Behind 31-10 with eight minutes remaining in the game, a successful rally by Yale (4-2, 2-1 Ivy) would have to be comparable to the comeback the Bulldogs were victim to during the infamous 1968 Harvard game dubbed “The Tie.” Yale was able to stun Penn (6-0, 3-0) and force the game into the first overtime in Yale’s 131-year football history but, just like that game between unbeaten Ivy teams 35 years ago, this Saturday’s contest ended on a bitter note for the sons of Eli.
In front of 16,510 at Penn’s Franklin Field, Yale quarterback Alvin Cowan ’04 marshaled his squad to four fourth quarter touchdowns, including the last three of the game to send it into an extra period.
But the Quakers blocked a John Troost ’05 field goal in the first overtime, then used a 15-yard run by Sam Matthews to set up unanimous All-Ivy and third-team All-America kicker Peter Veldman for a 23-yard attempt. Veldman had missed one from the 45-yard line with no time left in regulation; he would not make the same mistake again, and his kick brought Penn the victory that many thought had been secured an entire quarter before.
“It was a tremendous game for the fans,” Yale head coach Jack Siedlecki said. “The atmosphere on the bench in the fourth quarter was as exciting as I have ever been around.”
Though it was ultimately a special teams play — the blocked field goal — that cost Yale the game, the Elis rebounded from their woeful special teams display against Colgate. There were a number of positives for Yale in that aspect of the game.
“We punted for a better average [than Penn],” Siedlecki said. “We returned kickoffs better, and [Alex Faherty ’05 ] recovered an onsides kick [by Ryan Allen ’05 ].”
Early drops and two interceptions put the Bulldogs in a hole for the second straight week, after beginning the Colgate game down 21-3 last weekend. The second of Cowan’s two first-half interceptions came when a wide open Nate Lawrie ’04 , who finished the day with nine catches for 69 yards, juggled Cowan’s pass. Penn defensive back Bryan Arguello was able to snatch the mishandled ball. The third quarter ended with the Quakers ahead 24-3.
Penn did their part on offense, as sophomore runningback Sam Matthews rushed for 204 yards on 36 carries and Mike Mitchell completed 22 of 35 passing attempts for 276 yards in his second week back from an ankle injury.
“Our front just didn’t do a good job of shedding blockers and getting a hand on the running back,” Yale defensive tackle Bryant Dieffenbacher ’04 said. “I think Mitchell was able to rack up so many yards passing because we were unable to get consistent pressure on him throughout the game. There wasn’t anything wrong with our defensive game plan [of blitzing the injured quarterback], we just didn’t execute.”
Five of the Elis top six tacklers in the game were members of the secondary — never a good sign for a defense.
“Penn has a very experienced offensive line [all five starters are seniors], and they did a great job up front,” Yale cornerback Greg Owens ’04 said. “Remember, they had their whole line returning from last year, a year in which they set many offensive records.”
The first play of the fourth quarter resulted in Cowan diving into the end zone for Yale’s first touchdown of the day. Following wide receiver Dan Castles’ touchdown which put Penn ahead 31-10, Rob Carr’s ’05 44-yard kickoff return jump-started the incredible Yale rally.
A 53-yard Eli scoring drive culminated in a leaping grab by Chandler Henley ’06 to bring Yale within two scores.
“It was the best catch I’ve ever seen,” said Robert Hetherington ’64, ’67 LAW who attended the game.
After recovering the onsides kick, key plays by Lawrie and Ralph Plumb ’05 — including Plumb’s 17-yard touchdown catch — brought success to a 52-yard Yale march.
“In the fourth quarter — under the gun — we performed as well as I have ever seen us run the offense,” Siedlecki said.
Though the Elis could not recover the ensuing onsides kick, the defense forced the Quakers to a three-and-out punt that left Yale 83 yards away from tying the game, and 3:57 in which to do it.
Cowan completed 10 of 14 passes, to four of the eight Yale receivers who recorded a reception that day. He found Plumb again for the 11-yard score that, following a Troost extra point, evened the game for the first time since the opening quarter. Cowan finished with 295 passing yards, 339 total yards, and accounted for all four Eli touchdowns.
“We really dug ourselves a hole that was too much to get out of in the end,” Dieffenbacher said. “I wouldn’t blame our last two losses on special teams play. I think our losses are more to blame on the offense and defense having slow starts and us constantly needing to play catch-up.”
With both Penn and Harvard undefeated in the Ivy League, Yale now needs someone — most likely Harvard — to beat the Quakers in order to share a piece of the Ivy Championship.
“It’s very disappointing to know that we don’t control our own destiny now,” Dieffenbacher said. “But all we are focused on is going down to Columbia [next Saturday] and getting a win.”