Trailing by 13 points with less than 90 seconds remaining, the Yale football team’s chances of victory seemed all but dashed late in the fourth quarter against Richmond on Saturday night. But what happened in the final 83 seconds left fans of both sides shocked, stunned and overstimulated as the Bulldogs walked out of the E. Claiborne Robins Stadium clutching a 28–27 victory.

While few would describe central Virginia as a college football hotbed — see other nearby programs such as Old Dominion, Liberty and VMI — the final two minutes of the Elis’ eventual victory contained some of the most exciting sequences you’ll ever see in the sport, especially at the Football Championship Subdivision level.

But how did the Elis snatch victory from the jaws of defeat after getting outgained 464–316 in total yardage and trailing their arachnid opposition for pretty much the entirety of the game? The answer is simple: a quartet of seniors — captain JP Shohfi ’20, Kurt Rawlings ’20, Reed Klubnik ’20 and Sam Tuckerman ’20 — stepped up and made spectacular plays in crunch time to steal a win on the road in Richmond. This all, of course, happened while the Spiders had a 99.2 percent probability of victory with under five minutes to go.

We’ll get to that triumphant final sequence in a second, but it cannot be overstated how badly the Bulldogs needed to pick up a win — if nothing else besides for momentum — after their Ivy title hopes took a big hit following a 42–10 defeat to No. 16 Dartmouth one week prior.

At 4–1 overall, Yale remains in prime position to secure at least eight wins for only the third time since 2008. Furthermore, the Elis can still capture at least a share of the 2019 Ancient Eight crown assuming No. 13 Princeton defeats the Big Green in the Big Apple when the two teams square off at Yankee Stadium. In addition, Yale will need to win out and tame the Tigers — the kings of the conference in 2016 and 2018 — a week later on Nov. 16.

Let’s return to that beautiful Saturday night in Virginia in mid-October. With a 27–14 lead late in the fourth, Richmond kicker Jake Larson — who had been shaky all night — missed a 44-yard field goal try that would’ve put the proverbial nail in the collective canine coffin. Narrowly avoiding a 16-point deficit, Rawlings promptly orchestrated a nine-play, 72-yard drive capped off with a touchdown reception by Shohfi on a beautiful 15-yard throw to the back of the end zone.

With 83 seconds left on the clock in a six-point ball game, Yale attempted its first onside kick of the season — a beautiful bouncing ball from Tuckerman — that hopped right into the waiting arms of Shohfi at midfield. After Shohfi converted a fourth-and-12, the Bulldogs eventually got into the red zone where Klubnik, surrounded by three defenders, made a leaping catch to haul in a 16-yard touchdown — with nine seconds to go — that gave the Elis a thrilling one-point victory.

Despite the Spiders seemingly infesting the Yale defense for most of the game, the Bulldogs slowly came back to exterminate their opponents. Like a large and powerful moth that breaks free from the entangling threads of a measly spider’s web, the Bulldogs managed a successful escape from the trap of the Robins Stadium using their superior athleticism and talent at a variety of skill positions to eventually overtake Richmond.

For Rawlings, Shohfi and Klubnik, these types of heroic plays are nothing new. The trio of All-Ivy seniors are no strangers to making game-breaking plays in crunch time as evidenced by Klubnik’s two touchdowns against Harvard in 2016 — the Elis’ first win over the Crimson in 10 years — Rawlings’s gutsy game-winning drive against Penn in 2017 or even Shohfi’s one-handed snag versus Brown in 2018 that made it onto SportsCenter’s Top 10 plays. Tuckerman, meanwhile, is quietly enjoying a productive season after serving as a backup last year. The “Hebrew Hammer” is 6–7 on field goal attempts this season and has also nailed 16 of his 17 extra points.

This senior class comprises the backbone of Tony Reno’s proud program, which is currently on pace to accumulate 25 wins in four seasons, including the 2017 Ivy title. The Bulldogs’ recent success has also been bolstered by fellow 2020 standouts such as offensive linemen Sterling Strother ’20 and Dieter Eiselen ’20, as well as cornerback Malcolm Dixon ’20 to name a few others.

Make no mistake: Yale’s implausible victory over the Spiders on Saturday can be chalked up to the outstanding efforts of some key seniors who were determined to lay it all on the line for the Bulldogs to emerge victorious.

 
Joey Kamm | joseph.kamm@yale.edu