FOOTBALL: Yale rides strong second half en route to 37–30 victory over Columbia
The Bulldogs won their second consecutive game on Saturday when they overcame a nine-point deficit to defeat the Columbia Lions.
Yale Daily News
The Bulldogs defeated the Lions 37–30 on Saturday after outscoring Columbia by 13 points in the second half. The win marked the Bulldogs second straight victory and moved them into a tie for second place in the Ivy League. The Elis only trail undefeated Princeton, who they will battle in two weeks.
Yale (4–3, 3–1 Ivy) entered Saturday’s contest as eight-and-a-half point favorites. Columbia (5–2, 2–2 Ivy) had just come off a 19–0 shutout victory over Dartmouth, who beat the Bulldogs in overtime just a few weeks ago. Team 148 played its most complete game of the season. The offense led the way, scoring 37 points on the stingy Columbia defense that had only allowed 16 points per game entering the contest. On the defensive side, the Elis forced the Lions into field goal tries on four drives that came inside the Bulldogs 22-yard line. Melvin Rouse II ’22 added a special teams score when he took a Columbia punt 86-yards for the third longest punt return touchdown in Yale football history.
“I think from our perspective, there’s statement games, and I feel strongly it’s a statement game for us,” Yale head coach Tony Reno said. “I knew it was gonna take us a few weeks in the season to get going … I’m really proud of how this team has developed. How they have really been intentional in their preparation and how they’re really showing it in their performance.”
With heavy rain pouring down, the two teams traded punts to start the game. The Yale offense took possession of the ball at their 29-yard line, and after two consecutive runs by Nolan Grooms ’24, the Bulldogs were faced with a third-and-1 situation. Grooms handed the ball off to Elliott McElwain ’22 who seemed to be stopped short of the line, but a second effort surge pushed the Bulldog running back a few yards forward for a first down.
Later in the drive, a 17-yard pass to a wide open Rouse was hauled in, and set Yale up 1 yard away from the goaline. With Zane Dudek ’22 not playing due to injury, Yale was steadfast on having the ball go through backup Spencer Alston ’23 on three straight downs. On third down, before the defense could put a hand on him, the Virginia native leapt up into the air, somersaulting over several Lions and falling into the endzone. Yale had taken an early 6–0 lead, after the missed extra point.
The Lions responded quickly, showing the Bulldogs why their running game entered the week as the second best in the Ivy League. On the second play of the drive, senior running back Ryan Young broke through the middle of the Yale defense and ran 60 yards to the end zone. The touchdown and extra point put Columbia up 7–6.
As the second quarter was underway, the Yale offense stalled near midfield after a sack for the second consecutive possession. As the rain continued to stream into the Bowl, Yale lined up to punt. Through the downpour, the snap went over the head of punter Jack Bosman ’24, setting up the Lions in the red zone. Columbia capitalized and went up 14–6 after a touchdown run from Young.
Team 148 failed to answer on its responding offensive possession, going three-and-out and punting the ball right back to a hot Lion offense. After quarterback Joe Green hit his receiver for a 39-yard gain on the first play of the possession, Columbia looked to be driving yet again. The Eli defense eventually held firm, forcing the Lions into a field goal attempt which they converted to make it 17–6.
After Yale and Columbia traded three-and-outs, Yale was in desperate need of some production on offense. Alston provided just that in the form of a 3-yard run on third down, moving the chains for the Bulldogs for the first time in the second quarter. Yet, just one play later, McElwain had the ball stripped from him and into the hands of the Columbia defense.
The Bulldog defense stood strong, forcing Columbia into a quick three-and-out that saw Rodney Thomas II ’22 pull off an athletic open-field tackle. Reno took a timeout with 2:09 remaining in the half, hoping to give his offense time. Columbia punter Drew Schmid sent a booming kick down the field. Rouse let the ball bounce and fielded it at the 14-yard line. The speedy return man made the first defender miss, and approaching the 20-yard line saw three white Lion jerseys staring him down. Rouse cut to the right and outran five trailing defenders. The Bulldog special teams set up blocks for him downfield, which he followed all the way to the end zone.
Rouse’s return was the team’s first since Jason Alessi ’18 took one 82 yards against Lehigh in 2016. Grooms’ two-point conversion attempt to Darrion Carrington ’22 was successful, cutting the Columbia lead to 17–14.
