Yale Athletics

In a must-win game against Brown, the Yale football team kept intact its hopes of an Ivy League crown with a third consecutive offensive explosion that saw the squad put up 59 points — its most in the last 16 years.

For the Bulldogs (7–1, 4–1 Ivy), a cold and windy Saturday afternoon stood no chance in cooling off any of the momentous fire the players had stepping onto the field at Brown Stadium. Over the last two weeks, the Elis had been averaging nearly 46 points and 560 total yards of offense. These numbers were also gained against defenses that were discernibly higher ranked than the Bear defense Team 147 was set to face. In fact, Brown (1–7, 0–5) is ranked last in the Ivy League in both scoring defense and defending against the pass, as well as the second worst in stopping the run.

Saturday’s contest was of no help in boosting Brown’s defensive statistics. On three of the Blue and White’s first four drives, quarterback Kurt Rawlings ’20 and running back Zane Dudek ’21 had no trouble in exposing a subpar Bruno secondary and defensive line, respectively, as Yale converted points on all three. By the end of the first quarter, Team 147 had already put up 17 points, while holding Brown scoreless. By the second quarter, however, a reinvigorated Bulldog defense began to show signs of bending — conceding three touchdowns in the span of 12 minutes. When the time came for the Elis to march off the field for halftime, their once 17-point lead had now dwindled to just three. Yale came out of the locker room looking somewhat revitalized — putting together a nice drive that culminated in the pigskin fluttering through the uprights for three. However, the same could not be said for the defense, which relinquished a touchdown in less than a minute to give Brown a 28–27 advantage. Bruno’s lead was short lived, however, as a Blue and White fumble recovery on the Bears’ following drive led to a Rawlings touchdown, restoring Team 147’s six-point lead. From that moment on, Yale finally took control of every aspect of the game, scoring 25 more points while holding Brown to just a touchdown to close out the contest with a 59—35 victory.

“We came into halftime thinking that we had played a low-standard first half in all three phases,” head coach Tony Reno said. “We were missing field goals, we were not scoring in the red zone, we were allowing open touchdown passes. Yet, we came into the locker room refocused, and I said, ‘Guys, we have to go back out and play to our standard of football.’ Their ensuing response was exactly what I knew would happen. With this team, they are different in the sense where they understand the magnitude of what a response is, and, more importantly, they know how to respond. There are a lot of teams that search for it, but this team knows how to do it.”

The Elis immediately took advantage of a substandard Bear rush defense to begin the game — running the ball five straight times to set up in the red zone. However, Brown held strong in stifling the Bulldogs to force a fourth down, with Yale then being content to kick a 35-yard field goal to take an early 3–0 lead. The Blue and White defense then got off to as hot a start as one could have hoped, with linebacker Ryan Burke ’20 recovering a fumble on Bruno’s following drive. While Team 147 was not able to take advantage of the good field positioning, Rawlings would finally make his presence felt on Yale’s following two drives, running numerous play-action passes that culminated in touchdowns on both. The Eli defense would hold its own to close out the quarter — yielding a measly 41 yards — as the Bulldogs entered the second quarter with a 17–0 advantage.

There was a recognizable dichotomy between how Team 147 played in the first quarter versus the second. Bear quarterback EJ Perry perfectly read what the defense was giving him on each play, leading his offense on a 75-yard drive into the end zone that led to seven on the board for Bruno. After Yale had its field goal blocked on its subsequent drive, Perry went right back to work — putting his running ability on full display with a 49-yard touchdown rush to make it 17–14. Rawlings would answer right back with a 75-yard drive of his own, culminating in a 15-yard touchdown pass to captain and wideout JP Shohfi ’20. However, the shootout was on, as Perry picked apart the Eli secondary for a six-play touchdown drive with 20 seconds to spare in the quarter. As time in the half expired, Yale marched off the field with a 24–21 lead, understandably disheartened at having let the Bears back into the game.

“[The first half] was a little bit of a wake-up for us,” Shohfi said. “We had to kick it up a notch, we just refocused ourselves on what we needed to do, how we needed to do our individual jobs, and how we could contribute to each specific play. We didn’t have overconfidence that we would score on every drive, but we focused back in on winning the individual play. The offensive line did a really good job all day in creating a lot of huge holes, which opened up our run game a lot. Because of that, we had a lot of opportunities in the passing game as well.”

Brown came out of the gates firing in the second half, holding Yale to a field goal by kicker Sam Tuckerman ’20 and then scoring a touchdown on the ensuing offensive possession. The score marked the first lead Brown had on the day. With the tide seemingly turning against the Elis, Burke placed a huge hit on receiver Allen Smith and forced a fumble. The defense continued to dominate, stopping Brown on a fourth down late in the quarter to give the ball back to the offense. Rawlings did not waste this vital opportunity, finding Dudek for a monster 71-yard reception to set up a fade to Shohfi in the end zone for the score. Yale went for two and converted, as the quarter ended with Yale leading 42–28.

The defense and run game for the Bulldogs stepped up in a massive way to close out the contest and secure the vital victory for Yale. Dudek rushed for nearly 50 yards on the Elis’ first drive of the quarter, which culminated in Rawlings again finding his go-to guy Shohfi for the score. Defensive back Malcolm Dixon ’20 was a thorn in Brown’s side, batting away passes and making crucial open-field tackles. Defensive lineman Osorachukwu Ifesinachukwu ’22 sacked EJ Perry for a loss on a third down late in the game to set up a heroic fourth down denial by the Yale defense. Running back Alan Lamar ’20 was determined to secure a win, as he bullied Bruno defenders on his way for a 14-yard score with just over two minutes remaining in the contest. The icing on the cake was provided by the defense as defensive back Dathan Hickey ’22 continued his superb sophomore year with an impressive interception of Perry. With that highlight, the game finished 59–35 to the Bulldogs.

“The main thing for us up front that we knew going in was that we had to cage the quarterback and keep him in the pocket,” defensive tackle Spencer Matthaei ’20 said. “The game plan was to get him off his line and force him to make uncomfortable throws. We definitely gave him some seams, and he took advantage of them — he’s fast, and he made it hurt. Ultimately, his throws down the field are where we can affect him, that’s our job and our front, and we were able to do it down the stretch. The biggest thing is that we keep staying on our process and doing our job — we have a confident group who knows what we’re capable of, and if we stick to us and stick to each other, we can get it done.”

Yale plays its final away game against Princeton on Saturday at 1 p.m.

 

Jared Fel | jared.fel@yale.edu

Eamonn Smith | eamonn.smith@yale.edu