Following a thrilling last-minute victory over Brown, the Yale football team travels to Princeton on Saturday aiming to both prevent the Tigers from clinching the Ivy championship and to and keep its own hopes alive.
The No. 24 Tigers (7–1, 5–0 Ivy) enter the game red-hot, having won seven straight contests. Much of that success is due to star quarterback Quinn Epperly, who has won Ivy Offensive Player of the Week honors for four consecutive weeks. Epperly set an NCAA record against Harvard with 29 consecutive completions to start the game.
“He reminds me of Tim Tebow when he was at Florida,” defensive end Dylan Drake ’14 said of the left-handed Epperly. “We need to disrupt their passing game [to stop him]. We can’t let them get in rhythm.”
Epperly has been the top quarterback in the Ivy League by almost every statistical measure. Not only has he won offensive player of the week in each of Princeton’s five Ivy games, he has thrown 20 touchdown passes and run for 16 touchdowns on the season, both of which are best among all Ancient Eight players — not just quarterbacks. He has completed 74.1 percent of his passes, a figure that is second in the entire country.
Yale (5–3, 3–2 Ivy) also features dual-threat quarterbacks of its own in starter Hank Furman ’14 and backup Morgan Roberts ’16. But Furman and Roberts are recovering from shoulder and leg injuries, respectively, and it remains uncertain whether either will be able to play Saturday. Furman described himself as a “game-time decision.”
“Half the time, I don’t even know who’s behind us,” offensive lineman Will Chism ’15 said.
Whether or not Furman is able to play, the Elis will need to rediscover their offense if they hope to win. The Bulldog offense, manned by quarterback Eric Williams ’16 after Furman and Roberts went down, scored on just one of its eight drives in the second half against Brown and put up just 78 total offensive yards before its final possession.
But after the Bulldogs switched to quarterback Logan Scott ’16 midway through the fourth quarter, Yale managed to pull out the victory when wideout Deon Randall ’15 took a third-down handoff 32 yards to the house with just 19 seconds left.
“Our team prides itself on being able to handle adversity,” Furman said. “Those are the types of games that build confidence from a team perspective.”
Much of the credit for the victory over Brown goes to the Elis’ defense. The Bears had five drives in the fourth quarter but managed to accrue just 69 total yards on them. Linebacker Will Vaughan ’15 said that the offense thanked the defense after the game for keeping the team in contention against Brown.
If the Bulldogs are to pull the upset over the Tigers, they will need to take care of the football. In the Elis’ five wins this year, they have just six total turnovers; in their three losses, they have turned it over eleven times.
Even without preseason All-American back Tyler Varga ’15, Yale has found success when running the ball, with both Kahlil Keys ’15 and Candler Rich ’17 stepping up in his absence. With Varga’s status up in the air again this weekend, the efforts of Keys and Rich will go a long way towards alleviating pressure on whichever signal caller gets the start.
“Our run game is the core of our offense,” Furman said. “It will be very important for us to play a physical game in the trenches.”
This weekend’s game has major Ivy League implications. The Tigers, who are currently undefeated in conference play, would take at least a share of the Ivy title with a win. Their last conference triumph was in 2006, when they shared the top spot with the Bulldogs.
For Yale, the Princeton matchup has championship implications as well. A victory would put the team keep the team’s hopes of clinching a share of the Ivy championship alive.
“Starting with our captain and head coach, we focus on playing the next play. All the other outside stuff really has no effect on how we’re preparing for this game,” Drake said. “If anyone’s thinking ahead, it’s a mistake.”
No matter Saturday’s result, the Bulldogs appear vastly improved on last year’s squad, which finished 2–8 last year and lost 29–7 at home against the Tigers.
Saturday’s game, which kicks off at 1 p.m., can be seen on ESPN3. It marks the 136th meeting between Princeton and Yale.