NEW YORK — Money was everywhere Saturday afternoon at Robert K. Kraft Field.
Cornerback Adam Money ’11 made a touchdown-saving tackle and forced a Columbia fumble late in the fourth quarter — two plays that made Yale’s improbable 23–22 comeback victory over Columbia possible.
For most of Saturday’s game, it seemed to be more of the same for the Bulldogs: through the first three quarters, the Elis trailed 14–3, a two-possession deficit that appeared to put the game out of reach given the fact that Yale had not scored an offensive touchdown in its last 11 quarters of play.
And then something happened. Or, more like it, a lot of things happened.
Backup quarterback Patrick Witt ’12, who had come in to the game after halftime, threw for two touchdowns and 151 yards in the fourth quarter as the Bulldogs capitalized on key turnovers by Columbia. Down 22–10 with 8:24 remaining, Yale (4–3, 2–2 Ivy) came back to win on its final drive of the game and defeated the Lions (2–5, 1–3) by a single point.
“It was probably the greatest win I’ve ever been a part of here,” h-back John Sheffield ’10 said. “We told ourselves, ‘No matter what, we’re going to find a way. Somehow, someway we’re going to win this game.’ ”
On the other side, the Lions were in disbelief after the crushing defeat.
“It hurts to lose games like this,” Columbia senior wide receiver Austin Knowlin said. “The way the ball bounces sometimes, you look at it and — really, I’m lost for words right now.”
Earlier in the game, though, things did not look good for the Elis. Columbia controlled the first half, keeping Yale 0-for-6 on third-down conversions, and sacking starting quarterback Brook Hart ’11 four times.
Columbia’s first score came with three minutes left in the half after the defense recovered a fumble by tailback Mordecai Cargill ’13. On the Lions’ next play, they ran a trick reverse pass, which resulted in a 36-yard touchdown pass from freshman quarterback Sean Brackett to senior wide receiver Taylor Joseph. A missed point-after-touchdown kept the score 6–0.
Taking advantage of Money’s 48-yard return on the ensuing kickoff, Alex Barnes ’11 made a 47-yard field goal as time expired in the first half to make it 63.
It was Barnes’ first field goal of the season. He had previously been the backup to Tom Mante ’10, but became the first-string kicker after Mante missed all three of his field goal attempts last week at Penn.
The third quarter was remarkably similar to the second. Columbia scored the period’s only points after recovering another Cargill fumble, with Brackett throwing a 31-yard touchdown pass to give the Lions a 14–3 lead following a successful two-point conversion.
Having replaced Hart after halftime, Witt came alive in the fourth quarter, finding Sheffield on a 17-yard pass before hitting him again for a 20-yard diving touchdown catch across the middle of the end zone to make the score 14–10 with 11:50 remaining.
“We thought we’d give [Witt] the opportunity to go out there so that [Hart] could watch from the sideline and start maybe seeing a different picture,” head coach Tom Williams said. “[Witt] got hot, and of course we wanted to ride the hot hand at that point.”
After the Lions responded with a touchdown pass of their own, as well as another two-point conversion to increase the lead to 22-10, Witt responded again.
The sophomore quarterback completed all four of his passes on the ensuing drive for a total of 54 yards, and Alex Thomas ’12 ran for a five-yard touchdown, bringing the Bulldogs within five points with 6:05 left to play.
On the ensuing drive, the Lions came within two yards of putting the game away, but Columbia junior tailback Leon Ivery’s 75-yard run was cut just short of the goal line by Money, who was able to catch up to Ivery and tackle him at the two-yard line.
“Coach is always saying, ‘Control the things you can control,’ ” Money said. “One of the things that you can control is your effort. Coach has done a nice job of instilling that type of effort and driving us.”
Captain and linebacker Paul Rice ’10 said the effort was a game saver.
“Adam is one of those kids that just never gives up on a play,” Rice said. “It’s just a testament to the kind of player that he is — that he would be able to chase him down and make that play.”
And then came Rice’s blow.
On the next play, Rice tackled junior Lion tailback Zack Kourouma, punching the ball loose with his helmet and allowing linebacker Sean Williams ’11 to recover the pigskin.
“It was a linebacker’s dream,” Rice said. “Before the play, I was like, ‘You know what, I’ve watched enough film, I know what’s coming.’ I saw the back … and just hit him as hard as I possibly could.”
The Bulldogs were forced to punt on their next possession but quickly got the ball back with 2:06 left after Money made another game-changing play. He wrapped Brackett up and ripped the ball away, then recovered the fumble himself.
“I was able to hit him from the side, and my hand just happened — when I wrapped him up — to go around the end of the football,” Money said. “[Pulling the ball out] was just instinct.”
Forty-nine yards away from the end zone, Witt quickly led the Elis on one last drive, starting with a 22-yard pass to tight end A.J. Haase ’10.
After an eight-yard pass to wide receiver Peter Balsam ’11, an incomplete pass and a one-yard run by Thomas, the Bulldogs were faced with fourth-and-one on Columbia’s 20-yard line with 1:06 left.
The next play seemed to be Yale’s last, though, as Witt’s short pass to Sheffield sailed incomplete. But a late penalty flag was thrown for holding on Sheffield’s defender, giving the Elis a second chance.
“I was having flashbacks to that two-point play against Cornell,” Witt said. “We didn’t get the flag on that one, and we lost the game. I was glad to get the call. I felt like there were some plays early on in the game where we may have gotten a call but didn’t.”
With first-and-goal on Columbia’s 10-yard line, Witt found Haase on the left edge of the end zone for the score that gave Yale the 23-22 lead.
“A.J. [Haase] was matched up on a linebacker, and that’s a matchup that I like,” Witt said. “I took the drop, the corner sat on the little stop route, and I just put it up for A.J., and he made a great play.”
The subsequent two-point try fell incomplete, meaning the Lions were only a field goal away from winning the game. But on the Lions’ next play, strong safety Marcus Wallace ’11 intercepted an errant pass from Brackett, allowing Yale to kneel the ball and run out the clock.
“It was one of the weirdest wins I’ve ever been a part of, that’s for sure,” Haase said.
But Rice was quick to interject during the postgame press conference.
“It’s a win and we’ll take it,” the captain emphasized.
Although Williams said he was happy with the way the Bulldogs had eked out a victory, he said he was not satisfied with the way the team had played for most of the game.
“This was by far our worst overall effort,” Williams said. “We came alive there at the end, but we sleepwalked through the first half.”
One explanation for the defense’s struggles may lie in the fact that Yale had not been prepared to face Brackett and Ivery, who were each starting their first games of the season. Brackett and Ivery both found success on the ground, totaling 68 and 127 rushing yards, respectively.
“[Brackett] was a lot more mobile than I thought he would be,” Rice said. “I was definitely impressed with what he could do on his feet.”
Wide receiver and kick/punt returner Chris Smith ’13 did not play after he injured his hip last week at Penn. Money was impressive in Smith’s place, returning the ball six times for a total of 115 yards.
In addition to having an exciting finish, Saturday’s game was also notable for the fact that it marked the first time in Ivy League history that two black head coaches have faced each other. Columbia’s head coach, Norries Wilson, became the Ivy League’s first black head football coach when he was hired for the Lions in 2006.
“The significance of the day is not lost on either one of us,” Williams said. “We both appreciate the opportunity to be head coaches. We are both proud of our heritage.”
He added: “But at the end of the day it was Yale against Columbia.”