In the first quarter Saturday, it seemed all Yale could do properly was block an extra-point attempt.
But Brown’s early missed kick proved crucial later.
With Yale (5-3, 3-2 Ivy) leading 31-27 with 45 seconds remaining in the game, Brown (0-8, 0-5) had the ball on Yale’s nine yard line but could not settle for a 26-yard field goal to send the game to overtime in Providence, R.I.
So the game came down to Brown’s last three plays in the fourth quarter.
“Coach [Jack Siedlecki] knew that our defense was pretty experienced and had a lot of guys that had been in a lot of tight game situations,” captain Jason Lange ’03 said. “He knew that we knew that these kinds of situations were what it was all about. We had to go out there and get a big stop and take care of business.”
Facing a second down-and-seven, Brown quarterback Kyle Slager, who had been accurate all day, overthrew wide receiver Chas Gessner. On third down, Yale cornerback Owen Gilbert ’03 got a hand in the way of Brown tight end Chris Walther, breaking up a potential touchdown pass to the back of the end zone. Brown fans wanted a pass interference call, but no flags were thrown.
“I saw interference, but it doesn’t matter what I see,” Brown coach Phil Estes said. “It matters what the referees see. They didn’t see it as interference. The guy was draped on him. We had other opportunities than that to make plays.”
On Brown’s final chance, Yale defensive back Greg Owens ’04 batted down a pass intended for Brown wide receiver Ian Malepeai, who was trying to sneak into the end zone. Yale ran out the clock to secure the 31-27 win.
“[On the third-down play] their tight end [Walther] tried to push Owen [Gilbert] off and he held his ground and made a great play,” Siedlecki said. “Greg [Owens] made a great break on the ball to break up the final pass.”
The game’s momentum changed hands several times. Brown got off to a strong start, scoring touchdowns on its first two offensive series. The first touchdown came only 4:13 into the game when Slager connected with fullback Brent Grinna. Brown scored again on its next series when running back Joe Rackley ran the ball in from the Yale 4-yard line.
In one of the game’s biggest plays, Yale linebacker Ken Estrera ’04 blocked Brown kicker Paul Christian’s extra-point attempt. This block forced Brown to score a touchdown on its final possession in the fourth quarter.
“[Brown’s strong start] did not surprise us,” quarterback Jeff Mroz ’05 said. “We knew we were going to get a good game from Brown. We knew that they are a good team and that they would come out ready to play. We came together and accepted the fact that we were down 13-0 and went out there to put the ball in the end zone.”
The Yale offense answered in the second quarter, scoring two unanswered touchdowns to snag a 14-13 lead.
The first score came less than a minute into the quarter when Mroz connected with tight end Nate Lawrie ’04 for a six-yard touchdown pass. On Yale’s next offensive series, wide receiver Ron Benigno ’04 shook off his defender with a post fake before hauling in a 23-yard pass from Mroz in the end zone’s corner. Lawrie ended the day with five receptions for 51 yards and one touchdown. Benigno finished with five catches for 107 yards and two touchdowns.
But Yale’s lead did not last long. At 6:18 before halftime, Gessner caught a 21-yard pass from Slager for a touchdown. Yale was down 20-14 at halftime.
The only score in the third quarter was a 35-yard field goal from kicker John Troost ’05 that brought the Elis within three at 20-17.
Then came the exciting fourth quarter.
On the second play from scrimmage, Mroz threw his fourth interception of the season, right into the chest of Brown defender Jermaine Griffin. Brown’s offense setup at the Yale 19, ready to burn some clock.
“I should never have thrown it, and I knew I made the wrong decision,” Mroz said. “I wasn’t jittery at all. Interceptions are part of the game, and you just have to get over them and get yourself ready for the next series.”
Mroz did not have to wait long for his next offensive series. A false-start penalty and back-to-back sacks by Yale defenders Luke Mraz ’03 and Harry Flaster ’05, respectively, put the Bears out of field goal range.
The Yale offense wasted no time capitalizing, regaining the lead 24-20 with a 33-yard touchdown pass from Mroz to Benigno. Heavily-covered by a Brown defender, Benigno made a great play on the ball, juggling it twice before hauling it in and running it in for the touchdown.
But Brown refused to give up. On the next series, Slager connected with Gessner on an 18-yard touchdown pass to regain the lead 27-24.
But Brown’s lead did not last for long. Yale moved the ball to Brown’s 20-yard line. On third-down-and-six, instead of going for the first down, Mroz completed a 20-yard gamble to wide receiver Ralph Plumb ’05 in the end zone, putting the Elis up for good 30-27. Plumb finished with nine receptions for 107 yards and one touchdown.
“The final touchdown play, as with most of our pass plays, had a short throw and a long throw possibility,” Siedlecki said. “We caught them in man to man; Jeff [Mroz] read it, Ralph [Plumb] beat his corner in man, and we came up with the big play.”
Similar to last week’s 35-7 victory over Columbia, the Yale aerial attack made the difference. Mroz ended the day 21 of 35 with 281 yards and four touchdowns.
“Brown sold out to defend the run, and it cost them big in play action passes down the field,” Siedlecki said. “Jeff [Mroz] has developed into an excellent long ball passer, and he made them pay dearly for having so many guys up defending the run game.”
With their second consecutive win, the Bulldogs are confident about their prospects against Princeton and Harvard.
“Winning close games really helps boost your confidence,” Lange said. “Having this under our belt really helps us in knowing that we can pull out those close games. The type of close game that we played against Brown this weekend will be the type of close game we will be playing against Princeton and Harvard.”