On his second carry of the day, Alex Thomas ’12 started off on the wrong foot. Literally.
The senior tailback took the handoff from quarterback Patrick Witt ’12 and headed toward the opposite of his intended direction. But Thomas quickly adjusted his footwork and suddenly found a wide-open running lane in front of him. The shifty speedster dashed through the Dartmouth defense for a 74-yard touchdown run to give the Yale a 7–0 lead just a minute into the game.
Anchored by an overwhelming ground game and a suffocating defense, the Bulldogs (3–1, 2–0 Ivy) handed the Dartmouth Big Green (1–3, 0–2 Ivy) its third straight loss, 30–0, on Saturday at the Yale Bowl. The Elis notched their first shutout of the season and bounced back after a disheartening loss to Lehigh last weekend.
“We feel better about the egg we laid this week,” head coach Tom Williams said. “We knew we had to come out and redeem ourselves.”
The Bulldogs took advantage of a porous Big Green defensive front and scored two rushing touchdowns in the first quarter to jump out to a quick 13–0 lead.
Thomas only had to break off a single tackle and ran untouched into the end zone for his second touchdown of the year. He finished with a season-high 130 rushing yards on 12 attempts, averaging a stunning 10.8 yards per carry.
But Thomas was not the only Yale back who enjoyed success on the ground. Mordecai Cargill ’13 added a 40-yard touchdown run of his own two drives later. The tailback dodged linebacker Luke Hussey with a spin move and the hapless Big Green defenders could only watch as Cargill sped away.
“Part of our game plan was to pound the ball and beat the defense physically,” center John Oppenheimer ’14 said. “We thought we could do that and just control the line.”
The Yale rushing attack racked up 269 yards on 36 attempts — both season highs —against the worst rushing defense in the Ivy League. Thomas attributed much of the success on the ground to the offensive line’s domination over the Dartmouth defensive front seven.
“The offensive line is the best line I had since I have been here, and they just continue to get better and better,” he said. “They make holes and make [the running backs’] jobs much easier.”
However, the offensive line may have lost one of its best players in late third quarter. Left tackle Wes Gavin ’14 went down with an ankle injury and it is unclear how much time he will miss.
While the Bulldogs’ rushing game thrived, the Big Green struggled on the ground. Nick Schwieger, who averaged 133 rushing yards heading into the game, was held in check by Blue and White defenders.
The senior running back, who broke Dartmouth’s all-time rushing record, gained only 49 rushing yards on 16 carries. The Big Green finished with 102 yards on the ground and averaged a lifeless 1.7 yards per carry, both well below season average.
“We came into the game knowing it was going to be a battle in the trenches,” defensive tackle Jake Stoller ’12 said. “Our goal was to get after the run and stop that.”
The defense also imposed its will on the Dartmouth quarterbacks, Andy Gay and Conner Kempe, who combined for 14 completions on 33 attempts and were sacked three times. Gay started the game in place of Kempe, who had a 47 percent completion percentage after three games as the starter. But the freshman could not get the Big Green passing game going and was benched after halftime.
Eli defenders ended Dartmouth’s slim hope for a comeback in early third quarter. On a fake punt by Big Green, Dawson Halliday ’12 knocked the ball loose from safety Joey Casey and Drew Baldwin ’12 recovered the fumble near midfield.
Williams said that he is confident the Bulldogs will be capable of repeating their shutdown performance again.
“I think our defense feels like we are capable of [shutting out our opponent] frequently,” he said. “We feel like we can go out there and have the ability to be as good as we want to be.”
A week after his worst performance of the season, Witt rebounded by completing 21 passes on 29 attempts, with one touchdown and two interceptions. However, the impact of his first pick was short lived, as linebacker Brendan Murray lost control of the ball and Oppenheimer recovered the fumble to keep the drive alive.
“It could have been great field position for us but it actually ended up being a net gain for Yale,” Dartmouth coach Buddy Teevens said.
The passing game was buoyed by the return of Chris Smith ’13 — sitting out last week with a hamstring injury — who caught six catches for 100 yards and one touchdown.
The junior wideout delivered the final knockout punch on the first play of the fourth quarter. Smith separated himself from cornerback Shawn Abuhoff and caught a 44-yard bomb after Witt faked the handoff to Thomas.
“We like to throw the ball, too,” Williams said. “So when [Smith] is available, that gives us another dimension [on offense].”
On a day full of big plays, Gio Christodoulou ’12 strolled into the end zone on a 53-yard punt return touchdown and almost took another one to the house at the end of fourth quarter, taking the punt 42 yards into Dartmouth territory.
Christodoulou finished the day with 106 yards on punt returns and became Yale’s all-time leader in career punt return yardage with 823. No other Yalies have over 800 yards. Smith’s ten yards kickoff return, his only one of the day, launched him into third place on the Bulldogs’ career kickoff yardage list.
“We can change the game every time someone kicks the ball to us,” Williams said about his duo of dangerous returners.
The Bulldogs will head off to Lafayette (1–4, 0–1 Patriot) for their final non-conference game of the year.