was already looking forward to the next game, even as he dissected his performance against Cornell.
“We are just trying to get more efficient as an offense,” said Epperly, who will face a tougher task when they travel to historic Franklin Field to face defending Ivy League champion Penn on Saturday. “We have our destiny in our own hands, all we have to do is win our remaining games to win the Ivy League championship.”