In a game against a hapless Brown team that represented an opportunity for Team 146 to reverse its fortunes after an underwhelming loss to Columbia last week, the Yale football team may have found something much more valuable heading into its remaining two games of 2018: a skilled new quarterback.
After a loss to Columbia that effectively dashed any remaining championship hopes, the Elis (5–3, 3–2 Ivy) headed into Saturday’s game against the Bears hoping to regain their earlier form with starting quarterback Kurt Rawlings ’20 still out for season. Fans at the Yale Bowl might have expected to see signal-caller Jimmy Check ’21 behind center but instead beared witness to an all-time passing performance by former backup Griffin O’Connor ’22, who led the Elis to a comfortable 46–16 victory against Brown (1–7, 0–5) in his first career start.
“I’m very proud of how we handled things on the field,” head coach Tony Reno said. “We moved the ball well on the ground and in the air. We’ve got some playmakers on the perimeter, and [O’Connor] did a great job of getting the ball to the playmakers. Give our offensive line a lot of credit. They kept him clean all day. Defensively, we played well for most of the game. We got a lot of guys in, and for the most part, I’m happy with the effort. We just need to keep improving.”
The Bulldog defense, which has improved steadily since the start of the season after graduating a slew of last year’s starters, delivered a solid performance against the Bears. But the offense stole the show and put up 46 points: its highest output of the year.
Yet the 30-point win did not completely quell Team 146’s concerns heading into its final two contests against perennial powerhouses Princeton and Harvard. But the offense’s lopsided rebound from a dismal showing against Columbia injected a dose of much-needed confidence as Yale prepares to round the home stretch.
The Elis appeared rejuvenated on both sides of the ball from the onset of Saturday’s bout with the Bears. On the very first drive of the game, defensive back Rodney Thomas II ’21 lunged forward for an impressive interception off a pass by Brown quarterback Michael McGovern. The takeaway set up an equally impressive drive for Yale, which running back Alan Lamar ’20 capped off with a short touchdown rush. Lamar would go on to finish with 76 yards and two scores.
Despite impressive defensive play in the trenches, which limited Brown to negative 27 yards in rushing, O’Connor stole the show for the Bulldogs through the air. Looking poised and experienced in the pocket, the Huntington Beach, California native logged 452 total yards — which placed him second in all-time Yale history for a single game — while also logging four touchdowns on the day. His most impressive completion came on a pass to wideout JP Shohfi ’20 who snagged the ball with one hand in the corner of the end zone.
“I don’t remember [the catch] too well,” Shohfi said. “It’s a play that we’ve run multiple times, so we have really good chemistry with it. Reed [Klubnik ’20] did a really great job of setting it up, and I was just open in the back corner of the end zone, so it was easy to come down with.”
Shohfi and fellow wide receiver Klubnik dominated the Bears’ secondary, combining for four touchdowns and 257 yards on 15 catches. Their performance was the highlight of a game marred by penalties by both teams. But the Elis bore the brunt of unclean play; after cleaning up their play in recent weeks, Yale fell victim to its old ways with 12 penalties resulting in a loss of 131 yards.
While Yale’s defense held Brown to just two touchdowns and a field goal, the Bears were their own worst enemy as they stymied hopes of a conference win. Their offensive game plan was poorly executed and often left McGovern vulnerable as he was sacked seven times for 64 yards.
“I am just blessed for the opportunity to come out and play,” O’Connor said. “We have a lot of great quarterbacks. We have a lot of great athletes across the field, so it’s just cool to go out there and play with all of these guys that I practice day in and day out with.”
As the Elis trounced the Bears, the Ivy League crown was likely determined at Powers Field in New Jersey. Undefeated Ivy co-leaders No. 14 Princeton and No. 20 Dartmouth battled it out in a de facto Ancient Eight championship game. The Big Green triumphed easily over Yale in Week Four with a shifty situational quarterback, putting up 41 points for the win. But the Tigers, who average a staggering 46 points per game, ultimately emerged victorious against Dartmouth in a low-scoring defensive battle, claiming a 14–9 win.
The Bulldogs will host Princeton next weekend in their penultimate game of the season.
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