Up 21–0 against Dartmouth and driving with less than three minutes to go in the first half, the Yale football team seemed destined for a 4–0 start.
For much of the game, the Bulldogs (3–1, 1–1 Ivy) looked every bit like a team that was scoring more than 40 points a game and winning with a margin of victory of more than 28 points, even on enemy turf against an unbeaten Dartmouth (4–0, 2–0 Ivy). Yet in one play, the entire dynamic of the game changed.
Quarterback Kurt Rawlings ’20, who had already thrown three touchdowns, looked for wide receiver Reed Klubnik ’20 on an out route with just a few minutes left in the first half. Big Green cornerback Isiah Swann jumped the route and returned the Rawlings pass 47 yards the other way, posting Dartmouth’s first points of the game.
“I was in man coverage, off-man,” Swann said. “I broke on the receiver, looked at the quarterback, and the ball was right in my face. I just caught it and ran for my life down the sideline. It was just a reminder … No matter what happened in the first half, you have to have a quick memory.”
Before the interception, Yale had outgained Dartmouth by 187 yards, and its defense had allowed just two first downs. Following the pick-six, the home team outscored the Bulldogs 21–6, flipping the script entirely. Having beaten Penn on the last play of the game the previous week, Dartmouth took a 28–27 lead with just 34 seconds remaining and went on to seal the victory.
Rawlings and the Bulldogs initially responded well following the interception: The quarterback went five-for-eight on the very next drive to help Yale score a field goal before halftime. Even after the break, the Eli offense drove the length of the field on its first possession and nearly found the end zone. But tight end Jaeden Graham ’18 was called out of bounds on a potential touchdown grab that would have given Team 145 a three-possession advantage. Instead, without the benefit of instant replay on the close-call, Yale settled for a field goal and a 13-point lead.
“We had an opportunity down in the end zone, and the referee called [Graham] out of bounds,” head coach Tony Reno said. “They have to make the calls, but we felt he was inbounds.”
It was at this point that the Big Green stole the momentum. The Dartmouth defense, ranked first in the Ivy League, began to show its true form, forcing Yale’s powerhouse offense to punt on its next four drives. Dartmouth limited the Eli offense to just 51 total yards after the third-quarter field goal and forced three punts in its own territory over the course of the game.
Rawlings played well early in the game, throwing for 234 passing yards and three touchdowns at half against a Dartmouth secondary that had held its previous opponents to an average of 159 yards per contest. In the second half, the signal-caller completed just eight passes for 49 yards and finished the game with a pair of interceptions.
Led by the reigning Ivy League Defensive Player of the Week, linebacker Jack Traynor, Dartmouth held Yale to a season-low 150 rushing yards. Entering the contest, the Bulldogs boasted perhaps the most prolific rushing attack in the Football Championship Subdivision: leading all teams in yards per carry. On Saturday, the Big Green limited Yale’s dynamic duo, running backs Deshawn Salter ’18 and Zane Dudek ’21, to a combined 33 rushing yards on Yale’s final five offensive series.
“Whenever there’s time on the clock, we just have to believe in our team,” defensive back Danny McManus said. “We may not get all the calls or all the first downs, but we just have to keep swinging away and try to put ourselves in the best positions we can.”
On the other side of the ball, senior quarterback and captain Jack Heneghan struggled to find any weaknesses in the Yale defense for much of the game. The Bulldogs successfully stuffed the run and forced head coach Buddy Teevens to become one-dimensional in his play calling: Dartmouth had 44 pass attempts and just 23 rush attempts at game’s end.
However, Team 145’s resistance waned as the game progressed. Elongated drives kept the defense on the field, including on a 14-play, 78-yard Dartmouth drive midway through the second half.
In the first half, Yale’s defense was on the field for just 22 plays in six drives. But crucial penalties and the Big Green’s four-down mindset in a two-possession game ultimately wore down the once-impenetrable Bulldog defense. Following two consecutive drives that sputtered on fourth down, Dartmouth finally broke through against the Elis with six minutes to go in the fourth quarter. Heneghan threw a soft, over-the-top dime to wide receiver Dylan Mellon — just beyond the outstretched arms of safety Jason Alessi ’18 — to bring the game within one score.
On the ensuing drive, Heneghan again led his team down the field, accounting for 68 of Dartmouth’s 69 yards on a game-winning sequence. His final throw of the day found wide receiver Drew Hunnicutt on fourth down for a touchdown, sealing the Dartmouth victory.
“You get in games like this against very good teams, and [every] play matters,” Reno said. “There’s probably 15 plays in the game, that if any of them go our way, the results are different. But, at the end of the day, Dartmouth wins, Yale loses. We have to make those plays.”
Dartmouth’s combined margin of victory in its last three games, just five points, is the smallest of any three-game winning streak in school history.
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