One play can change a game.
The Elis’ losing streak reached three games as Yale (2–7, 1–5 Ivy) gave back an early lead to lose 29–7 to Princeton (5–4, 4–2 Ivy) at the Yale Bowl on Saturday.
With little over a minute remaining until halftime, however, the Bulldogs looked poised to take a lead and the momentum into the break. Then on second and goal from Princeton’s 5-yard line, head coach Tony Reno called for a trick play in which running back Mordecai Cargill ’13 passed across the field to quarterback Henry Furman ’14 — but the ball never reached Furman.
Instead, Princeton cornerback Trocon Davis leapt in front of Furman on the goal line and raced 100 yards the other way to give Princeton a 14–7 edge. The Tigers never looked back after Davis made the longest interception return in the 98-year history of the Yale Bowl.
“It definitely got us going,” Tiger quarterback Quinn Epperly said. “It was a huge relief for me after throwing the [interception that led to Yale’s drive] … that really got our momentum going, and we just took it from there.”
Playing without the top three quarterbacks on their depth chart and with star running back Tyler Varga ’15 standing on the sidelines with a leg contusion, the Bulldogs were still able to manage 348 yards of offense.
But three of Yale’s Ivy League-leading 26 turnovers kept the Elis from capitalizing on their offensive production. All three of these turnovers came within 30 yards of Princeton’s end zone, including two on the goal line.
“The tale of the game was the turnovers in the red zone for us,” Reno said. “We gave the ball back to them … Those three opportunities in the red zone you’ve got to cash in and get points.”
Reno added that despite the outcome of the running back pass play that led to the interception, he would make the same call again.
In addition to his earlier interception, Cargill fumbled while trying to stretch the ball into the end zone with 5:23 remaining in the third quarter. The Tigers recovered Cargill’s second fumble of the game in the end zone to end Yale’s scoring threat.
The Elis struck first on their second drive of the game in the first quarter. Furman threaded the ball down the middle of the field to hit wide receiver Grant Wallace ’15 in stride for a 14-yard touchdown pass that put Yale up 7–0.
The Tigers appeared to tie the score early in the second quarter, but wide receiver Roman Wilson’s touchdown catch was called back because of offensive pass interference. Defensive back Collin Bibb ’13 then ended Princeton’s drive with an interception in the end zone on the next play. Wilson would get into the end zone to tie the game at 7–7 on Princeton’s next drive by running around the right edge untouched from 1 yard out.
Epperly dominated for the Tigers in the second half. He scored on a 1-yard run at 11:23 in the third quarter to push the Tigers lead to 13. A fumbled hold on the extra point actually worked in favor of the Tigers, as kicker Nolan Bieck was able to dive over the end line for a two-point conversion to make the score 22–7.
“That was the first time the ball has ever been in my hands,” Bieck said.
Epperly then found wide receiver Matt Costello with a 9-yard fade to the back right of the end zone to put the game out of reach at 29–7 with 4:23 to go in the fourth quarter.
Furman matched the Tigers’ quarterback tandem of Epperly and Connor Michelsen. Having started the season as a wide receiver, Furman went 18–28 on the day for 184 passing yards and a touchdown. Furman credited his experience under center last year with easing the transition back to quarterback.
“It’s only been about six months since I stopped being a quarterback,” Furman said. “That wasn’t that bad of a transition … the offense is complicated but it’s also pretty fun to run.”
Cargill added 101 yards on the ground for the Elis. Bibb led the defense with seven solo tackles and two interceptions. Epperly paced the Tigers with 91 rushing yards in addition to going 5–10 for 66 yards through the air with one touchdown and one interception.
Varga had been the primary rusher for the Elis for most of the season and saw time as quarterback against Columbia and Brown. Without any of their top three quarterbacks, the Bulldogs have heavily favored the run in their past two games.
Princeton head coach Bob Surace said he was caught off guard at the beginning of the game when Yale came out in a traditional formation.
“We did not know that the running back wasn’t going to play,” Surace said. “We prepared all week for the wild cat and they came out and spread [their formation] … They jumped us.”
Yale travels to Cambridge next Saturday to play Harvard for the 129th time.