If Saturday’s 38-7 victory over Dartmouth doesn’t help the Bulldogs regain their confidence, little else will.
In what was both Yale’s (2-2, 1-1 Ivy) first Ivy League win of the season and head Coach Tom Williams’ first victory at the Yale Bowl, the Bulldogs had an impressive showing against the struggling Big Green (0-4, 0-2), which lost its 16th consecutive game.
The Elis dominated almost every facet of the contest, but what stood out was the passing game.
Quarterback Brook Hart ’11 made his first start of the season and had the best performance of his collegiate career, going 28-for-40, including three touchdowns and zero interceptions. Hart’s 390 yards represent the sixth highest total that a Bulldog quarterback has ever thrown in a single game.
Hart, who started the last five games of last season but then lost the starting spot this preseason to Nebraska transfer Patrick Witt ’12, attributed his dramatic improvement to the sense of ease he has with his teammates.
“[Last year] the older kids were kind of like my boss,” Hart said. “Now with these guys … I can just look to them as just friends. You play much better when you are comfortable with the guys.”
After a scoreless first quarter that saw neither team advance past its opponents’ 40-yard line, tailback Mordecai Cargill ’13 ran 18 yards to the Dartmouth 25-yard line within the opening minutes of the second quarter.
Two plays later, Hart found H-back John Sheffield ’10 across the middle, bringing the ball within one yard of the goal line. From there, it was just a matter of running the ball in, which tailback Jordan Farrell ’10 did easily on the next play to give the Bulldogs a 7-0 lead.
And Yale did not let up, scoring on five of its next six possessions.
After a 73-yard play-action touchdown pass across the middle to slanting wide receiver Chris Smith ’13 increased the Bulldogs’ lead to 14-0, the Elis recognized that Dartmouth was feeling deflated. So instead of kicking off and giving the Big Green unit a chance to rest, the Bulldogs gave the ball back to Dartmouth’s offense by recovering a surprise onside kick by Tom Mante ’10.
“We knew Tom was capable of making that kick, and he practiced it a couple of times this week and had it on deck for after we score,” Williams said.
Yale used almost all of the first half’s remaining four minutes to move the ball downfield. The drive culminated with a 24-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Jordan Forney ’11 to give the Bulldogs the 21-0 lead at the half.
The Big Green responded quickly and scored a touchdown on their first possession of the second half. The Bulldog offense then came out with a no-huddle offense that culminated with a four-yard touchdown completion to Forney — his second score of the game.
“It’s disconcerting to you defensively when the offense changes its rhythm,” Williams said about the no-huddle offense. “The fact that you are … seemingly going fast sometimes makes you defensively feel like you have to go fast. Just something as simple as that gives you offensively an advantage.”
The Bulldogs then continued their onslaught by using another trick in the playbook.
After having previously succeeded with the surprise onside kick in the second quarter, kicker/punter Mante used some more trickery on Yale’s next possession.
Looking to punt on 4th and 2, Mante caught the snap and sprinted to the right sideline, easily gaining the first down on a 17-yard run across midfield.
“Something that we felt we could take advantage of from film study was their return team turning their back to our punter and giving [Mante] a chance,” Williams said. “We made him alert to investigate that when the ball was snapped to him.”
Mante went on to end the drive with a 34-yard field goal to increase the Elis’ lead to 31-7 with 14:11 left in the fourth quarter.
During the Bulldogs’ drive, it was tailback Alex Thomas’s ’10 time to take control. After having sat out the season’s first two games with an ankle injury, Thomas showed that he could contribute, rushing four times for 28 yards and recording his first career touchdown on a five-yard run to conclude the game’s scoring.
It was an especially important game for the Yale defense, which had been trying to bounce back from a poor performance against Lafayette last week.
“Last week was one of the worst defensive performances I’ve ever been a part of here, and that really motivated us throughout the entire week,” captain and linebacker Paul Rice ’10 said. “We really came out and responded. We wanted to get at the quarterback, we knew we could, and I think that we were very successful at it today.”
The Bulldogs limited Dartmouth to 127 total yards and sacked backup sophomore quarterback Conner Kempe twice. Kempe entered the game early in the second quarter after senior Dartmouth starter Alex Jenny suffered a dislocated elbow.
The game saw Yale underclassmen contribute on both sides of the ball. Offensively, Cargill, a freshman, led the team with 52 yards rushing, while Smith, also a freshman, recorded 82 yards on three catches. Defensively, cornerback Drew Baldwin ’12 had the team’s only interception, while free safety Geoff Dunham ’12 led the defense with six tackles.
Although Williams said he had planned on giving Witt playing time, the transfer did not get on the field due to the violation of a team rule, according to Williams.
“We planned to alternate quarterbacks, and then we had a violation of a team rule that kept Patrick from playing today,” Williams said.
Yale will travel to Lehigh next week for the Bulldogs’ last non-Ivy League game of the season. For now though, the team is relieved that it has an Ivy League win under its belt.
“It was important because I think we still have a chance to control our own destiny,” Williams said. “This was the first one — we needed to have it to get started.”