The Yale Bowl is not quite ready for football season: Weeds are growing among seats near the end zones, rows of broken benches have yet to be replaced and the main flagpole is missing its Stars and Stripes.
But the Yale 11 looked almost ready for next weekend’s season opener as they shook off a slow start and defeated Dean College, 24–7, in a scrimmage at the Yale Bowl on Saturday. Although the offense struggled early against an aggressive Dean squad, steady defense and some spectacular special teams work gave quarterback Patrick Witt ’12 and his offense the time they needed to adjust.
“There were a couple hiccups along the way, but that’s what a scrimmage is for,” captain and linebacker Jordan Haynes ’12 said. “We expect to learn from this, come out hard and make plays next weekend.”
The Bulldogs will return to the Bowl next weekend against Georgetown, and those results will be the first to count. Against Dean, both team’s quarterbacks wore red jerseys so they would not be hit and the coaches decided to end the game after three quarters — and head to a joint barbecue.
That informal setting meant that Yale had not watched film or otherwise drawn up a gameplan for the scrimmage, head coach Tom Williams said. When the Dean defense came out blitzing early and often, the Elis struggled to move the ball, dealt with play calling miscommunication and failed to score an offensive touchdown until late in the second quarter.
“It was a frustrating first half,” Witt said. “We hadn’t game-planned, we hadn’t seen them on film and no matter who you’re playing, it’s going to be difficult to adjust right away to a new defense.”
Instead, the team’s special teams provided the early fireworks, even though they had been a weekly nightmare for Williams last season — blocked kicks and other special teams woes contributed greatly to each of the team’s three losses.
But on Saturday, kicker Phillipe Panico ’13 calmly drilled a 47-yard field goal through the uprights to open the scoring late in the first quarter. His longest 3-point kick last season had been a 39-yarder.
Less than two minutes later, the other side of the special teams struck. Gio Christodoulou ’12, who is taking advantage of a medical redshirt to play a fifth season, gave Yale a 10–0 lead early in the second quarter when he ran a punt back 65 yards for a score.
Those points for the special teams were all Yale needed, thanks to a steady effort from Haynes and the rest of the defense. Defensive lineman Austin Pulsipher ’12 had two pseudo-sacks — in order to avoid injuries, quarterbacks were called down at a touch from an opposing player — as the Elis kept Dean bottled up all afternoon. The visitors never reached the red zone, and their only touchdown of the day came on a 67-yard pass from quarterback Robbie Jackson to receiver Erik Smith.
“It was great to come out and hit somebody new,” Haynes said.
Seven minutes after that score, Yale extended its lead with some more hard work by special teams. A deep punt from Greg Carlsen ’14 followed by a Dean fumble gave Yale the ball at the visitors’ 6-yard line. Two plays later, running back Alex Thomas ’12 was in the end zone and flipping the ball to a referee.
Thomas did not see many carries, as Williams gave his other running backs — including walk-on Wynston Bouknight ’15 — the chance to see some action. But Thomas dazzled when he did touch the ball and had 18- and 29-yard carries on the Elis’ only true touchdown drive of the game.
That drive started early in the third quarter, and ended when Witt found standout receiver Chris Smith ’13 leaping through traffic in the end zone for a 28-yard touchdown. Witt finished the day 12 for 20 for 112 yards and looked more and more in control as the game progressed.
“[Witt] understands exactly what we’re trying to do,” Williams said. “And now that [quarterback] Brook [Hart ’11] has graduated, this is clearly and without question his team.”
Backup quarterback John Whitelaw ’14 took over the play-calling soon after Smith’s touchdown, as Williams gave his developing players the chance to see some action. Fullback Keith Coty ’14 provided one of the day’s highlights for the younger generation when he took a screen pass, then lowered his shoulder and trucked a defender near the sideline en route to a first down.
After the two teams shook hands following the third quarter, Witt said he was happy with the way the team adjusted to the aggressive Dean defense.
“Of all the things we saw today, the most encouraging is how we responded to adversity at halftime,” he said. “That’s the team you’ll see once we get going.”
Yale’s season opener against Georgetown kicks off next Saturday at noon.