For the first time in three years, the Yale football team defeated Princeton, setting the Bulldogs up for an opportunity to clinch a share of the Ivy League title next weekend against Harvard.
Yale (8–1, 5–1 Ivy) toppled Princeton (5–4, 4–2) thanks to a balanced attack from the offense and a solid defensive effort.
“It was a great team effort,” head coach Tony Reno said. “Offensively, I thought our guys controlled the game on the ground, especially in the second half.”
Princeton started the game off with a strong drive, using a pass interference call to move past midfield to the Yale 41. A leaping grab three plays later took the Tigers to the 25-yard line, and a 16-yard pass from quarterback Connor Michelsen to wide receiver James Frusciante gave the Tigers the first score of the game less than three minutes in.
The Bulldogs looked like they would falter on their first drive, facing a third and four, but a 21-yard pass from quarterback Morgan Roberts ’16 to wide receiver Deon Randall ’15 got the Elis going and put the offense at the Princeton 43. A holding call on the defense took the Bulldogs to the 10-yard line, and the Elis were able to capitalize as Roberts threw a touchdown pass to wide receiver Robert Clemons ’17 to knot the game at seven.
After a sack by defensive end Earl Chism ’18 and a punt by Princeton, the Elis took over. However, an interception and return by Princeton safety Matt Arends gave the possession to the Tigers at the Yale 29-yard line. A touchdown rush by quarterback Quinn Epperly put the Tigers ahead again 14–7.
The Bulldogs started off their next drive deep in their own territory before Roberts completed a 31-yard pass to wide receiver Grant Wallace ’15 to bring Yale to the Princeton 44. The Elis faced a fourth down at the 36-yard line, but Roberts exploited the Princeton pass defense to complete a 25-pass to Randall, taking Yale to the 11-yard line. Another fourth down loomed for the Bulldogs at the Princeton eight-yard line, and the Elis chose to send their field goal unit out. Kyle Cazzetta ’15 sent a 21-yard field goal attempt through the uprights, tightening the score to 14–10.
After a pair of punts, Princeton’s offense was stifled again by the Yale defense to start the second quarter, and the punt was blocked by defensive end Marty Moesta ’17 and recovered in the end zone by linebacker Jaeden Graham ’18, putting the Elis ahead for the first time in the game, 17–14.
“It was something we saw on film early in the week,” Moesta said. “Just something that we thought we could try to take advantage of on their punting team. We went out there with Jaeden [Graham] on my right and Everett Johnson [’15] on my left … I was able to get skinny through the hole and get my hand on the ball.”
Defensive pressure from the Bulldogs again prevented a Princeton score, resulting in a short punt out of bounds. The Elis started with good field position, but were able to pick up only one first down, settling for a 29-yard field goal by Cazzetta to extend the lead to 20–14.
Following a Princeton punt, the Bulldog offense went back to work. A series of completions by Roberts took the Elis to the Princeton 39-yard line. Yale then faced a third and two at the 30-yard line, and Roberts handed the ball off to running back Tyler Varga ’15, who had up to this point been limited by a strong defense. Varga found an opening up the middle and rushed for 30 yards into the end zone, putting the Bulldogs up 27–14 with under five minutes to play in the first half.
The Tigers responded with a touchdown, leaving the Bulldogs just under a minute in the first half to complete a final drive from their own 28. Roberts took charge, completing passes to tight end Sebastian Little ’16, Wallace and Clemons. After reaching the Princeton 38, a pass interference call on the Tiger defense for 15 yards took the Bulldogs to the 23-yard line. A second pass interference call gave Yale a first down at the two-yard line. The Elis capped their impressive drive with a field goal by Cazzetta to further their lead to 30–21.
“This offense has an incredible number of playmakers, whether it be Varga or [Candler Rich ’17] or Deon or Wallace,” Roberts said. “The coaching staff has done a great job of building that and building playmakers.”
Roberts and Reno also noted that the offense has a lot of room to improve before the game next week.
The Elis opened the second half with the ball, but penalties derailed the drive before it even began, forcing the Bulldogs into their first three-and-out of the game. The Tigers worked with a short field and moved the chains from the Yale 46 to the five-yard line, but the Bulldogs defense stepped. The Elis forced a field goal attempt, which hit the left upright, maintaining the two-score deficit for Princeton.
On the Elis’ next possession, a 30-yard completion from Roberts to wide receiver Nick La Testa ’15 gave the Bulldogs a first down at the Princeton 16. Another completion on third and seven, this time to Varga, gave the Elis a 37–21 lead.
But the Tigers were not done yet. Princeton culminated a 68-yard drive with Epperly’s third touchdown of the game, but after missing the two-point conversion the Elis kept a 10-point lead, 37–27, with 6:00 left in the third quarter.
Both teams then failed on fourth down conversion attempts in opposing territory before the Bulldogs picked up the ball at their own 44-yard line. A pass from Roberts to tight end Stephen Buric ’16 up the middle of the field quickly gave the Elis a first down at the Princeton 35. Following a 15-yard run, Varga rumbled for six yards into the end zone, scoring his third touchdown of the game, to open the fourth quarter and give Yale a 44–27 lead.
The Yale defense looked to pick up where it left off. But Princeton, down by double figures, seemed determined to move the chains down the field, converting a fourth and six at the Yale 44-yard line. Led by the running game, the Tigers got to just outside the 10-yard line, but they had to settle for a 20-yard field goal with 7:53 remaining on the clock, leaving them still down 44–30.
The Yale offense was committed to the ground game to start its next drive, with four straight Varga rushes to the Yale 40. Roberts then completed a 29-yard pass to Clemons down the right sideline, putting the Elis at the Princeton 31. A strong run by running back Kahlil Keys put the Elis at the 19-yard line, and the Bulldogs effectively put the game away, turning the ball over on downs at the three-yard line with 37 seconds to go.
“I am very proud of the defensive effort,” Reno said. “I thought our guys did a really good job of … creating opportunities to get third and long and fourth and long and force field goals.”
Yale’s seniors had an especially memorable senior day. Varga rushed for 137 yards on the ground on 26 carries while Wallace caught 10 passes for 149 yards. Randall added 112 yards on six receptions and Cazzetta finished with three field goals and five extra point kicks. Roberts also had a strong showing, completing 27-42 passes for a career-best 405 yards.
But the class of 2015 has one more football game remaining, and the football team knows how important this final game is.
“The tradition and history at Yale is pretty unbelievable,” Reno said. “We’re team 142, and what that means is that when you say it to our guys and each other, it just shows how important our place in history is.”
Greg Cameron contributed reporting.
Correction: Nov. 15
A previous version of this article misstated the Ivy League record of the Yale football team.