FOOTBALL: Early deficit too much for Elis to overcome

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Photo by Grant Bronsdon.

In a game marked by the absences of starting quarterback Hank Furman ’14 and starting running back Tyler Varga ’15, the Yale football team fell 28–17 to the Penn Quakers (4–2, 3–0 Ivy).

Eli quarterback Morgan Roberts ’16 threw for 193 yards and two touchdowns, but a 28–3 deficit entering the fourth quarter proved insurmountable as two costly fourth quarter interceptions halted the Elis’ last-gasp comeback bid.

“Those kids don’t quit,” head coach Tony Reno said of Yale’s comeback attempt. “We finish and we play hard no matter what the score is.”

Roberts made his first career start for the Bulldogs (3–3, 1–2 Ivy), but disaster almost struck early. Candler Rich ’17, starting after Varga was injured in last week’s game against Fordham, fumbled on the Bulldogs’ first play from scrimmage. Though Yale recovered, the fumble signified a larger problem; the Penn game marked the third straight week that the team has lost at least two fumbles.

The Elis got a gift on the Quakers’ next possession. On first down, running back Spencer Kulcsar fumbled after a gain of six, and Cole Champion ’16 recovered at the Penn 27. Kicker Kyle Cazzetta ’15 nailed a 32-yard field goal to put the Bulldogs up three.

On the next possession, Yale gave away a big play of its own. After a Penn three-and-out highlighted by a big sack from Champion and Jordan Jefferson ’14, the Quaker punt hit a Bulldog blocker, and Penn recovered in Yale territory. Two plays later, quarterback Ryan Becker — pressed into service after an injury to starter Billy Ragone — hit Kyle Wilcox on a wheel route for a 29-yard touchdown to take a 7–3 lead.

The teams traded punts, and eventually the Elis took over at their own 41. However, the fumbling woes that have plagued the Bulldogs in recent weeks struck again as Khalil Keys ’15 turned over the football on the squad’s first play.

“Fumbles aren’t acceptable,” Reno said. “We spend countless hours on it during practice. We’re hurting ourselves that way.”

Given new life, Penn failed to take advantage. After big plays set Penn up at the Bulldogs 6, two penalties pushed the Quakers back, and kicker Connor Loftus missed a 28-yard field goal wide left.

Another stalled Yale drive gave the ball to Penn at its 39-yard line, but the Quakers failed to capitalize and punted to the Bulldogs deep in Yale’s own territory.

But three plays picked up only seven yards for the Elis, and a 10-yard return for Penn off of Cazzetta’s punt allowed Penn to open its drive at the Yale 40. Three plays later, the Quakers went for it on fourth down, and a QB sweep by Adam Strouss — who took five snaps but ran on each — moved the chains. On the very next play, Becker hit Conner Scott on the right sideline for a 29-yard touchdown to increase the Penn lead to 14–3, where it would remain at the half.

Even after the halftime break, the Elis could not get their offense on track. The squad started with the ball in the second half, but it was stopped in its tracks, and Cazzetta punted yet again, his sixth of the game.

Penn used its deep passing game to get on the scoreboard again. A 42-yard pass over two defenders set Penn up in Yale territory, and another 20-yard toss brought the Quakers to the Yale six yard line. Two plays later, Kulcsar ran it in from two yards out to extend the Penn lead to 21–3.

“We need to improve and get better,” Reno said of the secondary. “We have a lot of young kids out there, and there are growing pains that go along with them.”

A facemask penalty on the kickoff return started the Bulldogs at the Yale 40, and Roberts began to get the passing game going. After picking up Yale’s first third down conversion of the game, Roberts hit Deon Randall ’15 over the middle for another 10 and a first down. The drive stalled, however, and a fourth down pass fell incomplete, giving Penn the ball at its own 30.

Aided by a late hit penalty on the Elis, the Quakers marched down the field with precision. A series of running plays brought Penn into the red zone, and a pass interference penalty on third down gave the Quakers a new set of downs. Strouss punched it in on a QB draw on the next third down, and the Quakers took a 28–3 lead with 1:33 left in the third quarter.

Coming into the drive with only one third down conversion, the Bulldogs netted three on this drive alone, culminating in a touchdown toss from Roberts to Grant Wallace ’15 to reduce the deficit to 28–9. Wallace emerged as the top target for Roberts on the day, catching eight passes for 104 yards and a score.

“We’re a no-huddle offense,” Reno said. “When we get in a rhythm, we’re a tough offense to stop. Our biggest problem was that we put ourselves in a hole.”

On the Quakers’ next drive, the offense ran downhill, rushing for 51 yards before Kyle Wilcox fumbled on the Yale 25-yard line and the Bulldogs recovered.

The Yale offense answered, with Roberts delivering perhaps his best drive in a Yale uniform. He completed all six passes he attempted for 57 yards, including the eventual touchdown strike to Randall over the middle. Sebastian Little ’16 snagged the two point conversion pass to make it 28–17.

A roughing-the-passer penalty pushed the kickoff to midfield, and Yale attempted — and recovered — an onside kick from Bryan Holmes ’17 at the Penn 41. However, Roberts’ first pass of the drive was intercepted deep downfield, and the Quakers took over at their own 16.

“[Roberts] kept grinding along,” Reno said. “I don’t think it was a pretty performance but he was able to get a foothold midway through [the game].”

Penn picked up a first down, but three running plays failed to draw a new set of downs, and Yale used its timeouts to stop the clock at 2:41, ultimately taking over at its 23-yard line.

Though the Eli offense moved downfield, helped by two 15-yard penalties, another of Roberts’ passes was intercepted inside the red zone, and Penn was able to run the clock out.

The loss extended the Yale losing streak to three games.

“No matter how much losing hurts, you can always control how you respond in your next opportunity,” captain Beau Palin ’14 wrote in an email to the News. “We plan to learn from our mistakes.”

Yale plays next Saturday at the Yale Bowl against Columbia. Kickoff is at noon.

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