Prior to today, the 2017 season had largely been a series of blowouts for the Yale football team. Save for a devastating one-point loss to Dartmouth, the Bulldogs had won all of their games by at least 25 points.
But against Penn (2–4, 0–3 Ivy) — one of the Ivy League’s defending co-champions — the Bulldogs (5–1, 2–1 Ivy) found themselves in a much closer affair than weeks past. The Elis led for much of the second half, but only emerged victorious after a fourth-quarter comeback led by quarterback Kurt Rawlings ’20. Despite losing three fumbles, Yale showed immense resolve behind a stout defense which led them to a 24–19 victory.
“We knew it was going to be a tough football game,” head coach Tony Reno said. “It was everything that we thought it was going to be. [I’m] really proud of our football team and the culture we have built here at Yale. As a coach, you don’t ever hope for a game like this but we needed a game like this to see where we we are at.”
Saturday at Franklin Field marked the first game of the season in which the Bulldogs did not find the end zone first. Yale failed to convert a third-and-one try on its opening possession, and the Quakers wasted no time with a 23-yard touchdown to star wide receiver Justin Watson on the ensuing drive. The senior wideout became the Ivy League’s leader in 100-yard receiving games with his 120-yard performance today.
The Elis were able to tie the score after an eight-yard touchdown run by Zane Dudek ’21 near the end of the first quarter. After struggling to run the ball on its first two drives, Team 145 was able to create opening rushing lanes for Dudek, who gashed the Penn defense for a 24-yard run prior to his touchdown. Although the Quakers dominated time of possession in the opening quarter, the teams remained even after 15 minutes of play.
The second quarter brought sloppier play from both sides, as Yale and Penn traded fumbles. For the Quakers, Watson fumbled the ball on a catch near the sideline. For the Bulldogs, wide receiver Melvin Rouse II ’21 coughed up the ball after missing last week’s contest with an injury. Neither team was able to capitalize on each other’s mistake.
The real difference at the end of the first half was a 13-yard touchdown from quarterback Kurt Rawlings ’20 to wide receiver Reed Klubnik ’20 on a fade route in the back of the end zone. After Yale and Penn traded field goals, it was Rawlings’ scoring pass that gave his team the edge heading into the second half. Following a successful two-point conversion attempt, the Elis led 18–10.
Yale and Penn traded punts on their first two possessions coming out of halftime. Quaker quarterback Nick Robinson then brought the home squad down the field on an 11-play, 62-yard drive that ultimately proved fruitless after a missed 48-yard field goal attempt. Three-and-out possessions by both teams closed out a scoreless third quarter as the Bulldogs enjoyed an eight-point lead heading into the final 15 minutes.
A 62-yard punt return by Jason Alessi ’18 early in the fourth quarter would have set the Bulldogs up inside Penn’s red zone, but a block in the back penalty negated the play. Just one play later, strong safety Sam Philippi recovered a fumble by Dudek to set the Quakers up inside Yale territory. Despite the opportune field position, the Bulldog defense limited its opposition to three points off the turnover.
Penn’s defense produced another takeaway when a Rawlings’ fumble on a read-option was recovered by defensive back Jacob Martin. This time, however, the Quakers found the end zone on a 2-yard touchdown carry by running back Tre Solomon, followed by an unsuccessful two-point conversion.
Rawlings and Team 145’s offense answered quickly, erasing the 1-point deficit with an 11-play, 80-yard capped off by a touchdown catch by wide receiver Christopher Williams-Lopez ’18. The Bulldogs assumed a 24–19 lead with less than five minutes remaining in the game.
After a three-and-out on Penn’s ensuing offensive drive, Quaker head coach Ray Priore elected to punt with approximately four minutes left and two timeouts remaining. His gamble proved unsuccessful, as the Quakers never saw the ball again due to Yale running out the clock. Yale emerged victorious from Franklin Field to improve to 5–1 on the season.
Next up for the Bulldogs is undefeated Columbia at the Yale Bowl on October 28.