This time, Patrick Witt ’12 did not need the last minute touchdown dive.
Witt, with help from the kick returns of Chris Smith ’13 and a defense that settled down as the game wore on, led Yale (1–0, 0–0 Ivy) to its first victory of the season on Saturday, a 37–27 decision over Georgetown (2–1, 1–0 Patriot). While last year, the Elis needed Witt’s touchdown sneak as time expired to come from behind and beat the Hoyas, he ended this game by taking a knee — a fitting end to a solid but unspectacular Yale effort in front of 12,246 at the Yale Bowl.
“I’m really proud of the way the offense played,” Witt said. “We put 37 points on the board and we had the opportunity to put even more up there. We showed that we can be explosive against a team that has a great secondary.”
The Elis’ statistics looked more explosive in their opener last season, when they gained 145 more yards as a team. But, if the way Saturday’s opener unfolded is an indicator of things to come, this will be a much more promising team than the previous year’s.
When it last played Georgetown, Yale followed a dominant first half with a lackluster showing in the second and almost squandered a lead in the process. That script repeated itself many times for the rest of the season — only sometimes the Elis could not recover their blown advantage.
On Saturday, however, Yale improved over time. The defense looked rusty early on and allowed touchdowns on the first two drives. Georgetown quarterback Isaiah Kempf picked apart the Eli secondary with his passing, and running back Nick Campanella blasted through the Yale line for 59 yards on 10 carries. But, thanks in part to an injury that forced Kempf out of the game, the Yale defense settled down after halftime and allowed just a single score in the second half.
The team as a whole played cleaner football as the game progressed; it was whistled for nine penalties before halftime and only five afterward.
“In the first half of the first football game, you always run into little hiccups that you can’t get out in the three quarter scrimmage we had last week,” captain Jordan Haynes ’12 said. “As the game went on, we definitely picked up our mistakes.”
The offense — which had a tendency to fade down the stretch last year — played steady football throughout. Witt passed for 142 yards before halftime and 138 after, and added a touchdown run as Yale pulled away in the fourth quarter. He finished with 23 completions on 31 attempts for 280 yards, three touchdowns and an interception.
Witt said that the team was conscious of its struggles in the second half last year, and had focused, during the preseason, on coming out as fiercely in the third quarter as it did in the first.
“We came out and we made a point to target the third quarter, something we struggled with last year,” Witt said. “I love the fact that we came out with energy and went right down the field.”
Veteran receiver Chris Smith ’13 provided the initial fireworks on offense. He brought the home crowd on its feet seconds into the first quarter when he took the opening kickoff 82 to yards to the Georgetown 17. Yale scored within three plays. The same script unfolded — just with a slightly shorter return — two drives later.
“[Smith] has been a performer for us since his freshman year,” head coach Tom Williams said. “When he gets the ball in his hand, I’m not sure if I have seen a more explosive football player.”
Smith added 104 yards receiving on five catches and scored two touchdowns in the process. Witt took advantage of a Georgetown personal foul penalty toward the end of the second quarter and sent a perfect pass to Smith, who streaked down the sideline to put the Bulldogs ahead 21–17. Less than four minutes into the second half, a wide open Smith caught a 10–yard dart from Witt in the back of the end zone, increasing the team’s lead by seven.
All that kept Smith from adding two more kick return scores was Georgetown kicker Brett Weiss. Smith blew through the entire Hoya coverage unit on both of his long returns, only to be tripped up by the 170-pound Weiss both times.
“I guess that kicker’s an All-American or something,” Smith said.
The Elis’ only major offensive question mark was its running game. Deon Randall ’14, Mordecai Cargill ’13 and Alex Thomas ’12 combined for just 25 yards on nine carries in the first half. Despite that paltry yardage, Cargill scored his first collegiate rushing touchdown with a four-yard scamper to open the scoring 1:27 into the contest.
The trio made the necessary adjustments in the locker room, and Cargill alone had 83 yards in the second half.
Wiliams said that once the coaches saw the Hoyas packing in the box, they decided to throw the football outside and force the Georgetown defense to chase down Yale’s receivers.
“In the second half, they got a little bit tired and winded from chasing our guys,” Williams said. “We were able to come back and pound them and wear the clock down a bit.”
The Bulldogs will take on Cornell at home next Saturday for their Ivy League opener.