Courtesy of Keith Lucas
The Yale football team, facing a 13-point deficit in the final two minutes of Saturday’s game, looked demoralized, as a second-consecutive loss seemed to be imminently approaching. However, the Bulldogs would not go gently into that dark Richmond night, concocting one of the more improbable comebacks in recent memory to end with a much needed 28–27 victory.
While the Dartmouth loss seemed to quench much of the momentous fire that had been building up in the squad, the Elis (4–1, 1–1 Ivy) headed into Saturday’s game against Richmond (3–4, 2–1 Colonial) hoping to get back into their winning ways. Yet, the game quickly went awry for Yale — much like it did a week ago against Dartmouth — as the team was held scoreless throughout the first quarter of play and faced a 13-point halftime deficit. Any anticipation for the Bulldogs to come out of halftime revitalized dissipated quickly. The Eli defense conceded a touchdown drive on the Spiders’ opening possession of the half that resulted in an unnerving 20-point deficit.
Quarterback Kurt Rawlings ’20 took matters into his own hands on Yale’s responding drive, completing pass after pass before finding receiver Jaylan Sandifer ’22 in the end zone, giving Team 147 life. This momentum immediately bolstered the Bulldog defense, which prevented Richmond from putting any more points on the scoreboard for the remainder of the game. Yet, the Eli offense found itself unable to put together any semblance of a drive. With four minutes left in the contest and trailing by two touchdowns, Rawlings refused to give up — marching his team 72 yards down the field and finding the end zone to make the score 21–27. Needing an onside kick, Sam Tuckerman ’20 delivered an absolute beauty that captain and wideout JP Shohfi ’20 magnificently recovered just outside Spider territory. Rawlings would not let this opportunity go to waste, expertly picking apart a drained Richmond secondary before hitting receiver Reed Klubnik ’20 for a touchdown with less than 10 seconds remaining. Tuckerman took care of the rest, drilling home the extra point to secure the improbable victory.
“I think as a unit and as a team we did a really good job keeping the overall energy and spirits up,” Shohfi said. “We believe in fighting until the very end no matter what the scoreboard says or circumstances are. We did an incredible job today of pushing through it all, not worrying about the score — if we had an opportunity to step out onto the field, we were going to make the most of it. Of course, it wasn’t clicking every single time, but in the end when we needed to, we finished.”
The first quarter was a defensive clinic for both squads, with the Spider defense forcing a three-and-out on Team 147’s first drive of the night. On Richmond’s first possession, defensive back Melvin Rouse II ’21 made his presence known, breaking up two potential passes and holding the Spiders to a 21-yard chip-shot field goal that gave Richmond an early three-point lead. After the Bulldogs were forced to punt a second straight time, Team 147’s defensive secondary began to show early signs of bending, with Richmond again marching down the field into Yale territory. The defense would not break, however, and a missed field goal from the Spiders kept it a 3–0 game to close out the first.
After another punt from the Elis pinned Richmond back to its own 15-yard line to begin the second quarter, quarterback Joe Mancuso found a hole in the Bulldog defensive front and delivered a 55-yard run that had the Spiders knocking on the end zone for a third straight time. This time, Mancuso was not willing to settle for a measly three points, completing a 20-yard pass to wide-open receiver Justin Jasper for a touchdown, making it a 10–0 game.
Despite Yale’s inability to register points, the defense was keeping the team in the game. Yet, Richmond capitalized on a Bulldog special teams error to open up the drive. A quick Yale three-and-out allowed the Spiders to get the ball back and they scored a field goal on the ensuing drive. However, Yale struck right back with a touchdown of its own, with Rawlings connecting with Klubnik from the one-yard line. The drive featured big runs from both Rawlings and running back Zane Dudek ’21. The game seemed to be turning in favor of the Elis, and Rouse only made things sweeter by picking off Mancuso on the following drive. After both Yale and then Richmond did little on their drives, the punt return was fumbled by Rouse, and the Spiders picked up in the ball in Yale territory. Mancuso found Charlie Fessler streaking across the flat, and the receiver strode into the end zone for a five-yard touchdown. The half ended with Richmond leading Yale 20-7.
“We talk a lot about how your response is twice as important as the event itself,” head coach Tony Reno said. “I told them before the game, ‘I hope to God we find ourselves behind, because, if we want to be a really good team, we have to learn to respond to being down in a game.’ We walked in at halftime and I said, ‘There you go boys, let’s go figure it out,’ and they did just that. They just kept fighting and found a way to make plays — something that we weren’t doing in the first half. We grew a ton in thirty minutes of football.”
The third quarter saw the Bulldogs on the ropes as Richmond carved up the Eli defense. Mancuso led the Spiders on a 70-yard drive to open up the half, finding wideout Keyston Fuller for a 15-yard score. Rawlings was not ready to give up yet and threw three straight darts to three different receivers — the final pass being a 35-yard missile to receiver Jaylan Sandifer who sprinted into the end zone. The Bulldogs trailed by 13, but the game felt in reach. The defenses held strong on both sides, and the third quarter ended following three straight punts.
The Bulldogs tapped into their inner resilience in the fourth quarter, epitomizing the “never say die” attitude. After two unsuccessful drives, Rawlings completely took over the game with the help of his tremendous receiving core. The gunslinger went 7–9 as the offense went 72 yards down the field, capped off with a pinpoint strike to Shohfi for the score. Now trailing by just six points, the Bulldogs risked it all with an onside kick, which Shohfi recovered in heroic fashion. However, a sack saw the Elis face fourth and 12 with just a minute left on the clock. Completely unfazed by the pressure, Rawlings hit Shohfi for a 23-yard reception and the first down conversion. With just seconds left on the clock, Rawlings put a high ball up over the middle of the field. Miraculously, Klubnik stretched up with a corner draped all over him and hauled it. That fourth touchdown tied Rawlings with Alvin Cowan ’04 for the most touchdown passes in Yale history. The comeback was complete, and the Bulldogs walked away victorious 28-27.
“Yesterday was a great example of our group’s ability to respond to adversity and never waiver in the way we play,” linebacker Micah Awodiran ’21 said. “We were able to focus on each other, and together we were able to get the result we wanted.”
Yale returns to Ivy play when they take on Penn at the Yale Bowl on Saturday at noon.
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