Thanks once again to the unstoppable legs of running back Tyler Varga ’15, the Yale football team kept its hope for an Ivy title alive with a 45–42 win at Brown on Saturday.
Varga rushed for a season-best 204 yards on 35 carries, scoring two touchdowns while also setting up a pair of touchdown passes by quarterback Morgan Roberts ’16. In total, Varga was nine-for-nine on third and fourth downs for Yale (7–1, 4–1 Ivy).
Unlike in recent weeks, Yale faced adversity early on, as a pair of turnovers initially gave Brown (4–4, 2–3 Ivy) a 20–7 lead — the largest deficit the Elis have seen since their win over Army on Sept. 27. But Yale rallied back midway through the contest by forcing turnovers of its own and resparking its hurry-up spread offense behind Varga.
“It was one heck of a football game,” head coach Tony Reno said. “Everyone who paid to come watch the game today really got their money’s worth … A win here means a lot to us.”
The 45–42 score was the closest game that Yale has played in this season. But the final did not entirely reflect the story of the fast-paced, high-scoring contest, as the Elis traded scores with the Bears for the majority of the second half and almost extended their lead again when they decided to instead run out the clock.
Varga got the ball on every single play of that final drive that was not a quarterback kneel, including a key third-down conversion to give the Bulldogs their final first down.
Of Varga’s 35 attempts, only three of them did not gain yards for the Yale offense, even in short-yardage situations when the entire defense knew the ball was going to him.
“The most incredible thing about Tyler … is not only his keeping his feet moving and punishing defenders, but his balance,” Roberts said. “He’s an unbelievable athlete.”
Brown head coach Phil Estes added that Varga was the decisive factor in the tight game, and that his league-leading statistics are an accurate representation of his dominance.
Varga, meanwhile, humbly credited the offensive line for his success and noted that the sentimentality of his senior year has motivated him in each game.
“I just keep trying to grind out there and run as hard as I can every single carry like it could be my last, because things are winding down here,” Varga said. “Those guys up front … they never get enough credit. That’s definitely the best offensive line that I’ve ever played for. They’ve got so much heart.”
The Elis netted 520 offensive yards, and their 45 points were by far the most that the Bears have allowed all season. Brown’s 42 points were also significant, however, as the total more than doubled the Bears’ previous average of 20.4 points per game. With 526 offensive yards, Brown was the first team to outgain the Elis in yards this season.
In addition to two consecutive Yale turnovers in the second quarter, the driving force behind Brown’s scoring was the combination of its top two quarterbacks, Marcus Fuller and Seth Rosenbauer.
Rosenbauer started this season as the backup for Fuller, who piled up 393 passing yards against the Bulldogs. But as this season has progressed, Rosenbauer has become a threat as a running back, receiver and wildcat quarterback.
“Brown has the ability to have a balanced attack and do different things in the wildcat scheme,” Reno said. “We had our hands full today, and we were very fortunate that we were able to throw the final punch.”
The pair made Yale’s defense look weak with big gains throughout the game, as Fuller tossed two touchdown passes of more than 25 yards, and another two completions for more than 50. The Bears also benefited from an early 77-yard touchdown run by Andrew Coke and a muffed handoff between Roberts and running back Candler Rich ’17 that resulted in a 53-yard fumble return and score for Brown.
The Bulldogs also had their fair share of big plays that shifted the momentum in the middle of the game. Rich lessened Brown’s early lead with a 33-yard touchdown scamper in the second quarter, and an extremely unusual touchdown in the third quarter was the one that put Yale up by two scores for the first time.
After the first of Varga’s touchdowns gave the Elis a 24–20 lead, the Bears tried to run a flea flicker play early on in the ensuing drive. Linebacker Darius Manora ’17 was blitzing on the play and jumped right in front of the pitch back to Fuller, stealing it in stride and returning the fumble 34 yards to the end zone.
Wide receivers Grant Wallace ’15 and Deon Randall ’15, Roberts’s top two targets, scored the other two touchdowns through the air. Wallace finished with eight receptions for 123 yards, his sixth game with triple-digit yardage this season.
Kicker Kyle Cazzetta ’15 nailed a field goal at the end of the first half that wound up being the difference in the Yale victory.
Yale next looks to a home game against Princeton to continue its quest for an Ivy League title.
With Harvard still undefeated and facing a weak Penn squad next week, it is likely that the Crimson will clinch at least a share of the championship in Philadelphia. But Yale can also secure a share by winning its final two games.
Kickoff against the Tigers is at 12:30 p.m. at the Yale Bowl.