It was a shocking way to go into the locker room at halftime for the Yale football team — losing by two touchdowns to a Princeton team in the Ivy League’s statistical basement in almost every category. But the Bulldogs (6-3, 4-2 Ivy) did not let this destroy their morale as they rallied in the second half to tie the Tigers (2-7, 2-4) and bring the game into overtime.
In double overtime, Yale pulled off a win by scoring a field goal on its last possession and forcing a fumble by the Tigers’ wide receiver B.J. Szymanski that was recovered by defensive lineman Bryant Dieffenbacher ’04 to end the game.
Despite beating the Elis in almost every statistical category, the Tigers were not able to earn the critical mark in the win column.
“We’re hugely disappointed,” Princeton head coach Roger Hughes said. “I don’t know what happened. Fifty-nine minutes of the game I thought our defense played outstanding. I don’t like to make excuses, but you can’t deny the fact that they were going at our corners and they [the corners] are freshmen.”
Trailing 17-3 at halftime, the Elis managed to start afresh in the second half. On their second possession, the Elis capped off an impressive 97-yard drive with a touchdown from quarterback Alvin Cowan ’04 to wide receiver Ron Benigno ’04. The offensive line finally looked like it was playing with more intensity, giving Cowan the time he needed to connect with his receivers on four key third down conversions.
After a dismal showing in the first half, the Elis defense came to life in the second frame, holding the Tigers scoreless for the entire second half. With more Yale blitzing, the Tigers were not able to take the time that they needed to set up long passing plays. On one play, Yale cornerback Andrew Butler ’06 forced a fumble by Princeton tailback Jon Veach that Dieffenbacher recovered. On another, Yale defensive lineman Andrew Ralph ’06 sacked Princeton quarterback Matt Verbit to stop a drive by the Tigers.
Down by a touchdown with 1:03 left on the clock and 93 yards looming in front of them, the Elis’ offense knew that it needed to perform like it has in other games this season.
“[The opposing defense] is going to let you get five or 10 yards each time [in this situation] but as soon as you cross over the 50, they start bringing more pressure,” Cowan said.
Cowan completed eight of nine passes on the game-tying drive. With seven seconds left on the clock, Cowan found Benigno at the 22 yard line. Cowan placed all his hopes in his receivers, airing it out for a toss into the end zone. With one second left, wide receiver Chandler Henley ’06 came up big for the Elis, leaping over his defender and catching the ball in the end zone for the touchdown.
“[Henley] kept telling me to run that play — ‘it’s open, it’s open,'” Cowan said.
Henley knew that he had his coverage beat and that the play would work.
“[I told Cowan] just throw it up there. I just went up and it [the ball] stuck,” Henley said.
It only took one play in overtime for the Tigers to get on the board. Verbit found a wide-open Veach for a 25-yard touchdown.
The Bulldogs answered. Cowan optioned to tailback Robert Carr ’05 to bring the Bulldogs to the three-yard line before the Eli signal-caller connected with fullback Alex Faherty ’05 for the game-tying touchdown.
The Elis got the ball back again as possession switched for the second overtime series. After an incomplete pass to Benigno in the end zone, the Bulldogs settled for a 26-yard field goal by John Troost ’05.
It looked like there was little hope for the Elis with the way the Tigers’ offense had been playing on Saturday. But on the first play of Princeton’s possession, defensive back James Beck ’05 forced Szymanski to fumble after catching the ball on his slant route and Dieffenbacher recovered his second fumble of the day to put the game away.
“[Our coaches always emphasize that] as soon as they throw it, get down the field,” Dieffenbacher said. “I was thinking ‘oh, crap — a 15-yard gain,’ and then the ball popped loose.”
Despite shutting out Princeton in the second half, the Elis struggled in the first half. On their first possession, the Tigers drove 73 yards, finishing with a 20-yard run by tailback Jon Veach for a touchdown. Veach found the holes in the Eli’s defensive line that allowed him to break through and march down the field.
The Elis had some trouble putting together a response. The Tiger blitz pressured Cowan, making it difficult for him to connect with his receivers.
Yale head coach Jack Siedlecki said the Bulldogs struggled a great deal on offense in the first half.
“I thought the first half we got greedy [on offense],” Siedlecki said. “[Princeton] was very, very aggressive, which we had not seen a lot of on tape.”
Yale finally put together a scoring drive that ended with a 23-yard Troost field goal. Princeton held Cowan to completion during the drive but the Eli signal-caller made up for it on the ground. Cowan finished the game as the Bulldogs’ leading rusher with 74 yards. Cowan and Carr — who was limited to 67 yards rushing on the day — also utilized the option during the drive. With the ball on the two-yard line, the Elis failed to penetrate the goal line and had to settle for a field goal instead.
With the score 7-3, Veach set the Tigers up for a field goal. The Princeton back took full advantage of outside zone plays, making it hard on the Eli linebackers to shut him down. He finished the afternoon with 130 yards rushing and one touchdown.
The Tigers added another first-half touchdown off of a 29-yard pass from Verbit to Szymanski, Princeton’s towering 6-foot-5 leading receiver. The Elis kept the game within reach 17-3 by blocking a field goal on Princeton’s final drive of the first half.
Going into the second half, Princeton held the prolific Eli offense to 99 yards rushing and 47 yards passing compared to the Tigers’ 311 yards of total offense in the same period. Cowan completed only four of his 14 attempts.
Building on this weekend’s victory, when they learned that it is possible to come back from a deficit and still win, team members said they are confident that they will triumph at the 120th Yale-Harvard Game at the Yale Bowl next weekend.