Poor execution. Mental lapses. Excessive penalties. The wind. For these reasons and more, Yale (3-3, 1-3 Ivy) reached the low point of its season Saturday, losing 28-14 at Columbia (2-4, 2-2).
It was the Elis’ third straight league loss, their worst stretch since 1997, and leaves a team that once had title hopes searching for explanations.
“We are a better team than the way we played on Saturday,” captain and defensive lineman Tim Penna ’02 said. “We definitely played below our potential — that was enormously frustrating.”
Aside from the final score, Yale dominated the game in virtually every statistical category. The Bulldogs racked up 432 offensive yards and 23 first downs compared to 291 and 15 for Columbia. The Eli defense forced the Lions to punt seven times and held their main offensive threat, running back Johnathan Reese, to 51 yards on 21 carries. The Elis won the turnover battle two to one and had possession of the ball for 10 more minutes than the Lions.
Despite ample opportunities to score, the Bulldogs failed to capitalize. In nine trips inside the Lion 30-yard line, Yale put points up on the scoreboard only once, a fourth quarter score that was its first touchdown in nearly two full games.
The other eight trips? Two each of missed field goals, punts, and turnovers on downs, plus a fumble and an interception.
“It was a complete lack of execution,” head coach Jack Siedlecki said. “We ran 100 plays today and scored seven offensive points. That’s ridiculous.”
Offensive ineptness did not bear all the responsibility for Yale’s futility. The Elis were penalized for 105 yards on a school-record 14 infractions — compared to only 19 yards on three calls against Columbia. Two of the Bulldog penalties were costly pass interference calls that aided a Columbia scoring drive — flags that had many Elis shaking their heads.
Despite all their woes, the Bulldogs still had a shot at victory late in the game. Trailing by 14 points with just over five minutes to play, quarterback Peter Lee ’02 found Billy Brown ’02 near the left pylon for a 20-yard touchdown pass that narrowed the deficit to 21-14.
After the Yale kickoff, Columbia took over possession at its own 23-yard line and contrary to standard practice, took to the air rather than burn minutes off the clock with the running game. The gamble paid off when, on third down, Lion receiver Doug Peck shook Eli defender Steve Ehikian ’04 with a classic stop-and-go route. Columbia quarterback Jeff McCall delivered a perfect downfield pass to the wide-open Peck, who glided untouched into the end zone for a 76-yard, game-breaking touchdown.
“That was the best [play-call] I have ever been a part of,” said the junior Peck, who finished the day with nine catches for 186 yards and two touchdowns.
Peck beat Ehikian on both of his touchdowns and drew one of the two pass interference penalties called against the sophomore cornerback. Those costly miscues marred what would have been a standout performance from Ehikian. The first-year starter led the Elis with eight tackles and blocked two punts, the second of which he recovered in the end zone for a touchdown and a 7-0 Yale lead.
Columbia responded with a 74-yard touchdown drive to knot the score at seven with just over two minutes to play in the second quarter. It was the only sustained drive the Lions managed in the first half; prior to it, the Eli defense forced six punts and a fumble and gave up only one Columbia first down.
After a touchback on the ensuing kickoff, Yale’s offense went into hurry-up mode to try tack on a few more points before heading to the locker room. Powered by a 28-yard gain on a fake punt, the Bulldogs drove down to the Columbia 36-yard line with 20 seconds left in the half.
On fourth-and-17, Lee tried to thread the ball to Ty Anis ’03 over the middle, but Lion safety Philip Murray darted into the passing lane to pick it off. It was the first time Lee has suffered an interception in 217 passing attempts, dating back to last year. The mistake was a costly one, for Murray returned the ball 85 yards for a touchdown.
After outplaying Columbia for the entire first half, Yale was on the wrong end of a 14-7 score.
“[The interception] was definitely a big momentum swing,” Penna said. “They made a couple of big plays that enabled them to get the win.”
In fact, the Lions made some the biggest plays of this Ivy League season. Murray’s 85-yard interception return was the longest of the season in the Ancient 8, and the McCall-to-Peck 76-yard reception was only 2 yards short of the Ivy League’s longest pass play of the year.
The Elis, however, never got that clutch play. Harassed by the Columbia pass rush and unable to steer the ball through the fickle winds off the Harlem River, Lee was uncharacteristically inaccurate.
Brown (11 catches, 163 yards) tried his best to be the hero, making a number of stellar late-game catches, including his fourth-quarter touchdown grab.
But Brown said the offensive intensity was not where it needed to be to win the game.
“We couldn’t score when we needed to,” Brown said. “We shot ourselves in the foot.”