Despite a disappointing season that left the Bulldogs on the sidelines of the Ivy title race, the seniors on the Yale football team ensured Saturday that they have fond memories of their last game in the Yale Bowl.
The Bulldogs (5-4, 3-3 Ivy) secured a 21-9 win over Princeton (4-5, 2-4 Ivy) by generating offensive success early, playing tight on defense throughout, and recovering a fumble in the beginning of the fourth quarter. Just when the Tigers were gaining energy after an Eli three-and-out, Tyson Crawford ’05 kicked a high 45-yard punt that Princeton’s Greg Fields misjudged and fumbled. After a wild scramble, Matt Baker ’06 recovered the ball, swinging the momentum in the Elis’ favor.
“I thought we were clawing our way back at that point,” Princeton head coach Roger Hughes said. “The defense had a big stop but that [fumble] turned the momentum around and the way the two teams were playing.”
Three plays later, tailback Rob Carr ’05 found the end zone, notching a touchdown that kept the game out of the Tigers’ reach. He recorded his fifth 100-yard game, finishing with 160 rushing yards. Carr also scored two of Yale’s three touchdowns and ran for 72 yards on kick-off returns, including one that he ran back for 50 yards.
“The word [to describe Carr] is ‘slippery,'” said linebacker Justin Stull, Princeton’s leading tackler against the Elis. “You think you have him wrapped up and then all of a sudden he slides out of your grasp. It was very frustrating.”
Yale head coach Jack Siedlecki said the Elis wanted to establish the run game, especially because of Princeton’s other talented linebacker, Zak Keasey.
“It was something we really wanted to prove we could do,” Siedlecki said. “It allowed a balanced scheme.”
The balanced offensive attack was strongest in the first half, when the Bulldogs scored two touchdowns and took an early lead that they never relinquished. The first touchdown came on the Elis’ first possession, when they drove down the field using a combination of passing and rushing. On first down at the Princeton 18-yard line, quarterback Alvin Cowan ’05 waited, rolled left, and tossed a pass to tight end Alex Faherty ’05 in the end zone. Cowan finished the game 10-of-20 for 143 yards.
The Bulldogs scored again on their second possession. The Elis utilized different weapons, but a bad snap that Cowan had to fall on brought up third and 12. Cowan looked to his favorite target, though, and threaded the needle with a pass to wide receiver Ralph Plumb ’05 in quadruple coverage. With the 13-yard reception, Plumb broke the Yale record for career catches previously held by Eric Johnson ’01, who now plays for the San Francisco 49ers. Plumb’s grab also earned the Bulldogs a first down, keeping the drive alive for a 13-yard scramble by Carr for the touchdown on fourth down and inches.
Plumb, playing in his final game at home, finished with 69 yards and three receptions.
“Before we got started, I looked around the Bowl,” Plumb said. “I realized how special it was to play with the seniors. To finish it up with a win, it was a real treat.”
While the Elis’ offense was strong in the first half, the Tigers might have fought their way back into the game were it not for a gritty performance by the Bulldog defense. The defense’s efforts included three sacks and the deflection of five passes. The Elis let some big receptions slip in the middle of the field, but they had a strong pass rush and pass defense in general. They made the plays necessary to keep Princeton from breaking into the end zone and ended up holding the Tigers to three field goals.
“Carr’s tone and [Brandon] Dyches’ [’06] effort level were incredible,” Siedlecki said. “The defense kept making play after play after play.”
The defense was forced to play strong as the Bulldog offense again struggled to find success in the second half. Cowan only had three yards passing in the second half, and the only Eli scoring chance was when the special teams forced the fumble. Despite their lackluster performance after the break, Siedlecki said he never lost hope in his team.
“I am the ultimate optimist,” Siedlecki said. “We’re just going to keep going. We’ve got to believe good things are going to happen. We got the effort we needed.”
With the win, it may be easy to overlook the problems still plaguing the Elis after halftime. But with a game against undefeated Harvard approaching, the Bulldogs need to find a way to address their woes.