In its second-to-last home game of the season, the Yale football team dominated every facet of the game from kickoff until the final whistle, securing a 45–10 rout of Columbia. Team 147, second in the Ancient Eight, now embarks on a two-game road trip with one goal in sight — the Ivy League crown.
The Bulldogs (6–1, 3–1 Ivy) entered Saturday yet to have had a game in which both the offense and defense had played to their highest capacities. For the first two tilts of the season, it was the defense that was thriving — allowing just three total touchdowns and an average of 13 points per game. In the games that followed, however, the defense seemed to lose a bit of its touch, and the offense picked up the slack. Quarterback Kurt Rawlings ’20 and the rest of the offense scored an average of 33 points over the next four games, while the defense conceded over 40 points in two of those four.
This weekend’s contest against the Lions (2–5, 1–3 Ivy) put a large dent in that narrative, as the Blue and White dominated both sides of the ball from the very first minute to the very last. The defense would be the one to make a statement first — forcing and recovering a fumble on Columbia’s second play of the day. A touchdown from Rawlings to captain and wideout JP Shohfi ’20 on Yale’s second play set an emphatic tone that was never broken. Rawlings went on to record three more touchdowns and set a career-high of 390 passing yards, a week after setting a once career-high 388 passing yards. Rawlings was not the only Eli setting career-highs, as Shohfi would finish with a herculean 189 receiving yards that ranks sixth-most in Yale history. Critical sacks and an indelible interception defined a tenacious performance from the Bulldog defense, as Team 147 went on to poach the Lions 45–10.
“This team had an incredible week of practice and preparation, and it showed out on the field today,” head coach Tony Reno said. “This team continues to get better every week. When you look at the team and you look at the guys that we have, we’ve got, in my opinion, the best team in the country. Guys who not only love playing this game, but who love each other and the teammates around them. They have done a great job of fostering relationships with everyone else. I’m very happy for this team, yet we’ve still got a lot of work to do in all three phases of the game. That will be something we work on tomorrow.”
Things got off to an auspicious start on Saturday. After Columbia returned the opening kickoff a whopping 53 yards to set up the offense in Bulldog territory, any momentum that the Lions were hoping to get out of the drive was crushed in just two plays. Eli linebacker John Dean ’21 forced a fumble that was subsequently recovered by defensive back Melvin Rouse II ’21 — setting Team 147 up with excellent field positioning to begin its first drive of the game. This drive would also last just two plays, with Rawlings completing a 17-yard pass to Shohfi in the end zone to give Yale a 7–0 edge just one minute into the contest.
On the Lion’s next two drives, the Blue and White defense continued to make its resounding presence felt — forcing three-and-outs on both drives and impelling negative yardage in the process. However, on the Bulldog’s next two drives after scoring the touchdown, Columbia’s second-ranked pass defense had begun to look the part — inducing uncharacteristic incompletions from Rawlings and preventing the Bulldogs from even sniffing the red zone.
With the second quarter underway, the Lions appeared to have found some of their mojo, as a combination of short, energetic runs and perfectly executed curl-and-go routes from quarterback Ty Lenhart had Columbia threatening in the red zone for the first time that afternoon. But on the second down, the Elis executed a perfect pass rush — coercing a hold from one of the Lion’s offensive linemen that set up a third-and-goal from the 11-yard line. Columbia’s following pass on the third down was completely blown up by Rouse, resulting in a successful field goal attempt from the Lions that made it 7–3.
After a sack on Rawlings prevented Team 147 from responding in any way, it appeared as if the momentum in the game had shifted in favor of Columbia — Lenhart was beginning to read the defense better and ran plays accordingly. Halfway through the second quarter, with the Lions again setting up in the red zone, the Bulldogs looked to be in danger of losing their four-point lead. However, on a play that changed the tide of the game for good, it would be Dean again who delivered when Yale needed him most — intercepting a tipped Lenhart pass at the 15-yard line.
“We really felt like we hadn’t put in a complete game as a secondary, and we took it personally,” Rouse said. “Today was one of those games where we were just attacking. You can play a style of defense that’s constantly scared and on its heels, but when you have that mindset as an attacking defense, you’ll get the results that you saw today. I credit that to Sunday through Saturday — taking what we do in practice and applying it.”
From that point on until halftime, the Blue and White went on a touchdown spree. Following the interception, Rawlings led his offense on an 11-play, 85-yard drive that culminated with Rawlings himself escaping the pocket and finding space along the sideline to run it into the end zone himself, making it 14–3. After a Columbia three-and-out, Rawlings picked up right where he left off, completing two perfectly thrown passes that put seven more on the board for Yale in less than 40 seconds. The defenses of both teams would hold steady to close out the half, as the Bulldogs headed to the lockers with a 21–3 advantage.
With a commanding 18-point lead, the Bulldogs went about securing the win and taking time off of the clock. Yale’s only offense of the third quarter came on its opening drive, where kicker Sam Tuckerman ’20 split the uprights after the Bulldog drive sputtered at the Columbia 21-yard line. The story of the quarter was the Bulldog defense, who simply refused to let the Lions into the game. The unit forced two three-and-outs, with defensive lineman Sean Kissel ’20 shedding his blocker and taking Lenhart down for a vital sack on Columbia’s first drive of the period. The third quarter finished 24–3 with the Elis in total control.
Instead of succumbing to complacency, the Bulldogs used the fourth quarter to show what the offense is capable of. Yale had closed out the third with a huge 42-yard strike from Rawlings to wideout Reed Klubnik ’20. The shot-caller took the drive into his own hands by rushing in from nearly the goal line for Rawlings’ second rushing touchdown of the contest. While the defense held firm, speedy running back Zane Dudek ’21 refused to let the receivers have all the fun, splitting the Columbia defense wide open and tiptoeing the sideline for a 45-yard touchdown.
Columbia did show a brief glimpse of life, when Lenhart found receiver Mozes Mooney for a 23-yard score, but the game was well in hand. The contest ended in a special way, as quarterback Nolan Grooms ’23 stepped under center for just his second career appearance. The first year showed poise and guts as he put his body on the line, churning up yards on the ground before finding running back Alan Lamar ’20 with a tricky flip pass for the young gunslinger’s second passing touchdown this year. It was just another point of celebration on a day dominated by the Bulldogs. Yale took home the win in convincing fashion, 45–10.
A week after setting a career-high 388 passing yards against Penn, Rawlings set a new career-high with 390 passing yards. As a team, Yale put up 580 yards of total offense — over three times as many yards as the Lions were able to muster.
“There’s a lot of trust amongst the whole offense and I feel so fortunate to have had the opportunity to build so much courage with Kurt,” Shohfi said. “He really does make it easy. He knows where I am going to be, and I know where the ball is going to be. If there’s something to figure out, we can talk about it on the sideline — we know how to make in-game adjustments. The level of trust and chemistry that exists within the team is what allows the offense to run so effortlessly.”
Yale next plays against Brown on Saturday in Providence, Rhode Island at 12:30 p.m.
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