On Columbia’s responding possession, the Blue and White defense pulled off a stop on third down. As Yale was without any timeouts, Columbia went aggressive and called a play on a fourth-and-4 from the opponents’ 35-yard line with less than a minute remaining in the half. Green threw a dart to his tight end on an expertly run slant route to move the chains. A subsequent pass interference call on the Eli secondary at the goal line moved the Lion offense 15 yards to the 4-yard line. Just as they did the last time Columbia was in their redzone, the Bulldog defense stood strong for three straight plays. As the final seconds of the half ticked off the clock, the Lions’ field goal attempt was sent clean through the uprights. When the two teams streamed into the locker rooms, it was Columbia that had a six-point, 20–14 edge.
With the third quarter underway, Team 148’s defense forced a quick third down stop and punt. Rouse, tasked with returning the kick, again let the ball bounce in hopes of fielding it just as he did on his first half punt-return touchdown. This time around, the ball took a bad bounce that Rouse couldn’t get full possession of. A tackle from a diving defender forced a fumble, which Columbia subsequently recovered. Following two Lion rushes for loss and an incompletion from Green, Columbia converted on its third straight field goal to make it a 23–14 game.
Yale’s offensive struggles appeared to carry over into the second half after they went three-and-out on the ensuing drive. The defense pulled off a quick stop on the following Lion possession, and Team 148 looked to see if it could get something going on the offensive side of the ball.
As the incessant downpour of rain began to wane, a spark was suddenly lit underneath the Bulldog offense. Grooms connected with Mason Tipton ’24 on the drive’s first two plays, with each completion gaining at least 30 yards. Yale’s offense was now set up just seven yards away from the goal line. After failing to gain any yardage on two straight plays, the drive came down to a third-and-goal. Taking the snap from the shotgun, Grooms surveyed the field but couldn’t find an open man to pass to. Rolling out to his right, the Lion secondary sensed a quarterback run and came streaming towards the sideline. Before crossing the line of scrimmage, Grooms saw that the defense had left Alston completely alone and threw him a strike. Alston took care of the rest, sprinting down the sideline nine yards and taking it to the house. After a successful two point conversion that saw an improvised shovel pass from Grooms to Carrington, the score now read 22–23.
“Coming into the game, we knew they were going to give us one on one, especially with the rain,” Grooms said. “We knew if we won a couple of one on ones, we’d win the game.” The Bulldog quarterback added praise of Tipton, who ended the game with a team-high 112 receiving yards.
After a series of play action passes and well executed runs had the Lions driving into Yale territory, two straight incompletions from Green set up the kicker for his fourth straight field goal attempt. Unlike his other three attempts, Alex Felkins’ kick from 40 yards out missed wide right, much to the delight of the Yale sideline.
Momentum had now completely shifted in favor of the Bulldogs. On the ensuing offensive possession, the Grooms-Tipton connection was in full force yet again. This time, Grooms aired out a perfectly placed ball that hit the wideout in the breadbasket for a 43-yard gain. Inside Columbia territory, a three yard Alston rush on fourth-and-short kept the drive alive for Team 148. Then, Grooms flashed his legs for a 14-yard gain to set up a first-and-goal. On the following play, Carrington ran a flat route parallel to the line of scrimmage before taking a hard cut towards the goal line, getting a step on his defender in the process. Grooms read the play instantly and lobbed a pass towards the left side of the end zone. Carrington managed to wrap his hands around the ball and was barely able to get his right foot in bounds before getting pushed by a Lion defender for the touchdown score. Yale decided to go for two for the third straight time and converted again on a completed pass to Tipton. The Elis had fought all the way back to take a 30–23 lead.
Yale’s defense kept its foot on the gas, forcing a three-and-out on the following Columbia possession. The Bulldogs offense began running the clock down, calling eight rushes on their next nine plays. On the tenth, Alston fought off the first wave of defenders and muscled his way into the open field. From there, his speed took over and the Bulldog back ran 54 yards for a touchdown to extend the lead to 14.
“I saw the hole [and] was ready for the second level contact,” Alston said. “First guy fell off, then I saw green grass. The next guy slipped off, picked my knees up and then just finish in the end zone.”
Despite scoring to cut the lead to seven on their following possession, the Lions’ comeback attempt fell short. Possessing the ball with a chance to tie the game with under two minutes left, Columbia was unable to crack the Bulldogs defensive front. Brett Gerber ’22 sacked Green on third-and-15 to put a dagger in the game.
Yale will travel to Providence, Rhode Island next weekend to battle with Brown.