This article has been updated to reflect the story in print on October 26.
In a nationally televised contest under the lights on Friday night, the Yale football team fell flat, losing to Penn 34–20 and suffering a crushing blow to the Bulldogs’ hopes of an Ivy championship.
Despite a hot start, the Elis (4–2, 1–2 Ivy) allowed a 10–0 lead to slip away, struggling with both turnovers and injuries while Penn (3–3, 2–1) rattled off a 20-point second quarter. Quaker quarterback Alek Torgersen lit up Yale’s defense for 397 all-purpose yards and four scores, and three interceptions thrown by quarterback Morgan Roberts ’16 rendered the Bulldogs unable to mount a late comeback.
“We’re 4–2 after six [games],” Reno said. “In the two losses we had, we didn’t quite play up to our standards. For me, the difference in this game was turnovers. In our four wins, we protected the football really well, and in our two losses, we didn’t. Our defense also didn’t give up big plays.”
In addition to his career-high four touchdowns, Torgersen finished with 350 yards through the air, impressing the home crowd multiple times with long and accurate strikes to his wide receivers. The junior’s 397 all-purpose yards rank fourth in school history in terms of yards gained in a single game.
Yale’s night began on a positive note, as for the first time since Week 1, starting wide receivers Robert Clemons III ’17 and Bo Hines ’18 took the field together. Recovered from upper body injuries that had sidelined the receivers for a combined seven games, the two tallied 165 yards in total on 11 receptions.
Hines, however, exited the game with another undisclosed injury in the third quarter. Six weeks in, the slot receiver is yet to play a full game since transferring from North Carolina State in the offseason. Tight end Sebastian Little ’17 and second-string running back Deshawn Salter ’18 also left the field with apparent knee and neck injuries, respectively.
“Rob and Bo are great players for us and we were happy to have them back on Friday,” captain and defensive back Cole Champion ’16 wrote in a message to the News.
After the game, Reno acknowledged that the lack of consistency in the receiving corps made passing more difficult. He added that it has been frustrating to have Clemons and Hines both healthy for such a small part of this season.
Salter, the reigning Ivy League Offensive Player of the Week, left during the first quarter and came in only sporadically throughout the remainder of the game, leaving running back Austin Reuland ’16 with the bulk of the carries. Reuland ran well between the tackles, as the converted wide receiver picked up 61 yards and one touchdown on 12 carries.
Penn’s ground game, on the other hand, flourished as a complement to Torgersen’s passing performance. The Quakers picked up 183 rushing yards on 40 carries, a step up from the Bulldogs’ 101 yards on 27 tries.
“I think our offensive staff did a good job of watching tape, taking what [the defense gives] you,” Penn head coach Ray Priore said. “For example, it was difficult to run football last week because Columbia stacked the box. Tonight, Yale started playing out wide against the receivers, so that opened up lanes on the inside for the receivers. It’s patience and taking what they give you.”
After ceding four catches of 20-plus yards to Penn wideout Justin Watson, Yale’s defense made the appropriate adjustments at the half. Watson caught just one ball in the final 30 minutes.
However, the tight coverage on Watson opened spaces for two-time Ivy Rookie of the Week wide receiver Christian Pearson. The speedy freshman burned the Eli secondary, ending the day with six receptions for 133 yards and two touchdowns. Pearson ran the same route on both scoring catches, which were 27- and 63-yard catch-and-runs, en route to his second career 100-yard game.
“The play before that first touchdown, I laid out for [the ball] and didn’t catch it,” Pearson said. “I was pretty upset I didn’t catch it, so we ran it again and I caught it. I was glad [Torgersen] trusted me on that one.”
The Quakers’ offense ended the day with 533 yards. Though Yale put up a respectable 419 yards, four turnovers and a 40 percent third-down conversion rate prevented the offense from reaching the end zone.
When Roberts did search for the end zone on Friday, he was more likely to find a member of the other team. Through six games, the quarterback’s nine picks total more than his eight passing touchdowns. Six of those interceptions occurred within the opponent’s 20-yard line.
Roberts, who has seen a decline statistically this season with many of his top targets injured, struggled particularly on his third interception. Reuland was open as a check-down option near the line of scrimmage, but Roberts threw into traffic for the pick instead. The 2014 Second Team All-Ivy selection now leads the Ivy League in interceptions.
The final nail in the coffin came when, at the beginning of the fourth quarter with Penn leading 27–20, the Quakers chewed up almost seven minutes with a 97-yard march that culminated in a 28-yard rushing touchdown. Responsible for all but two of the plays, Torgersen racked up 61 all-purpose yards on the drive. Running back Tre Solomon, who had his first career 100-yard rushing game, scampered through Yale’s secondary, cutting between defenders to put the Bulldogs away.
“[On] an earlier play, I thought I was going for a touchdown but I got caught from behind,” Solomon said. “I was thinking, maybe I wasn’t as fast as I thought I was, so I made that cut.”
The loss drops Yale beneath 0.500 in league play for the first time since 2013. Though either Harvard or Dartmouth will lose this week, as the two remaining undefeated Ancient Eight teams face one another on Friday, Yale still needs help if it is to earn a share of the title.
The reeling Bulldogs are in the midst of eight days of preparation for Columbia, as the Lions come to the Bowl on Halloween. Kickoff is at 12:30 p.m.