Just four plays into the game on Saturday, quarterback Patrick Witt ’12 forced a throw downfield as the pocket collapsed and watched as the ball landed in the outstretched hands of Lehigh cornerback Gabe Johnson.
However, as Johnson raced upfield, tight end Kyle Wittenauer ’14 managed to strip the ball from behind. Center John Oppenheimer ’14 quickly recovered the fumble to keep the first drive of the game alive — for less than a minute. Two plays later, on a screen pass, Deon Randall ’14 lost control of the football, allowing Lehigh (4–1, 0–0 Patriot) to score three points off the turnover.
The chaos and miscues that ensued on Yale’s opening drive plagued the team for the rest of game. Though they trailed by nine at halftime, the Bulldogs (2–1, 1–0 Ivy) could not overcome their early mistakes and the surging Mountain Hawks offense, suffering their first loss of the season, 37–7.
“We did not come completely ready to play our best game on Saturday,” captain and linebacker Jordan Haynes ’12 said.
Heading into the game, the Eli defense faced the daunting task of stopping Lehigh’s quarterback Chris Lum, who averaged four touchdowns and over 350 passing yards in the previous four games.
But an aggressive defensive line and secondary stepped up to the challenge and limited the damage done by the Mountain Hawks’ aerial attacks for two quarters. The Blue and White defenders disrupted the Mountain Hawks’ passing game with five pass deflections at the line of scrimmage and picked Lum off twice by halftime.
Coming off a cornerback blitz, Drew Baldwin ’12 — who had blocked Lum’s pass just four plays earlier — knocked the ball up in the air toward Will McHale ’13. The diving linebacker made a spectacular catch to give the Elis possession on Lehigh’s 29-yard line.
“We knew [Lum] is a sidearm passer,” head coach Tom Williams said. “We thought we could knock down some passes and were able to get an interception off one of them.”
Less than ten minutes after McHale’s pick, Kurt Stottlemyer ’13 jumped his receiver’s route to notch the Yale’s second interception of the game and his first of the season.
To compound the Mountain Hawks’ offensive misery, sophomore receiver Sergio Fernandez-Soto could not hang on to a Yale punt deep in his own territory. Haynes recovered the football inside the Lehigh red zone. But the Bulldogs could not capitalize on the favorable field positions generated by their opponents’ mistakes, often responding with turnovers and errors of their own. Twice the offense started inside the Mountain Hawks’ 30, and twice they came up empty.
McHale’s interception led to a 46-yard field goal attempt by Philippe Panico ’13 that sailed wide right of the goalpost. Lehigh captain Mike Groome picked off Witt just five plays after Stottlemyer’s interception.
“There were plenty of opportunities that we didn’t capitalize on which decided the outcome,” Witt said.
The costly penalties that plagued the Bulldogs in their season opener came back to haunt them once again.
A holding call against Wes Gavin ’14 wiped out a 16-yard touchdown run by Alex Thomas ’12. The Elis paid dearly for that mistake the next snap. Lehigh linebacker Sajjad Chagani charged through the Yale offensive line and strip-sacked Witt, eventually recovering the football at his own 34.
On the ensuing drive, defensive end Cliff Foreman ’12 batted down Lum’s pass to force a three-and-out. But a roughing the kicker call on the following punt put the Lehigh offense back onto the gridiron. Eight plays later, backup quarterback Michael Colvin ran into the end zone to give the Mountain Hawks a ten-point lead.
“[The offensive struggle] was all self-inflicted,” Williams said.
Lum and his receivers settled down after halftime and methodically took apart the Yale defense. The Mountain Hawks pulled away starting in the third quarter, reaching the end zone on three consecutive drives. Lum finished the game with 378 passing yards and threw three touchdowns to senior wideout Jake Drwal.
“We had a good game plan trying to shut down [Lehigh’s] receivers and quarterback,” Haynes said. “Unfortunately, toward the end of the game [the defense] began to wear down a bit, and they had players who took advantage of that.”
Allowing just a single sack in two games, the Bulldogs’ offensive linemen struggled to protect their quarterback against a physical and aggressive Lehigh defense. Witt was sacked four times for a loss of 26 yards and fumbled the ball twice.
“Having to avoid pressure throws off the timing of routes and forces a quarterback into some poor throws,” Witt said.
The senior signal caller completed just 12 passes on 31 attempts, throwing just one touchdown along with two interceptions.
When Witt managed to deliver perfectly placed passes, Yale receivers could not hang on to them. Allen Harris ’13 let a potential touchdown reception sail through his hand and Randall dropped several throws that would have moved the chains for the Bulldogs.
Wideout Chris Smith ’13 missed the game with a hamstring injury, which deprived the Elis of their biggest vertical threat. Sealing off the outside passing lane, the Mountain Hawks’ secondary forced Witt to look for receivers in the middle of the field.
Randall was Witt’s primary target on Saturday, finishing with four receptions for 52 yards. The tailback made an impressive 38-yard grab to begin the second quarter, wrestling the ball away from two defensive backs, and scored the team’s only touchdown on the same drive by catching an eight-yard dart from Witt.
Yale’s ground attack struggled to find a consistent rhythm throughout the game and could not complement its passing game. Thomas and Mordecai Cargill ’13 combined for just 27 rushing yards on eight carries in the first half.
“It was a battle in the trenches for most of the game,” Cargill said. “We grew more committed to the run as the game wore on because we started having success running the ball, but we were still trying to set up scoring opportunities through the air.”
Thomas was able to find some holes on the outside during the second half, gashing the Lehigh defense several times for big gains, but failed to find the end zone. The Elis gained a net total of 83 rushing yards on 30 attempts, averaging a paltry 2.8 yards per carry.
The Bulldogs will try to avenge their first loss against visiting Ivy League rival Dartmouth (1–2, 0–1) this Saturday at the Yale Bowl.
“Our attitude is completely different going into a conference game,” Witt said. “You will see that in our week of preparation and in our performance this weekend.”
A previous version of this article misstated the name of tight end Kyle Wittenauer ’14.