Usually, when a team posts 555 yards of total offense and its quarterback breaks the school record for total offense with 466 yards, that team should come away with a tally in the win column.
But on Saturday in Hamilton, NY, Yale (4-1, 2-0 Ivy) did both against No. 18 Colgate (7-0) and still ended up with a loss. In the end, turnovers and special team miscues handed the Elis their first loss of the season 52-40. The Red Raiders’ 52 points was the most an opponent has scored on the Bulldogs since a 63-point tally by University of Connecticut in 1998.
“We dug ourselves a 21-3 hole early against a very good football team,” head coach Jack Siedlecki said.
On the Elis’ first possession, Colgate linebacker Jared Nepa blocked Nate Lawrie’s ’04 punt and the Red Raiders recovered the ball at the Yale 26. Four plays later, Colgate tailback Jamaal Branch scored the first of his four touchdowns of the day and Yale trailed for the first time all season.
After a 25-yard Yale field goal, Colgate scored twice in the span of 57 seconds to take a 21-3 lead. The second score came on an interception return by Red Raider defensive back Ryan Disch. After pulling down the ill-advised pass attempt from Yale quarterback Alvin Cowan ’04, Disch had nothing between him and the endzone but 23 yards of open space.
“That was a bad play by me,” Cowan said. “I was running away from a defender and got tripped up. As I was falling to the ground, I tried to get rid of it, so as not to lose yardage, but I didn’t get as much on it as I hoped and it ended up going right to the Colgate defender. I saw the Colgate guy, but I thought I was going to get more on the ball in order to get it out of bounds.”
Despite a dismal start to the game, Yale rallied. On the ensuing drive, Cowan threw for 74 of his 421 yards of the day. Cowan also completed 35 of 55 passing attempts over the course of the game. Wide receiver Ralph Plumb ’05 caught a 24-yarder for the first of his three receiving touchdowns of the afternoon.
“What helped bounce me back was the blocking up front,” Cowan said. “When your confidence is shaken a little bit by a play like that, it’s nice to go back on the field and feel like you’re playing seven on seven — which was really what it was like with the time I was getting.”
Siedlecki said that the Red Raiders struggled to cover Yale’s receivers man-to-man and that the Elis did a good job of picking up Colgate’s blitzes. Lawrie had a banner day in his tight end duties, catching 16 balls for 167 yards.
But despite the rebound in the offense, the disparities between the two special teams proved too much for Yale to overcome.
“All told, there was a 200-yard difference in the kick return game, [punt] returns, kicks out of bounds, and penalties,” Siedlecki said. “That more than made up for our [167-]yard advantage in total offense.”
Going into this weekend’s contest, Yale thought Colgate’s running game was the Red Raiders’ most dangerous threat. But in the first half on Saturday, it was the Colgate passing attack, particularly the Red Raiders’ taller receivers, that seemed to give the Bulldogs more trouble. 6-foot-3-inch Luke Graham finished the first half with five catches for 106 yards and 6-foot-5-inch tight end John Frieser pulled down a pass high over the heads of the Yale secondary with 46 seconds left in the first half for a touchdown. Frieser’s high altitude grab reestablished Colgate’s lead at 31-20.
“[Graham is] a tall guy and we have shorter corners,” Yale safety Stephen Ehikian ’04 said. “He just out-jumped us for the ball. He made a couple of big completions, and that [helps] the quarterback [feel] more comfortable in the pocket. The height disadvantage has been there all year, and we’re just going to have to deal with it.”
Jamaal Branch, Div. I-AA’s leading rusher coming into the game, had been largely silent in the first half. But after two unsuccessful series involving mostly pass plays to start the second half, Colgate went back to their bread and butter — the run. With 58 seconds left in the third quarter, Branch ripped a 68-yard touchdown run that gave the Red Raiders a 38-20 advantage and put the Elis on their heels
“We stopped a great back for nearly three quarters, but he made the biggest play in the game,” Siedlecki said.
A 20-yard touchdown run by David Knox ’06, who led the Elis with 62 yards on the ground, in the beginning of the fourth quarter again brought Yale within 11 to 38-27. But Colgate put the game out of reach with back-to-back touchdown drives. Colgate started the first of these drives with a 58-yard kickoff return. Minutes after the first touchdown, Yale running back Rob Carr ’05 fumbled the ball to set up the Red Raiders on the Yale 25, granting Colgate their second touchdown.
“What it comes down to this game was field position — who had it and who didn’t,” free safety Steve Ehikian ’04 said.
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