Last year, the Yale football team (1–0, 0–0 Ivy) needed a touchdown sneak from quarterback Patrick Witt ’12 as time expired to come from behind and beat Georgetown (2–1, 1–0 Patriot). But this year, the quarterback ended Saturday’s game against the Hoyas by taking a knee, capping a 37–27 victory — a fitting end to a solid but unspectacular Yale effort in front of 12,246 people at the Yale Bowl.
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With help from the kick returns of Chris Smith ’13 and a defense that settled down as the game wore on, Witt led a Yale offense that tallied 399 total yards to send the Bulldogs to its first victory of the season.
“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 after the break.
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. The first came when Witt took advantage of an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty against Georgetown that moved the Elis to Georgetown’s 31-yard line and found Smith streaking down the sideline to put the Bulldogs ahead 21–17 towards the end of the second quarter. Less than four minutes into the third, a wide open Smith caught a 10–yard dart from Witt in the back of the end zone.
All that kept Smith from adding two more kick return scores to his receiving total 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 minute and 27 seconds into the contest.
The trio made the necessary adjustments in the locker room, and Cargill alone had 83 yards in the second half.
Williams 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 Elis will play their Ivy League season opener this weekend against Cornell (1–0, 0–0 Ivy), which took down the previously unbeaten Bucknell team on Saturday 24–13. Witt said that Yale still has much to improve, especially the penalties that plagued the Bulldogs against Hoyas.
“It’s one thing to recognize we have those mental errors,” Witt said. “It’s another thing to address and erase them next week.”