With time expiring in the first half, a bold fake field goal run by Jordan Forney ’11 gave Yale the momentum and showed that once again head coach Tom Williams was willing to gamble.
But that was the lone highlight for the special teams unit.
The Bulldogs (2-1, 1-0 IVY) fell under the weight of the University at Albany Great Danes (2-2, 0-1 NEC), who blocked a field goal, an extra point, and returned a blocked punt for a touchdown en route to a 23-20 victory at the Yale Bowl.
“I feel kind of like the Dutch boy,” head coach Tom Williams said. “Every time there’s a hole in the dyke I feel like I plug it and another hole comes up.”
Williams has downplayed the Bulldogs’ special teams problems since the first game of the season, when Georgetown blocked both field goal attempts from Alex Barnes ’11. But this week, Williams acknowledged it as a crisis.
“We have to throw a grenade in there and blow it all up and start again,” he said.
Although quarterback Patrick Witt ’12 capped his team’s first drive with a 24-yard completion to Forney, the weaknesses in the speicial teams immediately became apparent when Albany blocked Barnes’ extra point.
The problems continued on Yale’s second drive of the game after the Great Danes forced the Bulldogs into a three-and-out and Barnes’s first punt of the game sailed straight into the oncoming Albany rush. A bounce, a seven-yard jog by Albany’s Justinian Mason, and an extra point later, Albany had seized the lead for good.
Heading into the final minute of the first half, Yale was struggling to move the ball and trailed 17-6.
Taking over at midfield, Witt found no open receivers and scampered 22 yards up the middle.
With seconds left on the clock, kicker Alex Barnes ’11 lined up to attempt a 45-yard field goal. Forney, the holder, took the snap, stood up, and narrowly beat three Albany defenders to the corner pylon on a 28-yard touchdown sprint.
“The guys blocked it and led the way for me,” Forney said. “With one second left in the half, I knew I had to finish and get into the end zone.”
Barnes got his chance to kick and converted the point after, and Yale went to the locker rooms trailing only 17-13.
“This is an interesting way to make a living,” said Albany head coach Bob Ford. “We sent out our field goal block unit and told them above all watch out for the fake, and they did — they watched it all the way to the endzone.”
The offense failed to capitalize on the momentum in the second half.
Down by four in the third quarter, Witt took the pitch from Chris Smith ’13 on a flea-flicker play and then heaved a 45-yard pass to Gio Christodoulou ’11 at the 2-yard line.
But the Bulldogs couldn’t punch the ball in from there, and Albany blocked Barnes’ 20-yard field goal attempt.
Albany went on to widen their lead to 23-13 when quarterback Dan Di Lella led the offense 80 yards in the fourth quarter. It was the only Great Danes scoring drive of the game that started in their own territory.
The Yale attack finally came alive again with 4:30 left in the fourth quarter, when a strong effort from the defense gave them the ball at the Albany 31. Witt needed only two plays to take advantage of the favorable field positioning. He brought Yale within a field goal with a 16-yard touchdown pass to a wide-open Smith.
Yet only 3:38 remained on the clock. Williams called for an onside kick, but Nick Okano ‘14 was hit as he jumped for the football. Yale’s best chance at a comeback rolled out of bounds and Albany took over in the home team’s territory.
The Yale defense kept hope alive when they stopped Albany on 4th and 2 with 1:36 remaining. But the Bulldogs could muster no last gasp offense, and disaster struck when Witt was hit in mid throw and knocked out of the game with less than a minute left to play.
Williams said on Monday that the quarterback has a bruised hand and is expected to play at Dartmouth next week.
Witt’s was not the only scary injury for the Bulldogs. Veteran center Jake Koury ‘11 was knocked out of the game in the first quarter, and Christodoulou and linebacker Matt Battaglia both left the game in the fourth quarter.
Koury and Battaglia both injured their knees and will miss next week’s game, according to Williams. Christodoulou is expected on the field in Hanover.
Koury is a veteran of the offensive line and the offense did not recover after his injury, with the running game suffered especially. Running back Alex Thomas ’12, who had been averaging 107 yards per game before this week, managed only 17 yards on 14 carries after the veteran center hobbled off the field.
“One of things about [Yale’s] first drive is that on almost every first down they got five yards or more,” said Ford. “So we tightened it up inside and took the running game away and turned it into a one dimensional game on their side.”
The Bulldogs defense almost made up for the one dimensional offense. Though without captain Tom McCarthy ’11 for the second consecutive week, the unit held Albany to a mere 273 yards.
“It’s never good to lose, but since the second half against Cornell we’ve been starting to click,” safety Adam Money ‘11 said. “It’s not just everyone trying to do what he’s assigned. Everyone can feel where everyone else will be and we’re playing like a unit.”
Yale will look to rebound from this week’s loss when they continue their Ivy League schedule at Dartmouth (2-1, 0-1). Kickoff is slated for 1:30 PM in Hanover next Saturday.