Even ugly wins count, as the football team discovered this weekend.
The Bulldogs (1-0, 0-0 Ivy) snuck by the University of Dayton with a 24-17 win on Saturday at Welcome Stadium in Dayton, Ohio, in front of a crowd of 6,178.
“I say it every year, ‘I don’t ever want to be that close, I don’t ever want to be that team,’” Yale head coach Jack Siedlecki said. “We gotta go play everybody.”
After going into the locker room at halftime trailing 10-14, the Bulldogs made the necessary changes to outscore the Flyers 14-3 in the second half. Tailback Rob Carr ’05 and quarterback Alvin Cowan ’05 led the Eli rally. Carr racked up 172 yards off of 37 rushes and a touchdown for the afternoon, while Cowan completed 14 of 26 passes for 176 yards.
Linebackers Ken Estrera ’05 and Ben Breunig ’05 held down the defense with 13 and 10 tackles respectively.
Whether it was because of some cockiness or first-game jitters, the Bulldogs did not get out to the start they expected.
“I think we came out a little tight,” Cowan said. “We were not all on the same page. We’ve kind of gotten used to walking all over people the first game. Fortunately we got out of here with a win.”
Having been either tied or behind for much of the game, the Elis finally took and held the lead on a drive that spanned the third and fourth quarters. Starting at their own 20-yard line, Carr and tailback Jordan Spence ’07 combined for almost the full 80 yards to the opposing end zone. Carr then punched it through the left side for the touchdown.
“We finally started running left,” captain Rory Hennessey ’05 said. “They lost their captain [safety Doug Jones], we exploited the left side. I think the offensive line did a pretty good job.”
Carr said pulling together at halftime allowed them to put together the rushing drive.
“[Taylor] Craig ['07] is getting better all the time,” Carr said. “[Spence] did a great job today, too. I told the guys up front that they did a great job being in good shape during the long drive.”
The game was not nailed down, though, until the final seconds when Flyers quarterback Brandon Staley fumbled the ball in the red zone and cornerback Fred Jelks ’05 recovered it. Prior to the fumble, it looked like the Flyers had a chance at scoring as Staley hooked up with his star receiver Ryan Wrobleski for 53 yards on their final drive of the day.
“We were trying to stay on top of everything,” free safety Barton Simmons ’05 said. “We had to have the mentality of ‘bend, don’t break.’ Maybe we were softer than we should have been, but we are lucky we got out alive.”
The Flyers’ late-game fumble was emblematic of an afternoon filled with flags and turnovers. Dayton had four penalties and four fumbles while the Elis had eight penalties and two interceptions. Penalties stopped two drives for the Bulldogs and an interception in the end zone by the Flyers prevented the Elis from tying it up as the first half finished.
“When things don’t go your way, you get antsy,” Siedlecki said. “It’s a natural tendency when you don’t make connections to get uptight.”
Cowan managed to regain composure and find starting wide receivers Chandler Henley ’05 and Ralph Plumb ’05 enough. Henley had seven catches for 112 yards, including two touchdowns, and Plumb had six for 59.
The Flyers’ tandem of quarterbacks, each who played for about two possessions before switching, had some success against the Bulldog defense as it was settling into a rhythm. Staley had a better day with 158 yards of passing, including two big plays for gains of 38 and 27.
“They came out strong and we took a few series to get used to the offense,” Estrera said. “They played well first. We made some adjustments after.”
The defense played a physical game, though, which forced the mistakes that the Flyers made.
“In the second half, we just got more into the flow of the game,” Breunig said. “The defensive line knocked them off the ball and made it easy for us linebackers to get there.”
Defensive end Don Smith ’05 agreed, saying that turning the ball over like that is something they always want to accomplish. On the first play of Dayton’s first of the second half, Smith recovered a fumble forced by left tackle Andrew Ralph ’05, which set up a 29-yard scoring drive for the Bulldogs.
When the Flyers were finding the holes in the defense, the Eli kickers stepped up and forced Dayton to deal with poor field position. Tyson Crawford ’05 punted six times for 220 yards, including a high kick to the coffin corner that forced the Flyers to start at their own three-yard line. Andrew Sullivan ’05 often put his kickoffs near their end zone making it easy for special teams to shut down kick returns. Sullivan also nailed a 28-yard field goal.
Although the Bulldogs chalked up a win, the coaches were already editing the film on the flight home in preparation for the work they will be doing in practice this week.
“We have to just get back to those go-to plays,” Cowan said. “I think we have to go back to basics.”