For the first time in 11 seasons, Yale football will hold at least a share of the Ivy League title at season’s end, following a come-from-behind 35–31 win over Princeton.
On a frigid Saturday afternoon, Team 145 (8–1, 5–1 Ivy) faced the Tigers (5–4, 2–4) in a playoff atmosphere at Powers Field, and the Bulldogs snapped the longest conference title drought in program history in a highly competitive contest worthy of its conference-championship implications. The matinee affair, billed as a matchup between the Ancient Eight’s top offense and top defense, quickly became a shootout after slow starts from both sides. The Tigers jumped out to an early 24–7 lead, but in the end, Team 145’s offense rallied behind the stellar play of quarterback Kurt Rawlings ’20 and running back Zane Dudek ’21 while the defense came up with crucial stops down the stretch.
“You put in so much work through the whole season,” linebacker Foye Oluokun ’18 said. “It finally comes down to a couple of drives, the last play, and you finally come through with it. That’s everything you ask for right there. Everybody is electric, everybody is excited. We got one more game, though.”
Saturday’s game started ominously for the Bulldogs when Princeton wideout Jesper Horsted opened the scoring with an 88-yard touchdown on a pass that traveled less than 20 yards through the air. The Tiger’s top receiver ran past captain and cornerback Spencer Rymiszewski ’18 and safety Hayden Carlson ’18 on a quick slant, as the two Eli defensive backs collided in their attempts to make the tackle.
With the Yale offense struggling to pose an offensive threat against an average Tiger defense in the opening quarter, Princeton quarterback Chad Kanoff kept his foot on the gas pedal. He threw for three touchdowns in the first half on his way to accumulating an astounding 283 yards through the air in the first 30 minutes of play alone. The normally dominant Eli defensive line struggled to apply pressure against the sound play of Princeton’s pass protectors, and Kanoff’s quick release made things even tougher.
But Rawlings and the offense came alive before halftime to close the gap between the two sides, matching the Tigers blow for blow. After Kanoff’s second touchdown throw put the Tigers up two scores, Dudek scampered 47 yards down the left sideline to cut the deficit in half midway through the second quarter.
The Tiger signal caller tossed another scoring pass to stretch the lead to 24–7, but the Bulldogs responded again. Rawlings, who ended the day 26–34 with 304 yards and two scores, executed a flawless two-minute drill that ended with a 58-yard touchdown throw to tight end Jaeden Graham ’18 to draw within two scores of Princeton. In total, the second quarter saw the two sides score a combined 31 points, to go along with 625 yards of total offense accumulated in the first half.
“It speaks volumes to the culture that these guys have created,” head coach Tony Reno said. “We talk about how your response to any event is twice as important as the actual event itself, and that’s what’s going to affect the outcome … If we play to our standard, then at the end of the day, we’ll get the result we want.”
The title-seeking Bulldogs emerged from the locker room revitalized to begin the final half. After Princeton received the second-half kickoff, the Yale defense redeemed itself on the heels of a disappointing opening half. Defensive end Earl Chism ’18 stripped Princeton running back Collin Eaddy from behind on the Tigers’ second offensive snap of the half, and his defensive line-mate Spencer Matthaei ’20 recovered the loose ball in Princeton territory. After the Bulldog offense stalled to set the stage for a 4th-and-8 situation in the Tigers’ half but out of field goal range, Reno kept the offense on the field. Rawlings found wide-open receiver Ross Drwal ’18 on the gutsy call, pulling the Elis within a field goal.
With a revamped defense holding the Tigers at bay, Dudek capped off a 13-play, 68-yard drive with his second touchdown of the day on Yale’s next possession. The first year plunged in from a yard out to give Team 145 a 28–24 lead, its first of the game. The Tigers did not wither, though, and Kanoff found Horsted again in the closing minutes of the third quarter to erase the Bulldogs’ short-lived advantage. That pass-and-catch wrote both players into the Princeton record books, Kanoff for most touchdown passes in a season with 26, and Horsted for most touchdown catches in a season with 12.
Facing a three-point deficit heading into the final quarter, Reno’s team relied on its tried-and-true formula of sound defense and a powerful ground game to retake the lead and clinch the Ivy championship. Dudek’s third touchdown of the game gave Yale the lead for good five plays into the fourth quarter, and the workhorse running back, who finished the game with 180 yards on 35 carries, played a crucial role in chewing up the clock.
“They knew that we were running it, and it didn’t matter,” Dudek said. “The offensive line is just that big and strong, and we just kept wearing them down, pushing them back and holes were getting bigger and bigger. If I were a defensive lineman, I would not want to go against our offensive line [on] the same play all game. So hats off to them. They were amazing.”
Despite being picked apart by Kanoff for most of the afternoon, the defense returned to its league-leading form in the final quarter. The number one defense in the Ancient Eight made a pair of crucial fourth-down stops to hold Princeton scoreless in the final 15 minutes.
With ten minutes to play, facing 4th-and-3 on the cusp of the red zone, Kanoff tried to squeeze a throw into a tight window across the middle when Carlson came flying in from his safety position to break the pass. Despite the offense methodically working down the clock, however, a missed 47-yarder from kicker Alex Galland ’19 forced the defense to make one last stop.
Princeton drove into Yale territory one final time, but after being contained all day by the Tigers’ excellent pass protection, linebacker Matt Oplinger ’18 came up big at the decisive moment. The leader of the Eli defense shook off Princeton’s left tackle to hit Kanoff as he released the ball, which floated harmlessly into Oluokun’s arms for the victory-sealing interception.
When the clock hit triple zeroes, a packed box score showed over 1,000 yards of total offense, a couple of broken records and several impressive individual performances — but all that mattered was the final score: Yale 35, Princeton 31.
With the win, Yale is guaranteed a share of the Ivy League title and can secure an outright championship with a win next Saturday against Harvard.
Won Jung | firstname.lastname@example.org