Head coach Tom Williams has maintained that he would not shy away from gutsy calls after last year’s failed fake punt against Harvard. On Saturday, he put his money where his mouth was — and this time it paid off.
With less than 10 seconds remaining and the Bulldogs (1–0) trailing Georgetown 35–34, quarterback Patrick Witt ’12 kept the ball and plowed his way into the end zone from less than a yard out to give Yale the dramatic 40–35 win over the Hoyas (2–1) as time expired.
“I was a little shocked that [Williams] called the QB sneak,” Witt said. “It kind of freaked me out. I knew if I didn’t get in, it was the ball game, but it was an incredible job of executing under pressure for the entire offense.”
Williams said that the team’s penultimate play, a nine-yard rush from running back Alex Thomas ’12, had been designed to get the ball in the middle of the field but that a lack of confidence with Yale’s kicking game — both of the Bulldogs’ field goal attempts that day had been blocked — and the proximity to the goal line spurred the decision.
“I thought [the defense] was tired … and we had a chance to strike quickly and catch them off-balance,” Williams said. “In the back of my mind I was thinking about the blocked field goals and I didn’t want to leave that to chance. We were so close and I had great confidence in our offensive line and I wanted to make sure that they knew that.”
In what was a wild opening to the 2010 season — it was the most points scored in a Yale game since a 54–44 loss to Brown in 2003 — the Bulldogs found themselves facing a much tougher team than the one they had beaten 31–10 last year during the Hoyas’ winless 2009 campaign.
“They are a much-improved football team,” Williams said of the Hoyas. “I thought we flattered them a little in the second half … but the fight and the resolve of our football team is what I am proud of. I think you can see the difference between a team that has played two games and a team that is playing its first one.”
With Georgetown already holding two wins under its belt, the Hoyas went from being down 27–14 at the start of the third quarter to leading 35–27 less than seven minutes later. But Yale responded with a 10-yard rushing touchdown from Thomas and the Bulldog defense had two key fourth quarter defensive stands, including a red zone interception by linebacker Will McHale ’13 that allowed Witt to lead the game-winning 64-yard drive in the final 1:27.
Witt, solidifying his place as this year’s starter, went 35–55 for 407 yards, throwing one interception, two touchdowns and running for another. Witt’s 407 yards is the sixth-highest single game total from a quarterback in Yale history. Wide receiver Gio Christodoulou ’11, who sat out most of last year with an injury, was Witt’s prime target, catching nine passes for 124 yards.
Thomas, meanwhile, ran for 90 yards and two touchdowns, averaging 3.9 yards per carry.
Heading into halftime, the Yale offense appeared to have found its groove and was threatening to run away from the game, as the Elis scored three touchdowns on three consecutive drives before the end of the first half.
“A lot of people have talked about the offense we could have and the weapons we have, and to actually come out and really put them all together is what we’ve been [hoping for],” Witt said.
But while the Bulldog offense thrived, the defense and special teams were far from perfect.
Kicker Alex Barnes’ ’11 saw his two field goal attempts from inside 40 yards blocked and also failed to convert a point-after in the second quarter after a botched snap. On the other side of the ball, Georgetown’s Dalen Claytor had a 53-yard kickoff return that would have gone for a touchdown were it not for a touchdown-saving tackle from diving cornerback Drew Baldwin ’12. The Hoyas later scored a kickoff return touchdown when Jeremy Moore returned the ball 85 yards on the first play of the second half.
From there, the Hoyas were off and running. After Jayah Kaisamba intercepted Witt on the next drive, Georgetown’s Keerome Lawrence had a two-yard touchdown run to give the Hoyas the 28–27 lead. Less than five minutes later the Hoyas found the end zone to culminate a six-play, 80-yard drive to increase their lead to eight points.
The Elis allowed 443 yards of total offense Saturday. They only allowed more to an opponent once last season.
“I thought we were a step behind on a lot of the tackles,” Williams said. “There were a lot of arm tackles and it’s difficult to simulate [the environment] when you’re in practice. I think a lot of that is indicative of it being our first game.”
After Yale brought the game to within one point with Thomas’ touchdown, the Hoyas advanced the ball to Yale’s nine-yard line before quarterback Scott Darby’s pass on third-and-six was intercepted by McHale on the three-yard line.
The Bulldogs looked poised to take the lead on the ensuing drive, but Thomas was stopped twice on the goal line and Barnes’ 18-yard attempt was blocked. Taking over with 4:41 left in the game, the Hoyas ran the clock down more than three minutes before they were stopped one yard short on third-and-four due to a tackle by middle linebacker Jordan Haynes ’12.
“We forgot about everything else that we’d given up that game and we just focused on that one drive,” said Haynes, who scored Yale’s first touchdown after recovering a fumble. “We just dug in and made it happen.”
With two timeouts left, the Bulldogs started their drive on their 36-yard line with 1:26 remaining. Witt quickly found Thomas for a 17-yard gain before connecting with Christodoulou twice for a total of 25 yards. On third-and-one on Georgetown’s 24, Thomas broke through with a 10-yard run.
After Thomas’ next run was stopped and after a short completion to Christodoulou, Thomas again came up big on third down. Reaching out with the ball, Thomas was stopped about a foot from the end zone with less than ten seconds left. With the clock still running, the offensive line immediately reformed before Witt pushed his way in for the touchdown as time expired.
Emerging from the dogpile victorious, Witt heaved the ball into the air, aiming for the stands. The junior quarterback said the toss was an homage to a similar celebration by Yale quarterback Brian Dowling ’69 in the Elis’ 1967 win at Princeton.
“A lot of people, the alumni, will tell you a story about Brian Dowling throwing the ball into the stands against Princeton. I made sure there were zero seconds left on the clock and it wasn’t a penalty [for excessive celebration],” Witt said. “Somebody told me it did not reach the stands, so I am a little embarrassed. I tried.”
Two of the Hoyas’ scorers, Lawrence and Moore, are New Haven natives and attended New Haven’s James Hillhouse High School. Both players said they were not actively recruited by Yale.
Yale captain and defensive end Tom McCarthy suffered an injury during the game and did not return to the field. Williams said he had possibly reinjured his Achilles injury, but that he hopes to have the captain back for next week’s 12:30 p.m. kickoff at Cornell.