The Yale and Brown football teams must have been confused about what season it was. This weekend’s game at the Yale Bowl — in which the two teams combined for 99 points — looked more like a basketball contest than a meeting on the gridiron.
Yale (5-3, 3-2 Ivy) took the lead or forced a tie five times in the contest. But Brown (3-5, 2-3) had the final word as the Bears downed the Elis 54-45.
The second half ended much like the first — with a touchdown pass from Brown quarterback Kyle Slager to wide receiver Lonnie Hill.
With the two-minute warning behind them and the Bulldogs in front 44-39, Slager floated a pass to the 6-foot-4 Hill, who promptly grabbed the ball out of the hands of a Yale defender. With only 26 seconds to answer, Yale quarterback Alvin Cowan ’04 threw an interception to end the game.
“I don’t know how tall the defensive back was,” Hill said. “But I just kind of reached over him.”
In an omen of events to come, Hill grabbed a 27-yard touchdown pass from Slager with only five seconds left in the second quarter to give the Bears the lead heading into the locker room.
“It seemed like the last person with the ball was going to win,” Brown head coach Phil Estes said. “It was a great game to watch, but a heart attack to coach.”
Brown struck first in the second half, after Nick Hartigan rushed for 18 of his 166 yards to bring the Bears to their own 17-yard line. Quarterback Kyle Slager hit Jarrett Schreck for one of Slager’s five passing touchdowns of the day, putting his team ahead 28-17.
It took Yale only three plays to respond as Cowan connected with Ralph Plumb ’05 for a 42-yard reception and Nate Lawrie ’04 broke would-be tackles to find the end zone on a 20-yard reception. Lawrie finished the day with six receptions for 81 yards.
The following Brown possession ended when Fred Jelks ’05 recorded his team-best fourth interception of the season when Slager — under pressure from the Bulldog front — threw a wobbler. Taking over at the Brown 14, the Elis eventually secured a first-and-goal from the three-yard line. Then Rob Carr ’05, who had 17 carries for 94 yards on the afternoon, broke through for a score to give Yale a 31-28 lead.
“We knew we had to put points on the board,” Estes said. “We hadn’t broken the 21-point barrier all season.”
His team did just that, with a 12-play, 88-yard drive to reclaim the lead on a Hill touchdown reception.
The Eli offense had no trouble matching it. On the second play of the ensuing drive, Cowan sprinted right as if about to run the option before suddenly stepping back from the line and looking upfield. What he saw was Plumb standing all alone, far ahead of any Brown defenders. Cowan floated the ball to Plumb who sprinted untouched and unhurried 68 yards for the touchdown — and the lead.
The Eli defense came up with a big stop on the following Brown possession. But for once the Yale offense sputtered. The Bulldogs went three and out, and a Lawrie punt gave Brown the ball at the Yale 47-yard line.
“We knew, offensively, that we had to keep scoring,” Plumb said.
Five plays later, Hartigan scored his second touchdown of the day, leaving Yale 5:22 on the clock and 82 yards between it and the lead.
Two 19-yard bursts by Carr and a couple of big completions from Cowan to Lawrie brought Yale to the Brown seven-yard stripe with a first down. Two players later, however, the Elis were facing third-and-goal from the four-yard line. Following a timeout, Cowan sprinted left and dove into the end zone to give Yale a 44-41 lead with just 1:38 remaining.
“We knew the offense was going to score all day,” linebacker Ken Estrera ’04 said. “It was just up to [the defense] and we just didn’t get it done.” Estrera finished the game with nine tackles.
Following a sack on the first down by Brandon Dyches ’06, Brown faced third-and-16 from their own 30-yard line with close to a minute left.
“Third-and-16, we have got to make that play,” Yale head coach Jack Siedlecki said.
But Yale didn’t. Slager, who converted 32 of 48 passes for 376 yards, completed a pass to tight end David Turner. Following 20-plus yard completions to Hartigan and Turner, Brown had the ball on the Yale 17 with 37 seconds left. At that point Slager went back to his go-to man for the game, Lonnie Hill, who finished the day with 13 catches for 183 yards and four touchdowns.
Yale got the ball back with 26 seconds remaining, but Cowan’s second pass of the series was intercepted and returned for a touchdown by James Gasparella for the final tally.
Both teams had over 500 yards of total offense, and Brown’s 55 points is its highest total ever against the Elis.
Cowan’s 381 yards passing on 22 of 34 attempts were enough — combined with 23 yards rushing — to give him his third game with 400 yards of total offense this season. The Yale captain also accounted for five of the Eli scores.
Yale receiver P.J. Collins ’04 left the game with what was preliminarily diagnosed as a broken collarbone. With Collins likely out for the remainder of the season, Ron Benigno ’04 — who scored Yale’s first touchdown and finished with six catches for 87 yards — and Chandler Henley ’06 should expect to see even more time on the field.