On Sept. 15, a brand-new Yale football team took the field in our nation’s capital to play Georgetown. In the words of Taylor Swift and Ed Sheeran, everything had changed. New coach, new quarterback, new season.
Admittedly, I didn’t have high expectations. I didn’t expect a win. I’m not sure if anyone did — except for the players and first-year head coach Tony Reno.
But what I saw that day was an energetic, talented performance. Freshman quarterback Eric Williams ’16 performed admirably, going 19-for-30 for 250 yards and a touchdown. Cameron Sandquist ’14 had a 98-yard catch for a touchdown that will go down in the Bulldog record books as the longest play from scrimmage in Yale history. Canadian transfer Tyler Varga ’15 exploded onto the scene with two rushing TDs and over 100 on the ground. The Elis grabbed the lead at the end of the third quarter and never let go. I left D.C. excited — and happily proven wrong
My enthusiasm hasn’t yet faded. Sure, the young Bulldogs have struggled since. Mistakes were inevitable. Williams got injured. But there were still flashes of greatness. Varga continued to dominate. Yes, Yale may have only won one Ivy contest so far this season, but it was against Penn, the top dog in the Ancient Eight. And it wasn’t even close.
I wouldn’t blame you for thinking that things look bleak for The Game (or if you’re a Crimson reader, maybe you think there’s blood in the water): 2–7 isn’t exactly confidence-inspiring. The top quarterbacks are still hurt. Varga didn’t play last week.
But take heart, Elis, and have a little faith. Pessimism and cynicism do you no good. Cantabs (apparently no one calls you that — I don’t care): it’s in your best interest to back off your expectations of a blowout. Just when it looks like Yale is down and a few seconds away from being KO’d, this team has the power to surprise.
No one expected a win against Georgetown. No one expected a win against Penn. Nate Silver probably wouldn’t predict a Yale win against Harvard, but clearly football is a lot more volatile than a presidential election (note: not an attempt at a veiled value judgment). The world’s most famous statistician attempted to predict all 14 NFL games this weekend and went 9-for-13 (I’m giving him a break and eliminating the wonky 49ers-Rams tie). Take that, Mr. 50-for-50.
The Game is another chance for a defining win, just like those wins at Georgetown and against Penn. And everyone on this Yale team knows that. They know that 2–7 will look and feel like 10–0 if they can break the Yale losing streak. They’re hungry, Harvard’s not. After their loss to Penn last weekend, the Crimson are dejected, knowing that they need help from Penn to claim a share of the Ivy League title.
Meanwhile, this bruised and battered Bulldog team will make the most of the pieces they have on Saturday — and they won’t go down easily.
This guy — Tyler Varga — bounces off defenders like he’s inside a pinball machine. You have to see him run. He’s already a top-10 rusher in the FCS (tops in all-purpose yards), and I can’t wait to see what he’ll do next.
Mordecai Cargill — the senior running back — can break off a 10-yard run like it’s nothing. Last year, he ran for 230 yards against Columbia — in the midst of New York Snowpocalypse 2011.
And this defensive front seven — Beau Palin ’14, Chris Dooley ’13, Nick Daffin ’13, Dylan Drake ’13, Brian Leffler ’13, Will McHale ’13 and Ryan Falbo ’13 — is a monster in the crucial moments. They stopped Columbia on four straight plays when the Lions had first down at the Yale 1-yard-line. It’s a tough, experienced group.
So maybe, just maybe, just when it looks like our chances against the Crimson have hit a nadir, just when a sixth straight loss seems inevitable, just when apathy toward The Game seems to be rising, the Bulldogs have the power to surprise and reverse a forgettable half-decade of football. Don’t count them out — and yes, that’s directed toward Elis and Cantabs alike.