The contest at the Yale Bowl Saturday afternoon turned into a classic shootout, with both offenses scoring at will, but it was the Elis who came out on top following a heroic performance from the man of the hour, quarterback Kurt Rawlings ’20.
The Bulldogs (5–1, 2–1 Ivy) squared off against Penn (2–4, 0–3 Ivy) on a crisp fall afternoon, with Yale hungry to build off its miraculous comeback victory against Richmond. During the game, Rawlings broke both the career passing touchdown record as well as the Yale record for total career yards of offense en route to a tight 46–41 Ivy victory. The Quakers gave the Elis all they could handle through four quarters, though, and the game was neck and neck throughout. The senior receiving core for the Blue and White stepped up big time, slicing up the Quaker secondary. Captain and wideout JP Shohfi ’20 and fellow receiver Reed Klubnik ’20 combined for 349 yards receiving. Not to be outdone, however, running back Zane Dudek ’21 had a monster game in the red zone, with three touchdowns from inside 10 yards. Defensive back Kyle Ellis ’22 continued his stellar sophomore play with 10 total tackles and an interception.
“The win was a product of their ability to focus in on plays,” head coach Tony Reno said. “You’ve got to have your team prepared to win. As we got going, we knew it was going to be a shootout. We felt good about our guys because the way our players play is that they respond when they need to. They played hard, fast and physical. Our kids fought and I knew we were going to get it done.”
The Bulldogs immediately relied on their running game to begin the contest, but Penn held strong, stifling the Elis on three straight rush attempts to force an early punt. However, the ensuing drive for the Quakers was equally as ineffective, with their punt pounced upon by defensive back Melvin Rouse II ’21 who weaved his way through defenders for a 21-yard return. Yale capitalized on this great field position as Rawlings found his go-to guy Shohfi on a dead run for 30 yards. On the next play Rawlings lofted a perfect ball up to running back Alan Lamar ’20, who expertly brought it in and got his feet inbounds to take Yale into Penn territory. Rawlings then rushed the ball in for a six-yard score to put the Elis up 7–0, and that score line held as time ticked off the clock in the first quarter.
The second period of action saw Penn refuse to back down from the Bulldog advance and put up points through the air. After marching down the field, quarterback Nick Robinson found receiver Sire Woods alone in the end zone on fourth-and-goal to knot the game in agonizing fashion. Both teams exchanged punts before Rawlings took over at his own nine. Despite the adverse field position, he zipped the ball to Shohfi for a 25-yard gain before scrambling for a 37-yard touchdown that had the fans at the Yale Bowl on their feet. A low snap allowed Penn to block Yale’s point after. The Quakers struck right back, with Robinson unloading on a deep ball to Ryan Cragun for 37 yards to put Penn on the Bulldog one-yard line. Running back Karekin Brooks leaped over the goal line and the Quakers looked poised to take the lead. However, bruising defensive lineman Spencer Matthaei ’20 bullied his way through the line and blocked the extra point.
In a moment that characterized Rawlings’ career as an Eli, the quarterback marched Yale down the field and positioned the team at the Penn 33-yard line with just nine seconds left. Instead of settling for the field goal, the gutsy shot-caller kept the play alive, dropping back and launching a perfect ball up to the always-reliable Klubnik for a game-changing, 33-yard touchdown. It was only fitting for that play to be the one to break the passing record, giving Rawlings 42 passing touchdowns in his four years. At the end of the half, Yale led 20–13.
“I give a lot of credit to the offensive line,” Rawlings said. “I had an incredible amount of time to make plays today. We’ve got great athletes like [Dudek] and [Lamar] running the ball. It’s just fun and I am lucky to be a part of it. It’s great to know when the ball is in the air that almost every time the receivers are going to come down with it.”
Robinson led the Quakers out of halftime with a vengeance, completing three straight passes to set up a fade to wideout Rory Starkey Jr. for a seven-yard score. After two unsuccessful drives by both sides, Rawlings fired a ball down the field into the steady hands of Klubnik for a massive 49-yard catch and run. Dudek then took care of the rest, striding into the end zone for his first score of the game. Yale failed to convert a two-point attempt, leading then 26–20. Penn then had success going to the run, as running back Abe Willows darted through the Elis defense for a 36-yard sprint on the opening play of the Quaker drive. Karekin would not be denied in the red zone, gaining 18 yards on three straight runs to set up Willows for a six-yard touchdown. Penn took its first lead of the game as the quarter ended, winning 27–26.
The receiving tandem of Shohfi and Klubnik combined beautifully to ensure that the Quaker lead would not last. Rawlings found Shohfi for 26 yards, Klubnik for 17 yards, and went back up to Klubnik for a 16-yard touchdown snag. Yale again failed to convert the two-point conversion, going up by just five points with 13 minutes left in the game. Penn was poised to answer, but Ellis snatched Robinson’s pass attempt from the air and caused a huge momentum swing in favor of the Bulldogs. It was the sophomore’s second pick of the year.
With a lead and excess time on the clock, Dudek was called upon heavily to ice the game. The junior stepped up with ease, rushing in for an eight-yard score following a big reception by Shohfi. Penn did not quit, aided by a roughing-the-passer penalty on the Elis, and Robinson completed four of his seven pass attempts before Willows scampered in for a one-yard touchdown.
The following drive for Yale is what sealed the win, with the team expertly managing the clock and Dudek chewing up yards. The junior gained 31 yards on six rush attempts as Penn saw nearly six minutes tick off the clock, all before Dudek burst through the Quaker defensive line for a six-yard score. Penn gave Yale one last scare, with Robinson finding Willows for a 20-yard touchdown, but Klubnik coolly fielded the onside kick attempt and the win was secured. The Elis walked away victorious 46–41.
“This performance is what our offense should be week in and week out,” Dudek said. “It was fun to see the offense finally rolling. To see what [Rawlings] did today, to see what our receivers did today, this should be the standard for us.”
Yale will host Columbia next Saturday at noon.
Eamonn Smith | firstname.lastname@example.org