Peter Lee ’02 began his first season as Yale’s starting quarterback four weeks ago as the object of a pressing litany of questions. As he sprinted off the field after throwing the game-winning touchdown in the middle of the fourth quarter Saturday, with his arms raised and fists pumping, Lee could be confident that none remained.
The Bulldogs (3-1, 1-1 Ivy) had just defeated Dartmouth (0-4, 0-2) 24-14 Saturday afternoon, marking the first time Yale has won in Hanover, N.H., since 1989.
With just over eight minutes remaining in the game and the Elis trailing Dartmouth 14-10, Lee faced a pivotal fourth and goal situation at the Big Green’s five-yard line. The Bulldogs had been denied points in the red zone twice earlier in the game, as they were unsuccessful in trying to pound the ball in on the ground.
The 6’5″ southpaw signal caller took the snap and waited what must have seemed like an eternity for him. Eric Johnson ’01 broke free and Lee found him with a seven-yard dart that put the Elis up for good. Johnson lived up to his status as Yale’s all-time leading receiver by holding onto the ball despite being leveled after making the catch.
“I just came over the middle,” Johnson said. “Peter had to throw a great ball because I got hit by two or three guys right after I caught it.”
The dramatic touchdown — Lee’s second of the game — was the culmination of a 16-play, 81-yard drive that chewed up 7:03 and put the Bulldogs back on track in the Ivy League race.
“That was a critical drive,” said Lee, who finished the game with a season-high 254 yards passing. “It [the touchdown pass] was the most emotional play of the game, and for me, probably the most exciting point in the season.”
The defense, now backed by a 17-14 lead — Yale’s first of the game — held the Big Green scoreless for the duration.
On the drive following Johnson’s touchdown, the Big Green was able to move the ball to the Yale 26-yard line, where it faced a critical fourth down of their own. Unlike Lee, though, Dartmouth quarterback Brian Mann could not get the job done as Ray Littleton ’02 bailed out the Elis with a crucial interception.
“We were keying on the slant play,” Littleton said. “I just wanted to make sure I didn’t lose [track of] the ball.”
As the Eli offense was running down the clock on the ensuing possession, tailback Rashad Bartholomew ’01 — who is now third on Yale’s all-time rushing list — contributed some additional padding. Bartholomew clinched the game with an electrifying 79-yard touchdown sprint.
“I was just trying to get a first down,” said Bartholomew, who put up an impressive 188 yards on 26 carries. “David Farrell ’03 [offensive lineman] made a great block and I just saw open field. There was no one by me and I was able to take it to the house.”
With Saturday’s pivotal win, the Elis evened their record in the Ivy League.
“I thought our kids played hard,” Dartmouth head coach John Lyons said. “We had some opportunities to win today, but we turned the ball over too many times.”
Indeed, it was the opportunistic play of the Eli defense and Lee’s heroics on offense that allowed the Bulldogs to scratch and claw their way to victory. After allowing Dartmouth to march to a touchdown on their opening drive, the Bulldog defense gave up only seven points the rest of the way.
“They had the kind of offense that you need a series or so to get used to,” Yale head coach Jack Siedlecki said. “No matter how much you practice, it’s different in the game.”
The biggest challenge for the Eli defense was containing wideout Damien Roomets, who entered the game ranked second in receptions in Division I-AA. After allowing him to catch three passes on the opening drive, the Bulldogs’ held the lanky junior to only four more short catches on the day. They were also able to control the Dartmouth running attack, holding them to only 3.9 yards per carry.
The defense’s performance was even more impressive considering that it was missing All-Ivy safety Than Merrill ’01, who sat out the game with an ankle injury. His replacement, Barton Simmons ’04, shined in his debut, tying for team lead in tackles with 13. Todd Tomich ’01 also extended his Yale record for interceptions by hauling in his 16th.
On offense, the Elis maintained an effective balance between run and pass, even though the weak Dartmouth secondary allowed Lee to air it out a little more than normal.
The Bulldogs’ first touchdown of the game came on a 29-yard pass from Lee to wide receiver Billy Brown ’02 — who finished with four catches for 93 yards in the best game of his career.
Lee showed for the second straight week that he is able to distribute the ball well, something that had concerned Siedlecki earlier in the year.
“We are getting a little more distribution of the ball; five receivers made catches and this makes us tougher to defend,” Siedlecki said.
Despite their loss, Dartmouth proved to be a much tougher opponent than the Bulldogs expected, adding truth to the old adage that there are no easy wins in the Ancient Eight.
“We did a lot of good things out there today,” Mann said. “We have plenty of reasons to be positive.”
A scary moment for the Bulldogs occurred when linebacker Bill Thompson ’02 sustained what appeared to be a serious injury in the fourth quarter. Thompson lay nearly motionless on the field for several minutes after a collision on a Yale kickoff. Medical personnel immobilized Thompson’s back and neck, and took him off the field on a stretcher. Siedlecki reported Sunday morning that Thompson had undergone an X-ray and an MRI, neither of which showed any damage, and that Thompson had suffered merely a “bad stinger.”
The Bulldogs have a final non-league game at Fordham next weekend before finishing their season with five-straight Ivy games.
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