These Bulldogs have a flair for the dramatic.
The Yale football team (7–2, 5–1 Ivy) preserved its chances at winning a share of the Ivy League championship by holding on for a narrow victory over Princeton (1–8, 0–6 Ivy) at the Yale Bowl Saturday. The Bulldogs’ 14–13 victory was their fifth consecutive win by a field goal or less.
Events in Philadelphia, however, did not work out as nicely for Yale’s title chances.After Penn defeated Harvard 34–14 on Saturday to clinch at least a share of the Ivy League title, the Elis will need to defeat the Crimson and have Cornell upset the Quakers next week in order to be co-champions.
Few expected the struggling Tigers to be much of a threat to the second-place Bulldogs, but the Yale team said it knew that the emotions of a rivalry game can change everything.
“We knew we were going to get Princeton’s best effort,” head coach Tom Williams said. “No matter what their record, we knew they were going to come here for a rivalry football game and play their best football. They did, but we were still able to make our plays and give ourselves the chance to win the game.”
Those plays came from all of the Elis’ usual suspects. Although the team came almost 90 yards short of its average of 380.2 yards per game, it made the plays it needed to. Quarterback Patrick Witt ’12 rebounded from a tough game against Brown last week and passed for 237 yards and a touchdown. He picked apart the Princeton secondary by spreading out his throws — seven Elis had 20 or more yards receiving.
Witt struggled only on plays in which he was unable to attempt a pass. Princeton brought heavy pressure all game, and sacked Witt five times. Witt and center Jake Koury ’11 also fumbled two snaps, one of which Princeton recovered.
“Today we got a little off in terms of cadence and tempo,” Witt said.
The aerial attack got help from Alex Thomas ’12, who could not extend his 100-yard rushing streak to three games but averaged a strong 5.1 yards on 15 rushes. Yet again, those carries included some crucial rushes in the game’s final minutes that allowed Yale to run out the clock. But, in what is becoming a weekly ritual, Thomas refused to take credit for those yards.
“Late in the game, this team just comes together and we do what we have to do,” he said. “The line blocked as well as they ever block and the fullbacks made some big holes and I just focused on holding on to the ball.”
Those offensive weapons, and a strong Yale defense, made the game look as lopsided as the two teams’ records early on. Although the Elis’ promising first drive ended with a fumble by wide receiver and special teams star Chris Smith ’13, the defense wasted no time in responding. Defensive back Geoff Dunham ’12 picked up a fumble forced by Allen Davis ’13 on the Tigers’ next drive and took it back 57 yards for a Yale touchdown.
“The ball was bouncing around on the ground for maybe one or two seconds, and there was just a big void there,” Dunham said. “I ran up and nabbed it, swept around the left side, and I believe Adam Money ’11 had the block that sprung me. I just took it all the way.”
Princeton kicker Patrick Jacob missed a 44-yard field goal on the Tiger’s ensuing drive, and the visitors did not threaten again until the second half. But when the Tigers started to move the ball, Yale did not seem to have a response. Quarterback Andrew Dixon took the Tigers 78 yards all the way to the Yale 3 yard-line with just two third downs. Then Jordan Haynes ’11 came up with another big turnover. This one was an interception in the end zone to save six points for the Elis.
But turnovers hurt Yale too. Just three plays after Haynes’ pick, Deon Randall ’14 dropped the ball, and Princeton recovered at the Yale 23. This time, the Tigers would not be denied. Although the Bulldog defense refused to budge, Princeton was well within field goal range. Jacob narrowed the score to 7–3 with a 33-yard field goal with 7:32 left in the half.
And the Tigers kept coming. After their defense forced a Yale three-and-out, Princeton quarterback Connor Kelly — who split duties with Dixon — capped a drive that started at his own 24 with a 28-yard strike to wide receiver Trey Peacock. Yale double teamed Peacock, the Ivy League’s top receiver, for most of the game, but on this one he beat Yale zone coverage and cornerback Chris Stanley ’11 and reeled in a pass from Kelley as he dove forward into the end zone.
Kelley, a freshman, finished the game 13 of 17 for 122 yards and the touchdown to Peacock, and also threatened with his feet on every play. He led the Tigers with 55 yards on 10 carries, many of which came after the Bulldogs looked about to sack him. He haunted the Bulldogs especially in the first half, when the Tigers rebounded from last week’s 52–10 defeat at Penn and racked up 272 yards.
“We wanted to show that last week was an aberration,” Princeton head coach Bob Surace said.
But, though Yale’s defense gave up yards, it used plays like Hayne’s interception to deny Princeton points all game. The offense, meanwhile, was not content to let the 10–7 Tiger lead stand.
On the next drive, Witt brought the team downfield with a 33-yard pass to a wide open Jordan Forney ’11. The Bulldogs seized the lead for good three plays later when tight end Chris Blohm ’11 caught a screen pass from Witt and rumbled 16 yards for the score.
After Blohm’s catch, the game was all defense. The defense came out of the locker room after their tough first half and allowed only 60 yards in the second. The only points they allowed came after a poor punt from Greg Carlsen ‘14 gave Princeton the ball at the Yale 40 and Jacob drilled a 35-yard field goal through the uprights two minutes later.
“There was no panic,” Williams said. “We don’t think we have to go into a phone booth and put an ‘S’ on our chest and go out and play. We just need to make the plays we’re supposed to make and we did more of those in the second half than we did in the first.”
But the Princeton defense did not panic either, and shut the Bulldogs out in the second half. Gio Christodoulou ’11 — who was celebrated with the other seniors on the team before the game but will be back next year because he has a year of eligibility left — gave the Bulldogs excellent field position on nearly every punt return, with 90 yards on five returns, but the rest of the attack could not take advantage. The Elis earned 132 yards on the half, and their most promising drive ended at the Princeton 24 when the Tigers recovered a fumbled snap.
But the defense held strong throughout. Princeton kicked a field goal with 7:34 to go in the third quarter and brought the Tigers within a point, but never had a chance to take the lead.
“They had a lot of success moving the ball in the first half, and we had to step up and make some plays, especially in the fourth quarter,” captain and defensive lineman Tom McCarthy ’11 said. “We knew they had a good kicker and just needed a field goal for the lead. So we had to stop them when they came to midfield.”
The Elis accomplished that, and put the game away after Princeton decided not to try to convert a 4th and 6 with 3:25 to go.
“Yale’s run the clock out on a couple teams this year, and [punting meant] taking a chance,” Surace said. “But we figured you back them up and pin them inside the 15, 10 yard line. Then you get a stop and get the offense the ball again to get in range for a field goal.”
The offense ensured that Surace’s gamble would not pay off. Thomas rushed four times, Witt converted a crucial third down pass on the run to Forney, and Yale was able to let the clock run out on a 14–13 win and take sole possession of second place in the Ivy League.
“We expect to be here,” Williams said. “And we expect to continue to stay here.”