BETHLEHEM, Penn. — Desperate times call for desperate measures.
All season long, head football coach Tom Williams has used trick plays. None, however, has been as significant as Paul Rice’s ’10 40-yard touchdown run off a trick punt play early in the third quarter.
The touchdown proved to be the game’s only score, as Yale (3–2, 1–1 Ivy) shutout Lehigh 7–0, the first time in 23 years that the Mountain Hawks (1–6) were shutout.
“It’s hard to win, period, but to be able to keep someone from scoring, that even adds more to winning,” Williams said. “Shutouts are precious.”
The Bulldog offense was anemic in the first half, recording only two first downs and 34 yards of total offense. Both teams seemed to struggle with moving the ball downfield in the cold and rainy conditions at windy Goodman Stadium.
Quarterback Brook Hart ’12 ended the half 5-for-18 with an interception, but did not blame the weather for his struggles.
“We practice in the morning with the dew and the cold, so I don’t think the weather affected [my performance] too much,” Hart said.“I just didn’t get into a rhythm all game.”
Yale’s best two chances in the half came early in the first quarter.
On their second possession of the game, the offense took over at the Lehigh 42-yard line. The Elis, however, could not capitalize on their favorable field position and Hart threw two consecutive incomplete passes, the latter coming off a fourth-and-five.
The next play saw the Yale offense get a second chance, as freshman Mountain Hawk quarterback Michael Colvin ran three yards before fumbling the ball. Linebacker Travis Henry ’10 recovered it and returned it 11 yards to the Lehigh 28-yard line.
Even though they were within field goal range right away, the Bulldogs promptly pushed themselves backwards into their own half of the field with three consecutive penalties — two holding calls and a false start — and had to punt on fourth down.
During its last drive of the half, Lehigh seemed poised to be the first team to score. Sophomore Mountain Hawk quarterback Chris Lum avoided a near sack by defensive tackle Tom McCarthy ’10 and ran down the left sideline, gaining 43 yards before stepping out of bounds at the Yale 14-yard line.
McCarthy was able to redeem himself, however, as he blocked Lehigh’s 33-yard field goal attempt, all but ending the half with the score still 0–0.
On the second play of the half, cornerback Adam Money ’11 forced another Colvin fumble, which free safety Geoff Dunham ’12 recovered and brought to the 50-yard line.
After moving the ball 15 yards on five plays, the Bulldogs were facing fourth and six on the Lehigh 35-yard line. A false start call then brought them back another five yards to the Lehigh 40-yard line.
The Bulldogs once again looked like they were about to squander an opportunity created by their defense.
But Williams had other plans. After having noticed a weakness in the Lehigh special teams while studying the Mountain Hawks on tape during the week, Williams called for a fake punt.
The play worked flawlessly, as punter Tom Mante ’10 pretended to catch the snap, which had actually gone to linebacker and captain Paul Rice ’10. Rice, running behind two blockers, emerged from the scuffle and was able to run along the right sideline, untouched for the final 30 yards of his 40-yard touchdown run.
“I let [my teammates’] blocks develop and then at some point — I think I cut back a little bit — I saw a bunch of daylight on the sideline,” Rice said. “I was a running back in high school, so I knew to run to daylight.”
Williams believed that the earlier false start penalty had caused the Lehigh defense to let its guard down, but Mountain Hawk head coach Andy Coen said that the team was expecting the fake punt.
“We know going in that it was going to be a fake but [Rice] made a great individual effort,” Coen said.
From there, the Yale offense showed improvement but proved unable to move the ball into the red zone. On the next two possessions, the Bulldogs failed on fourth-down tries when they were 33 and 25 yards from the end zone.
After these two promising drives, Hart returned to his first-half form during the fourth quarter, throwing two interceptions during Yale’s next two drives.
“They weren’t blowing any assignments and everybody seemed to be in the right position and made plays when they were there,” Hart said. “A couple of the interceptions I didn’t think they would be able to make, but obviously they did.”
Neither interception hurt the Elis, but the second one did get the defense nervous.
Starting on the Yale 36-yard line, the Mountain Hawks promptly gained 15 yards on a personal foul call against the Bulldogs. Lehigh was able to get the ball to the seven yard-line, but McCarthy delivered a crucial sack on third and goal, forcing a field goal attempt — which went wide left on the next play.
“We knew when they were in shotgun that they were going to be throwing downfield, and I think our d-line was licking their chops because they wanted to get sacks,” Rice said. “They came up big in a few crucial points.”
Although the Bulldogs’ offensive unit was never able to score against Lehigh’s defense, it was hardly the fault of Rodney Reynolds ’10, who received his first playing time of the year.
Playing almost entirely during the fourth quarter, Reynolds had 11 carries for 45 yards and brought the Elis within field goal range with two minutes left on the clock. Mante’s 45-yard field goal attempt was blocked, however.
“Coming out of spring practices, Rodney was our starting running back but he had [two hamstring injuries] that set him back,” Williams said. “To his credit he kept practicing and doing all of the things that we asked him to do.”
Lehigh’s final drive of the game saw them start on their 46-yard line after the blocked field goal. Sophomore wide receiver De’Vaughn Gordon caught a four-yard pass on the next play, and — about to be tackled — attempted to lateral to a teammate. The ball soared over the receiver’s head and into the diving arms of Yale linebacker Sean Williams ’11.
Hart was able to knee the ball on the next four plays to waste the game’s remaining two minutes, although he did fumble — but then recover — the final snap of the game.
Strong safety Larry Abare ’10, the team’s leader in tackles, was injured midway through the first quarter while defending a punt return. He did not play the rest of the game and after the game Williams said his status was unknown.
It may have been ugly, but Williams said that the team is satisfied with the win as they head back into Ivy League play next weekend at Penn.
“We’re just excited about the win,” he said. “It wasn’t necessarily the way you draw ’em up, but that’s the way of football is.”