WASHINGTON, D.C. — Georgetown quarterback Aaron Aiken intended for wideout Kevin Macari to catch his 17-yard pass for a game-winning touchdown with 40 seconds remaining. Yale defensive back Collin Bibb ’13 had another idea. Bibb jumped in front of the Georgetown receiver and came down with the interception to preserve Yale’s 24–21 victory.
The Elis had a new coach at the helm in Tony Reno and a freshman starting behind center — the first in a season opener since 1997 — in Eric Williams ’16 on Saturday. But with his family in attendance, Reno was able to kick off his career as the 34th head coach of Yale (1–0, 0–0 Ivy) football in wild and record-setting fashion with a win against the Hoyas (2–1, 0–0 Patriot) in Washington, D.C., on Saturday.
“It’s pretty special to have my family here,” Reno said. “[And] this is a special team. It’s a team that’s had some adversity early on, and they’ve really pulled together, and they’ve changed the culture of who they are, and I couldn’t be prouder of them and our staff.”
The adversity was evident from the start of the game, when running back Mordecai Cargill ’13 made the lonely trek to the center of the field for the coin toss. Cargill was elected by his teammates to represent the Elis at the toss this week in the absence of a team captain.
The Bulldogs lost the flip but received the kickoff when the Hoyas deferred until the second half. On just the fourth play of the drive, Cargill was stripped by defensive back Jeremy Moore to give Georgetown possession in Yale territory.
The Blue and White defense stood firm, however, and responded with a fumble recovery of its own by linebacker EJ Conway ’15 to stop the Hoyas at the Yale 10-yard line.
The ensuing Yale drive witnessed the debut of running back Tyler Varga ’16, who bullied the Hoyas on his way to 47 yards and a touchdown during the 14-play, 90-yard drive to hand Yale a 7–0 advantage.
“Varga and Mo [Cargill], they got hearts; that’s to say the least,” Williams said. “After first contact they know how to keep getting more yards.”
The tide turned quickly on the Elis after that, with Georgetown scoring on a punt return and an interception to take a 14–7 lead. The momentum appeared to favor the Hoyas heading into halftime, but Aiken fumbled as he appeared destined to score with under a minute to play in the half, and the ball was recovered by Yale at its own two-yard line.
On the next play, Williams wound up and fired the ball 40 yards downfield towards receiver Cameron Sandquist ’14. The ball seemed underthrown, but it was tipped by defensive back Malcolm Caldwell-Meeks into Sandquist’s waiting hands. The wide receiver then ran untouched into the end zone to give Yale a surprising 17–14 lead at the half. The 98-yard bomb was the longest play from scrimmage in the history of Yale football.
“It wasn’t a great pass so it was tipped,” Williams said. “But Cameron, he has the instincts to go get the ball and he came down with it and took it to the house.”
The decision to go deep was not Reno’s only gutsy call. He also ordered a fake punt on fourth down early in the second quarter, but unlike the infamous “fourth-and-22” call in the 2009 Game, the deception gained the first down and more with a 24-yard run by defensive back John Powers ’13.
The offense gave Yale the lead heading into halftime, but it was the defense that stepped up to hold on in the second half.
The Hoyas capitalized on center John Oppenheimer’s ’14 wild shotgun snap to recover a fumble and take a 21–17 lead with a 32-yard rushing score by tailback Dalen Claytor.
Yale’s defense made a statement on the next drive, however; with defensive end Kolu Buck ’14 forcing a fumble that end Allen Davis ’13 recovered at the Georgetown 14-yard line.
It took the Elis just two plays to capitalize on the defense’s work. Varga scored from nine yards out virtually untouched to take the lead back 24–21.
The Bulldog defense then took over the fourth quarter, stopping the Hoyas on two straight fourth-and-one plays before the final drive.
“I’m happy with the way [the defense] responded,” former captain linebacker Will McHale ’13 said. “We were put in some not the best situations, but I’m proud of the way the guys fought and proud of the effort and the execution.”
With just 2:23 remaining in the game, Aiken began leading Georgetown down the field to try and tie or win the game. His pass on second-and-four from the Georgetown 46-yard line appeared to fly harmlessly out of bounds, but defensive back Collin Bibb ’13 was called for a late hit that gave the Hoyas a first down at the Yale 39-yard line.
“One of the big things [Coach Reno] has taught us while he’s been here is no matter what happens in the game you’ve got to stay on an even keel emotionally,” Bibb said. “Just look to the next play always.”
Bibb did just that. Aiken drove the Hoyas all the way to the Yale 17-yard line when Georgetown decided to try and win it with 40 seconds to go, but Bibb put a damper on the Hoyas’ hopes with his takeaway, and the Elis were able to run out the clock on the opening day victory.
Williams finished 19–30 for 250 yards with a touchdown and three interceptions, while running backs Mordecai Cargill ’13 and Varga finished with 76 and 103 yards rushing, respectively. Sandquist led the receiving corps with nine receptions for 187 yards and a touchdown. Aiken finished 11–25 for 94 yards in the air, but ran for another 72 yards to lead a Hoya ground attack that totaled 260 yards.
Yale will travel to Ithaca, N.Y., this Saturday to face Cornell in its first Ivy League game of the season.