The Yale football team hits the road to play University of Pennsylvania under the lights this Friday, hoping to defend its Ivy League Championship as it begins the second half of its season with an important stretch of conference matchups.
The Bulldogs (3–2, 1–1 Ivy) followed up their first solo-crown campaign since 1980 with a mixed bag of results thus far. After a shocking overtime loss to open the season, the Elis have emerged triumphant from their remaining out-of-conference games. But Yale’s performances against Cornell and Dartmouth still leave questions about where Team 146 will stand at the close of the regular season. In a league in which each team plays other conference foes just once, Saturday’s match against the Quakers (4–1, 1–1) will be a must-win for the Elis if they seek to resurrect their championship aspirations in the weeks to come.
“We’ve had opportunities to improve each and every week,” head coach Tony Reno said. “We’ve taken advantage of most, but, when you look at this team, we’ve got so much more room to grow … we’ll prepare for our next opponent, but, at the end of the day, it’s us against us.”
With Saturday’s 35–28 win against non-conference foe Mercer University, Yale regained some momentum before heading back into Ivy play, after a 41–18 loss to Dartmouth the week prior. The Elis burst out of the gate to seize control of the game on their first drive, when quarterback Kurt Rawlings ’20 found wideout JP Shohfi ’20 down the middle of the field for a 57-yard touchdown. Shohfi would continue to leave his mark on the game, eventually finishing the day with six receptions for 152 yards and two touchdowns. Rawlings, meanwhile, was named Ivy League Offensive Player of the Week for his passing prowess.
Defensively, the Bulldogs seemed to get back on track after allowing 41 points from the Big Green. On the Bears’ second series of the contest, Mercer quarterback Kaelan Riley fumbled after threat of a sack from an oncoming Yale blitz. Defensive back Rodney Thomas ’21 ran the ball back 41 yards for another touchdown to bring Team 146 up by two scores.
However, long-yardage plays allowed Mercer to stay within striking distance by late in the fourth frame. Faced with several third-down attempts, running back Alan Lamar ’20 rushed for multiple third-down conversions to clinch the seven-point victory.
Against the Quakers — whose lone loss this season also came against the formidable Big Green, the Elis will look to avoid aggregating the errors that doomed them against Dartmouth. In particular, penalties still pose a challenge for the relatively young team. The Bulldogs’ progress in playing more disciplined football decreased their total penalty yardage from 56 against Dartmouth to a more reasonable 22 against Mercer. The Bulldogs will no doubt look to minimize that number further, especially given the game-breaking impact that penalties have on the momentum of an offensive possession and a squad’s ability to finish drives with points.
“Our main emphasis for improvement is to continue finishing drives and staying consistent throughout the game,” Shohfi said. “We want to minimize the lulls when we let off the gas a little bit. Instead, we’re focusing on scoring every time we have the ball, regardless of the situation.”
Penn comes into Friday night’s contest off a tight 13–10 win against Columbia, its first Ancient Eight victory after opening Ivy play with the loss to Dartmouth. Its other wins came at the expense of Bucknell University, Lehigh University and Sacred Heart University, who each allowed the Quakers to put up more than 30 points per game.
Spearheading the Penn offense is quarterback Ryan Glover, who has tallied 795 yards and four touchdowns in the 2018 campaign. Led by running back Karekin Brooks, the Quaker ground game is deadly as well. Second in the conference in average rushing yards per game, Brooks leads the Quakers with 535 total rushing yards and seven touchdowns.
“We’ve got to keep our intensity up for the whole game and not get complacent,” defensive back Malcolm Dixon ’20 said. “We’ve got great players on our defense, and we are a great defense when we are intentional and everyone is flying around and having fun keeping the energy up on the field and on the sideline.”
The Quakers also boast one of the best defenses in the conference, as they lead the Ancient Eight in sacks with a collective 23 for 151 yards. Linebacker Nick Miller has been a catalyst to their success, leading the league in both solo and assisted tackles.
The Elis’ experience playing in tightly-contested affairs throughout their first five games should serve them well against a scrappy Penn squad that has won its two most recent contests by fewer than four points. The Quakers defeated Sacred Heart by four before deploying their formidable defense to earn a 13–10 victory against Columbia. Team 146, which pulled off one-possession wins against both Cornell and Mercer, is no stranger to down-to-the-wire bouts since blowing a three-touchdown lead against Holy Cross.
The game against the Quakers kicks off at 7 p.m. on Friday at Franklin Field.
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