The late-season championship tease, it now seems, was nothing more than a function of scheduling. The Bulldogs, under .500 since Oct. 15, had only beaten the Ivy League’s three worst teams, and were thus a curious member of the quartet tied atop the Ancient Eight — a lottery winner among old-money elite.
Brown (7-1, 4-1 Ivy), now the favorite to win the league after a 38-21 win over Yale (3-5, 3-2) Saturday, recognized the impostor from the early going and quickly denied the Bulldogs entry into the Ivy’s select class.
On Yale’s opening drive, which extended 11 plays and 53 yards, Brown All-American linebacker Zak DeOssie quite literally denied the Elis when he blocked Alan Kimball’s ’08 44-yard field goal attempt.
“That was their best player, and we didn’t get a hand on him,” Yale head coach Jack Siedlecki said.
It would be the high point of an otherwise devastating day for DeOssie, who during Yale’s next drive left the game with a knee injury that is believed to be season-ending.
Brown’s other All-American, running back Nick Hartigan, fared much better. On his first carry of the day, just three plays after the blocked kick, Hartigan ran a sweep left and used good blocks and better vision to get down the sideline for a 34-yard touchdown.
The teams traded possessions before Yale evened the score with a 35-yard touchdown pass from quarterback and captain Jeff Mroz ’06 to receiver Ashley Wright ’07.
When Brown got the ball back, Hartigan and the offense went to work on a methodical 13-play, 64-yard drive that culminated in a four-yard touchdown pass to Division I-AA’s leading rusher.
Three possessions later, Yale countered again. Mroz worked his way from right to left while constantly moving the Elis forward. He connected with running back Jordan Spence ’07 for 27 yards on a wheel route down the right sideline; he converted a third-and-14 with a 22-yard post over the middle to Todd Feiereisen ’06; then, two plays later, he looked left and lofted a fade pass to Wright near the north end zone. The Ivy League leader in catches (48) and receiving touchdowns (10) secured one more of each when he planted, leapt and snatched the underthrown ball away from Bears cornerback Jamie Gasparella before lunging into the end zone for a sensational score.
With just over two minutes remaining in the first half, Yale had the chance to go into the break even with perhaps its stiffest opponent of the season. But Kimball’s ensuing kickoff, an attempted squib kick, ricocheted off a member of the Brown front line, and the Bears took possession at the Yale 46.
Brown struck from 28 yards away when receiver Jarrett Schreck caught a hook and raced untouched into the end zone past cornerback Andrew Butler ’06, who had taken a poor tackling angle.
“We were definitely pumped to tie them at 14,” Wright said. “It seemed like the momentum was going our way. But as soon as they drove down the field that crushed us.”
Siedlecki observed that it was the second time in the half that Yale had erred in the kicking game.
“Early in the game, when the game was in contention, the two kick plays killed us,” he said. “The blocked field goal led to the first touchdown and gave them a short field. The botched kickoff obviously gave them a short field to score before the half. That was 14 of their 21 points [in the first half].”
The second half belonged to Hartigan. On the first drive of the second half, Hartigan carried four times for 45 yards, the last a 30-yard touchdown run on a fake reverse.
“They had run a reverse the first play of the game, so when they ran that a lot of guys bit on the reverse,” safety Nick Solakian ’07 said. “It left the guys on the other side outnumbered.”
Hartigan scored his fourth touchdown of the day two possessions later when he received a toss and ripped through a slew of Yale arm tackles from nine yards out.
“He runs like a fullback,” Solakian said. “He’s a powerful runner. He didn’t go down on the first shot.”
Solakian claimed that Hartigan was overrated, and largely a product of his superb offensive line, but the Walter Payton Award finalist’s 192 rushing yards — only the third-highest total of his season — speak for themselves.
On the ensuing drive, a sterling 51-yard touchdown run by the diminutive Spence drew Yale within 14. After Brown added a field goal to make the score 38-21, Mroz and the offense continued to attack.
The Elis made one first down before the drive seemed to stall at fourth-and-five. Though Siedlecki sent out the punt team, backup quarterback Matt Polhemus ’08, who serves as the personal protector for punter Wright, saw an opening on the right side of the field and shrewdly called for a fake. Wright received the deep snap and scuttled 11 yards to keep the drive alive.
Mroz completed a six-yard pass to D.J. Shooter ’07 and then a 37-yard strike to Feiereisen. On the next play he went back to the call that bore a touchdown in the second quarter and threw a fade left to Wright. Again there was a sensational catch made on the play, though this time it was by Gasperella.
“On the first one [Gasparella] really was behind me,” Wright said. “He played a little deeper than he probably should have. But the second one he was inside and just made a great play on it.”
The interception marked the last time Yale would have the ball. Brown, which had eaten 7:08 on the field goal drive, held the ball for the final 8:33 of the game as well.
After the game, Siedlecki marveled at Brown’s ball control and was shocked at the dearth of Yale possessions (nine).
“Those last two drives of theirs were pretty amazing,” he said. “They scored three points, but they consumed 15 minutes and  seconds of time. I’ve never been in a football game where we had less than double-digits in possessions. We moved the football, we just didn’t have it enough.”