FOOTBALL | Elis snap losing streak in victory over Penn

Running back Tyler Varga ’15 added another 117 all-purpose yards for the Elis in their win over Penn.
Running back Tyler Varga ’15 added another 117 all-purpose yards for the Elis in their win over Penn. Photo by Maria Zepeda.

A lot has happened since Yale last won a football game. The St. Louis Cardinals have won 19 games. “Binders Full of Women” has accrued more than 350,000 likes on Facebook. And professor John Gaddis has assigned 720 pages of reading in his Cold War history lecture. But on Saturday at the Yale Bowl, the Bulldogs put weeks of adversity behind them and returned to their winning ways.

Yale (2–4, 1–2 Ivy) overcame the loss of quarterback Eric Williams ’16 to an upper body injury on the third series of the game to beat Penn (2–4, 2–1 Ivy), 27–13. Backup quarterbacks Derek Russell ’13 and Logan Scott ’16 combined for three touchdowns and 161 yards passing to drive the Elis to victory at the Yale Bowl. Quaker head coach Al Bagnoli stated that the Bulldogs were able to stick with their game plan despite the injury.

“[Yale is] a running team anyways,” Bagnoli said. “They want to run the ball with those two backs and the quarterbacks.”

After a slow start on his first series under center, Russell drove the Bulldogs 80 yards, but a fumble by running back Mordecai Cargill ’13 on the Penn 11-yard line squandered the scoring opportunity.

Quaker quarterback Andrew Holland then came in for the Quakers to replace senior signal-caller Billy Ragone for the next drive. Bagnoli said he brings in Holland to rest Ragone because of the starter’s “high-risk” style of play.

Holland capped an 89-yard drive with a 3-yard touchdown pass to running back Lyle Marsh to put Penn up 7–0 with 5:52 remaining until halftime.

After a 39-yard drive powered by 13 rushing yards from running back Tyler Varga ’15, the Elis chipped away at the deficit when kicker Philippe Panico ’13 drilled a career-long 43-yard field goal to make it 7–3. After the game, Reno said that he was impressed with the Elis’ kicking game.

“We’ve got a ton of confidence in [Panico],” Reno said. “He had a great three days of practice and a great game today.”

Penn had a chance to take a lead into halftime, but Yale’s defense forced a three-and-out by the Quakers to give Yale a chance to score with 1:26 left in the second quarter.

Reno opted to have Scott run the two-minute drill for the Elis and the freshman delivered. Scott went 5–8 for 49 yards on the drive and capped it with a 4-yard score to wide receiver Henry Furman ’14 to give the Bulldogs a 10–7 lead at the break.

The Elis added to the momentum in the third quarter when linebacker Brian Leffler ’13 intercepted Ragone and returned the ball 47 yards to the Quaker four-yard line. Russell capitalized on the takeaway on the next play with a touchdown pass to tight end Elijah Thomas ’14. Defensive end Beau Palin ’14 agreed with Reno’s statement that the defense has come a long way from the beginning of the season.

“Everybody is working their butts off,” Palin said. “There’s no big changes, we’re just getting better every week.”

The next three drives saw the two teams trade field goals back and forth. Quaker kicker Connor Loftus connected on field goals from 34 and 27 yards while Panico split the uprights from 42 yards as Penn pulled to within a touchdown at 20-13 with 13:14 remaining in the fourth quarter.

But the Eli offense went back to work and Russell finished a 14-play, 77-yard drive by rolling to his left and diving into the end zone to give Yale a 27–13 lead at the 8:01 mark.

The touchdown was Yale’s third red zone score of the game, a reassuring sign for a team that came into the matchup scoring touchdowns on just 39 percent of their red zone opportunities. According to Reno, converting near the goal line was the difference on the day.

“When you look at the difference between this week and last week it’s red zone opportunities and red zone points,” Reno said.

Given a lead by the offense, Yale’s defense clamped down on the Quakers to preserve the victory. Palin sacked Holland two times in the span of three plays — the second to force a turnover on downs with 6:12 remaining in the game. Yale’s defense recorded four sacks for the second straight game after totaling just three sacks in the team’s first four games. The Elis also held the Quakers to a 38 percent third-down conversion rate and stopped Penn on each of its three fourth-down conversion attempts.

Russell finished the game 13–20 with 94 yards and a touchdown through the air, plus 61 yards and another score on the ground. Scott was 8–11 with 67 passing yards and a touchdown strike of his own. Varga totaled 96 yards on the ground for the Bulldogs as well.

Reno said that he was unsure of the nature of Williams’ injury other than that it was to the quarterback’s upper body and that it prevented his return to action that day. If Williams is unable to go next Saturday, Reno confirmed that Russell would be the starter.

Yale will hit the road next Saturday to visit Columbia (1–5, 0–3 Ivy) for a 12:30 p.m. kickoff.

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