Five weeks ago, a disastrous Dartmouth contest delivered a seemingly fatal blow to the Yale football team and its hopes of securing an Ivy League title. But on Saturday, the Bulldogs marched out of Powers Field with a 51–14 victory and a tie for first in the Ancient Eight.
It was a matchup football fans dream of. The Elis (8–1, 5–1 Ivy) and their highest-ranked offense were set to battle it out against the Tigers (7–2, 4–2) and their top-rated defense in a contest of two teams with identical 4-1 marks in divisional play. In the three weeks leading up to this matchup, Team 147 had been on an offensive tear unlike any other — averaging 50 points and 586 yards of total offense. When quarterback Kurt Rawlings ’20 wasn’t setting career-highs in passing yards, he was continuing his All-American campaign by throwing for a career-high in touchdowns. Princeton, meanwhile, was enjoying quite the remarkable campaign as well, boasting the third-ranked defense in the entire Football Championship Subdivision. As these two teams took the field on Saturday, it was unavoidable — something had to give.
On Yale’s first drive of the day, with the offense floundering in the red zone as it was so unaccustomed to doing, the Tiger defense did not appear to be in a giving mood. But what ensued would be, quite literally, one of the most convincing and extraordinary offensive performances Team 147 had ever been a part of. Yet, for Rawlings and company, it was just another day at the office. Rawlings would finish the game with an Eli single-game record of six touchdowns, while wideouts Reed Klubnik ’20 and JP Shohfi ’20 became first and second, respectively, in all-time receiving yards for Yale — cementing themselves as the most electrifying receiving tandem in Bulldog history.
For all of the offensive mastery put on full display against Princeton, there was no shortage of brilliance on the defensive side of the ball, with both turnovers and fourth-down stops helping to hold the Tigers to nearly 200 yards below their season average. As time expired on the Eli’s 51–14 victory, a Dartmouth loss over 300 miles away put the Blue and White in a tie for first in the Ancient Eight.
“We have a chance now to clinch the title at home,” Klubnik said. “What we did today is what we expect out of our team. That’s the best game we’ve played all year and what we expect out of ourselves at week nine. We are almost to the point that we need to be for this last week of playing our best football. As seniors, having this last chance for this final game to be one to clinch a share of the title is a great feeling.”
Defense was the story of the first quarter. With Rawlings leading his offense into Princeton territory on the game’s opening drive, the Tiger defense pressured the Eli offensive line into making uncharacteristic mistakes, resulting in a 43-yarder from kicker Sam Tuckerman ’20 that cleanly split the uprights for three. The Bulldog pass-rush was a force to be reckoned with this quarter, conceding just 17 yards on Princeton’s opening drive and, on the Tiger’s following drive, suffocating running back Collin Eaddy at the line of scrimmage on a fourth-and-short. At quarter’s end, the Tiger offense had not so much as even sniffed Yale territory on any of its drives.
The Rawlings-Shohfi connection would be in full effect to begin second quarter action. Shohfi, on a called fly route, easily got a step on his defender while running into the end zone — Rawlings only had to toss it for an 18-yard touchdown and a 10–0 advantage. After Princeton ended its scoring drought with a 15-yard touchdown run from Eaddy, Yale’s offense was stymied on its responding drive and was forced to punt. Yet what should have been a routine fair catch from the Tiger special teams was anything but, as the catch was ultimately bobbled and subsequently recovered by defensive back Jaelin Alburg ’20. This was the turning point in the game, and the floodgates officially opened. Team 147 would go on a 20–0 scoring barrage in the final seven minutes of the quarter — with Rawlings finding the end zone three times on as many drives. The Blue and White closed out the half with a 30–7 lead, its second largest halftime lead of the entire season.
“We took it upon ourselves to make it the best week of practice we’ve had yet in preparation for today’s game,” Rawlings said. “I couldn’t feel more blessed to be a part of this team. … You can’t teach the talent that [Shohfi and Klubnik] have. I’m so fortunate to be able to stand back and throw the ball to them each week. There was a fourth-and-12 today where I threw it high — it was a pass that, had I thrown to any other receiver in this league, would not have been able to be caught. JP went up and easily made the catch. Reed obviously made crazy catches today. I’m so lucky to be able to play with those guys.”
Yale refused to take its foot off the gas in the second half, with its defense continuing to be superb against Princeton. This dominance was put on full display on the Tiger’s first play from scrimmage to open the period. Defensive lineman Sean Kissel ’20 rocked quarterback Kevin Davidson with a fierce hit, forcing a fumble that was recovered by Princeton. With Davidson’s nerves clearly shaken, his next pass was deftly picked off by defensive back Kyle Ellis ’22. The Bulldogs pounced on this opportunity and Rawlings threw a strike to quarterback-turned-receiver Patrick Conte ’21 who found himself completely unguarded on a post route. Princeton managed to put points on the board through hard running by Zach Keller, but the quarter finished with Yale in the driver’s seat 37–14.
The fourth quarter felt like a victory lap for the Elis, as they sought to close the massive victory out with a bang. Running back Alan Lamar ’20 took the snap from Rawlings in the red zone, made a quick outside move and strode freely past the pylon for the score to open the fourth.
Meanwhile, the defensive line continued to bully Princeton’s linemen, as defensive end Charles Callender ’20 burst into the backfield and dragged Davidson down for a 12-yard sack. The highlight of the quarter came with a 10-yard touchdown pass from Rawlings to Klubnik for the sixth score through the air from Rawlings on the day. It marked another line in the record books for the Bel Air, Maryland, native and capped of what was a historic victory for Yale. The game finished 51–14 in favor of the Elis.
“Going into this game, we kept in the back of our minds what happened last year to Princeton — how we gave up so many points and big plays,” linebacker Ryan Burke ’20 said. “We came out with a chip on our shoulder and had that steely-eyed look in our eyes all day that we were not going to be denied, we were going to play a great game. You could feel the energy and vibes that everyone was giving off to each other on the sideline. It was incredible.”
Yale’s next contest comes this Saturday at the Yale Bowl against archrival Harvard — a chance to secure at least a share of the Ivy crown.
Jared Fel | firstname.lastname@example.org
Eamonn Smith | email@example.com