As far as opening games go, this one was certainly not lacking in drama.
New head coach Tony Reno, rookie quarterback Eric Williams ’16 and a clutch performance by the new-look defense helped Yale (1-0, 0-0 Ivy) escape Georgetown (2-1, 0-0 Patriot) with a wild 24-21 victory this afternoon.
After the Elis and Hoyas traded fumbles to start the game, Williams led a 14-play, 90-yard drive that was capped by running back Tyler Varga’s ’16 two-yard run into the endzone, putting Yale up 7–0.
That lead lasted until Georgetown’s Kevin Macari returned punter Kyle Cazzetta’s ’15 punt 79 yards for a touchdown. And the Hoyas didn’t leave the game tied for long. They struck again just three plays later when defensive back Jeremy Moore jumped between a Williams pass and wide receiver Cameron Sandquist ’14, its intended target. Moore returned the interception for a touchdown, giving the home team a 14–7 lead.
But the Bulldogs wasted no time responding, as Williams led a 51-yard drive into Hoya territory. Kicker Philippe Panico ’13 capped the possession with a 36-yard field goal that cut the deficit to 14-10.
As the half wound down, Hoya quarterback Aaron Aiken appeared to be on his way to a touchdown and an even wider lead for Georgetown. But with the Yale defense’s backs to the endzone, linebacker Brian Leffler ’13 forced a fumble that defensive back John Powers ’13 recovered at the Yale two-yard line. With just 45 seconds left in the half, Reno decided not to settle for just preventing the Hoya score. He decided to go for a big play — and that is exactly what the Elis got.
On the next play, Williams wound up and fired a long pass 40 yards downfield towards Sandquist. The ball appeared to be underthrown, until Georgetown defensive back Malcolm Caldwell-Meeks tipped it into Sandquist’s waiting hands. The wide receiver ran untouched into the end zone to give Yale a surprising 17-14 lead at the half. The 98-yard bomb was the longest play from scrimmage in the history of Yale football.
The second half opened on a high note for the Elis, when linebacker Will McHale sacked Aiken to stop a Hoya drive at midfield. But a wild shotgun snap by center John Oppenheimer ’14 on the ensuing drive gave Georgetown the ball back, and the Hoyas capitalized with a 32-yard rushing score by tailback Dalen Claytor, giving the home team a 21–17 lead.
Yale’s defense stepped up on the next drive, however; with defensive end Kolu Buck ’14 forcing a fumble that end Allen Davis ’13 recovered at the Georgetown 14. It took the Elis just two plays to capitalize on the defense’s work. Varga scored virtually untouched from nine yards out to take the lead back, 24-21.
The Bulldog defense then took over the fourth quarter, stopping the Hoyas on two straight fourth-and-one plays before the final drive.
With just 2:23 remaining in the game, Aiken began leading Georgetown down the field to try and tie or win the game. His pass on second-and-four from the Georgetown 46 appeared to fly harmlessly out of bounds, but defensive back Collin Bibb ’13 was called for a late hit that gave the Hoyas a first down at the Yale 39.
From there, Aiken drove the Hoyas all the way to the Yale 17 when Georgetown decided to try and win it with 40 seconds to go. Aiken sent a pass into the end zone, where Bibb redeemed himself for the earlier penalty with a leaping interception. From there, the Elis were able to run out the clock on the opening day victory, and proceeded to douse Reno in Gatorade to celebrate his first win.
Williams finished 19-30 for 250 yards with a touchdown and three interceptions, while running backs Mordecai Cargill ’13 and Varga finished with 76 and 93 yards rushing, respectively. Sandquist led the receiving corps with nine receptions for 187 yards and a touchdown. Aiken finished 11-25 for 94 yards in the air, but ran for another 72 yards to lead a Hoya ground attack that totaled 260 yards.
Yale will travel to Ithaca, NY Saturday, Sept. 22, to face Cornell.