The Yale football team made history on Saturday in its 23–6 win over Columbia, notching the 900th victory in the storied history of the program. Perhaps even more importantly, the Bulldogs (6–1, 3–1 Ivy) moved into a tie for first-place in the Ancient Eight standings race following their dominant performance against the previously undefeated Lions (6–1, 3–1) with just three games remaining in the 2017 campaign.
The Elis outgained the Light Blue by nearly 200 yards on offense and intercepted quarterback Anders Hill twice on the day, as Team 145 won the turnover battle and earned its most crucial victory of the season. Running back Zane Dudek ’21 stole the show at the Yale Bowl, rushing for 173 yards and a pair of touchdowns on 25 carries.
Yale’s defensive line limited the Lions to just 31 yards on the ground and generated three sacks, two courtesy of Matthew Oplinger ’18. The Bulldogs’ secondary prevented Columbia’s aerial attack from producing the home-run plays it had relied on all season.
“Our story is not finished yet…but I’m very proud of this team,” head coach Tony Reno said. “The ability for these guys to win plays, the ability for these guys to focus on what’s important…was on display today. It wasn’t easy, as we expected, but I’d take [my] guys any day.”
In the biggest game of their season to date, the Elis struck first behind some gutsy play-calling. Faced with fourth-and-seven from Columbia’s 10-yard line, holder and quarterback Andrew Johnson ’18 perfectly executed a jump-pass for a touchdown to tight end Jaeden Graham ’18 against an unexpectant defense. The score gave the Bulldogs an early 7–0 lead: an advantage that they would not relinquish for the remainder of the game.
Team 145 continued to attack the Lions following the surprise play, scoring on a one-yard rush by quarterback Kurt Rawlings later in the frame. Running backs Zane Dudek ’21 and Deshawn Salter ’18 both gashed the Columbia defense on separate 13-yard runs to set up their quarterback on the goal line.
Defensively, a mix of great defensive line play and aggressive coverage stifled the Light Blue’s attack, as the Lions failed to score in the opening quarter. Safety Hayden Carlson intercepted his second pass of the year, which he returned for 27 yards to set up Yale’s second touchdown.
The tide finally began to turn for Columbia in the second quarter when Kurt Rawlings ’20 threw his threw his first interception in three games, setting the Lions up in Yale territory for the first time. However, the Light Blue failed to produce any points off the turnover when the Columbia 30-yard field goal attempt bounced off the right upright.
Yale looked to extend its two-touchdown advantage on the ensuing drive, but Columbia blocked a 38-yard field goal attempt by kicker Alex Galland ’19. Following a failed fourth-down conversion by the Lions in Yale territory, the next three offensive series all resulted in punts and the Elis headed into halftime with a 13–0 lead.
Columbia Kicker Oren Milstein, a unanimous First-Team All-Ivy selection a season ago, continued his shaky performance by missing a 38-yard field goal on Columbia’s opening drive of the half. The Eli offense capitalized on the Lions’ miscue, as Galland converted a 37-yard field goal of his own to push the Bulldog lead to 16–0.
Columbia finally got on the board at the end of the third quarter when Hill punched in a one-yard sneak. Despite holding firm at the goal line for several downs, an Eli penalty on third down awarded the visitors a fresh set of downs. However, Team 145 would not allow Columbia to score again for the remainder of the game.
A pass interference call on cornerback Deonte Henson ’21 early in the fourth quarter gifted the Lions free field position, as the Light Blue looked to overcome a 10-point deficit. But two plays later, Henson atoned for the mistake with an acrobatic interception at Yale’s own 30-yard line.
The Bulldogs all but dashed any remaining hopes of a Columbia victory when Rawlings connected with wide receiver Michael Siragusa ’18 for a 9-yard touchdown to cap off a 6-play, 70-yard series on the ensuing drive. Following a forced punt, Yale ran the ball on its next nine plays to kill the clock and hand the Lions their first loss since last November.
First-place Yale will be back at home next Friday against Brown in a rare evening contest at the Yale Bowl.