An hour before the Yale football team was to kickoff against Columbia, the year’s first snow fell onto stadium.
The snowstorm soon turned into a blizzard, covering the field with a layer of icy slosh and chilling the players to their cores. Throwing and catching the football became a difficult task.
On the sideline, running back Mordecai Cargill ‘13 realized that with fellow back Alex Thomas ’12 out of commission with a knee injury, he had to carry the Yale offense.
And he did just that.
Cargill rushed 42 times for 230 yards and two touchdowns, propelling the Bulldogs (4–3, 3–1 Ivy) to a 16–13 victory against Columbia (0–7, 0–4) on a battlefield covered by snow and ice. In game reminiscent of the early days of college football, both teams began pounding the ball since the kickoff but the Elis’ rushing game ultimately proved too much for the Lions to handle.
With Thomas’ 204-yard performance last week against Penn, Yale fielded back-to-back 200-yard rushers for the first time in school history. Cargill also became the first Eli to carry the ball at least 40 times since Mike McLeod ’09 did it against Lehigh four years ago.
“All week, we have been prepared for this type of weather,” Cargill said. “I was ready for it. I know the team was looking for me to really help out today.”
Coming into the game, the Blue and White offensive line was missing two regular starters. Starting right tackle Roy Collins ’13 joined left tackle Wes Gavin ’14, who has missed the last three games, on the sideline with an ankle injury.
But the inexperience up front did not translate into poor game play. The Eli ground game gained 276 yards on 60 carries behind solid blocking by the offensive line.
“I’m very impressed with our young offensive linemen,” head coach Tom Williams said. “We got a freshman starting at left tackle, Ben Carbery ’15, and a sophomore at right tackle with James Talerico ’14. Those guys really stepped up big today and were able to give us an opportunity to do what we did.
Wide receiver Chris Smith ’13, who leads the team with six touchdown receptions, missed his second game of the season with a pulled hamstring.
However, Smith’s absence was of little consequence. Quarterback Patrick Witt ’12 completed just two throws on ten attempts in the first half and did not pass the ball at all in the final half.
“It’s frustrating. You want to go out there and execute your job,” Witt said. “But in conditions like this, your job becomes securing the football, which is difficult in itself, and just getting it to the running back.”
Both the Bulldogs and Lions had trouble hanging onto the ball throughout the game, combining for nine fumbles, five of which were recovered by the other team.
However, the Elis’ defense was able to take advantage of the turnovers it generated, keeping Columbia scoreless for three quarters.
A forced turnover by the defense also set up the Bulldogs’ only points of the first half. Early in the second quarter, linebacker Will McHale ’13 came off the edge and knocked down a pass by quarterback Sean Brackett. Right tackle Scott Ward caught the ball but lost control as Cliff Foreman ’12 dived in and knocked it away. McHale recovered the fumble traveled in the Lions’ red zone.
“We capitalized on a lot of mistakes that they made because of the bad weather,” captain and linebacker Jordan Haynes ’12 said. “Coming into the game, we knew there were going to be more balls on the ground and it’s going to be easier to pop some of those balls out. That’s just something we practice.”
Four plays later, Philippe Panico ’13 kicked a low-hanging line drive down the middle of the goalpost from 38 yards away and gave the Bulldogs a 3–0 lead that they held onto until halftime.
“We are really used to getting the job done with the adverse footing,” Panico said. “I think [the kick] came out a little low but that kept it out of the wind.”
The Yale defense forced a quick three-and-out to start off the third quarter and Cargill promptly took over on the ensuing drive, carrying the ball seven times out of eight plays. He capped off the drive with a 19-yard run into the end zone and gave the Elis a 10–0 lead.
A similar script unfolded on the Bulldogs’ last scoring drive of the game. Cargill took the handoff on seven consecutive plays and rumbled into the Columbia red zone. Two plays later, Witt pitched the ball to Cargill, who ran untouched for his second score of the game.
However, the Lions refused to go down and came roaring back.
A short kickoff by Panico gave Columbia possession at their own 41. Brackett took only eight plays to find an unguarded Zack McKown for a 26-yard touchdown strike. However, the Lions’ attempt at a two-point conversion failed as McHale pressured Brackett to throw the ball away into the back of end zone.
The Lions caught another break when a booming punt by Paul Delaney sailed 62 yards through the air, catching returner Gio Christodoulou ’12 out of position. The senior muffed the punt at the Bulldogs’ five-yard line, allowing the Lions to recover the loose ball.
Three plays later, Brackett found Mike Stephens across the middle of the field for his second passing touchdown of the day. The junior signal caller finished the day with 13 completions on 36 attempts, most of which came in the second half, for 95 yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions.
However, the Lions’ comeback fell short when Brackett overthrew his intended receiver on fourth down right into the hands of safety of Nick Okano ’14.
The Columbia running backs found no success against a stout Yale front seven, gaining 69 yards on 32 attempts. The Bulldogs notched five tackles for loss and never gave Brackett much breathing room in the pocket.
“I thought we were able to get good pressure all day,” Haynes said. “A lot of it came down to the receivers taking a little longer out of their breaks. The defensive line had a little bit longer getting to the quarterback…and did a good job of forcing them to throw on the run.”
With Brown beating Penn 6–0, the Bulldogs are tied with the Bears and the Quakers for second place in the Ivy League. Harvard remains as the last Ancient Eight team with an unbeaten league record after dismantling Dartmouth 41–10.
A win over Brown next Saturday at the Yale Bowl would move the Elis one step closer to an Ivy championship and a high-stake showdown with the Crimson on Nov. 19th.
“We are back where we want to be,” Williams said. “Our destiny is back in our hand.”
The win over Columbia was Yale’s first road victory of the year.