Eventually, the football team ran out of miracles.
In the last two minutes of Saturday’s game, with Yale trailing 27–10, Jordan Forney ’11 hauled in a touchdown reception to narrow the score to 27–17. Shortly after safety Adam Money ’11 recovered the onside kick to keep Yale’s hope alive, Philippe Panico ’13 converted his second field goal of the contest. Thirteen seconds remained and Yale was suddenly down by just seven points. But the hope for one last score evaporated when a second onside kick sailed out of bounds.
The Quakers (5–1, 3–0 Ivy) walked off the field at the Yale Bowl with a 27–20 victory over the Elis (4–2, 2–1) to maintain a hold on first place in the Ivy League while Yale fell into a tie for third. After a close first half, Penn shut down the Yale rushing attack and capitalized on a trio of late Eli turnovers to build a 17-point lead. Although quarterback Patrick Witt ’12 threw for 331 yards, Yale was unable to come back against the defending Ivy League champions.
“We dug ourselves a hole and we made too many mistakes against a good football team that is well coached,” said head coach Tom Williams. “Any time you do that you put yourself in jeopardy of losing the game.”
During the first quarter, Yale was able to match Penn on both sides of the ball. A Panico field goal gave the Elis an early lead, and the blue and white defense held the Quakers scoreless.
But then the Quakers came to life. Quarterback Ryan Becker capped a 12-play, 87-yard drive with a touchdown strike to running back Jeff Jack. Though senior kicker Andrew Samson missed the extra point attempt with 10 minutes left in the second quarter, Penn never looked back from its 6–3 lead.
Penn preserved the momentum from Jack’s touchdown by recovering a surprise onside kick. The Eli defense held strong on the ensuing drive, but the offense could do little when they finally did take over. The Penn defensive line held running back Alex Thomas ’12 — who earned 26 yards in the first quarter — to three yards in the second and sacked Witt twice.
That defensive dominance led directly to Penn’s second touchdown. A Yale three-and-out forced punter Alex Barnes ’11 to punt from the Bulldogs’ five-yard line. Quakers returner Bradford Blackmon caught the line drive kick on the run and carried it, untouched, into the end zone.
Blackmon’s return was the second punt return for a touchdown that Yale has allowed this season. It last happened against Dartmouth. This time, the Bulldogs could not rally after the dispiriting play, although they had the chance to do so.
Money breathed some life into the Yale squad when he intercepted a pass from Penn’s Billy Ragone at the Quakers’ own 38-yard line with just under two minutes left in the half.
But, three flags later, Yale faced a 2nd and 35 and eventually punted.
“I’m not one to ever complain about officiating,” Williams said, “but you saw the same game I did. I’ve never, in 17 years of coaching football, seen anything like that. Ever.”
The Bulldog attack continued to struggle in the second half. The Penn defensive line left no holes for Thomas to run through, and the Elis began to lean exclusively on their passing game.
“Our coaches noticed in their game plan if you stop their running plays, they won’t come back to them,” Penn lineman Brandon Copeland said. “So our goal coming in was just to stop the [running] plays the first time we saw them and hope they wouldn’t come back to them.”
Yale did not turn back to its running game often, and despite the efforts of quarterback Patrick Witt ’12 — who finished with 34 completions on 54 attempts for 331 yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions — the one-dimensional attack had trouble finding the end zone.
“There were a lot of opportunities out there we didn’t capitalize on,” Witt said. “But that’s football. The defense did a great job of turning over the ball, but we just have to make it work.”
Turnovers especially haunted the offense. Soon after Penn fullback Luke DeLuca’s 1-yard touchdown dive made the score 20–3 in the third quarter, Witt dropped a fumble and Penn recovered in Yale territory. The defense was able to stop Penn thanks to an interception by Geoff Dunham ’12 on the next play, but they would not be so lucky after future turnovers.
“The key stat beside points are the turnovers,” Penn head coach Al Bagnoli said. “We had two costly turnovers on offense that really propelled them, but they had three turnovers that really helped us.”
Dunham’s pick gave the Elis hope. Only 10 seconds into the fourth quarter, Witt took advantage of two pass interference calls against Penn and found Allen Harris ’13 for a two-yard touchdown catch — the sophomore’s first. When Samson missed a field goal on the next Quaker drive, the Bulldogs had a chance to pull within a touchdown.
Then Penn defensive lineman Brandon Copeland caught his own deflection of a Witt screen pass deep in Yale territory.
“I came off the play action and tried to pop it over the top,” Witt said. “But he’s a big guy and made a big play. It was unfortunate and came at a critical point in the game when we finally had our offense going, but I tip my hat to the guy.”
One and a half minutes later, DeLuca dove into the end zone again, and Penn had the 27–10 lead that the Elis desperately and unsuccessfully tried to make up at the very end of the quarter.
Yale had its entire opening day offense on the field for the first time in three weeks, as Witt, Thomas, center Jake Koury ’11 and tackle Gabe Fernandez ’12 returned from injury. But Penn’s ferocious rush defense and early lead forced Witt into risky passes, and the Yale defense — despite two interceptions of its own — could not carry the game.
“We didn’t know we were going to run for 100 yards or even that we would try to, but we knew we needed to make sure we tried to establish some kind of a run,” said Williams. “We tried, but then we got some penalties and started to get behind the chains a little bit and then we had to keep throwing the ball.”
Next week, the Bulldogs will look to avoid costly penalties and reinvigorate their running game as they face Columbia (3–3, 1–2) at the Yale Bowl.
Correction: October 26, 2010
An earlier version of this article incorrectly reported that punter Greg Carlsen’s ’14 kick was returned for a touchdown by the University of Pennsylvania. The punter was in fact Alex Barnes ’11.