Junior Throws for 390 Yards, Three Touchdowns
NEW HAVEN, Conn. - Potential started turning into reality for the Yale offense on Saturday, and the end result was the Bulldogs' highest point total in more than a year. Junior quarterback Brook Hart threw for 390 yards (the sixth-highest total in Yale history), including three touchdowns, to lead Yale to a decisive 38-7 victory over Dartmouth at the Yale Bowl, Class of 1954 Field. The biggest play of the day was a 73-yard touchdown to wide receiver Chris Smith, one of several freshmen who made their presence known on Saturday.
"It feels good to win, but it really feels good when the guys earn it," said Tom Williams, Yale's Joel E. Smilow '54 Head Coach of Football. "That's something that we've talked about -- the last couple weeks we haven't earned victories because we've done things that have caused us to not win. To go out and play a fairly complete game was something I think our team needed for our confidence, but also to show what we're capable of doing when we play the way we're capable of playing."
This was Hart's first start since last season, as he had been battling with sophomore quarterback Patrick Witt for the job since the preseason. Hart had just 19 pass attempts in the first three games of this season; he had doubled that total by the second quarter Saturday and finished 28-for-40.
As much as what Hart did Saturday was impressive, his teammates also noted the way he handled the three previous games -- when he wasn't the starter.
"That's just a testament to Brook and who he is," said senior H-back John Sheffield, who caught a team-high eight passes for 105 yards. "That's the mentality that we've had as a team. You put the team first. Team above individual. He's done that. He's battled. Even when Witt was the starter, and maybe he only had a few reps in practice, he still made the most of those. Last week, he came in and whatever chance he had he made the most of it. That's what you saw today."
It took some time for the offense to get underway on a windy but sunny day. After a first quarter dominated by punts, the Bulldogs finished off the first scoring drive of the day early in the second quarter. Sheffield had three catches on the drive, including a hard-fought 11-yarder for a first down on third-and-nine at the Dartmouth 46.
"It wasn't much more than a six-yard pass, and we had much further to go," Hart said. "I just saw him bounce off one guy, bounce off two guys. At that point we just know ‘If he gets a first down we've got to keep it rolling. He's doing everything he can for us, we've got to do everything we can to get some points out of that drive'."
Three plays later Sheffield had a 22-yarder that got the ball to the one, and from there senior tailback Jordan Farrell ran it in for a 7-0 lead at 11:59.
The game's first turnover was a spectacular one, as sophomore cornerback Drew Baldwin leaped up to wrestle the ball away from a Dartmouth receiver at the Yale 12 on an attempted 36-yard bomb from Conner Kempe. Kempe was in for starter Alex Jenny, who was hurt on the previous drive.
Four plays after Baldwin's pick the Yale offense delivered a big play of its own, as play action freed up Smith in one-on-one coverage deep down the middle. Hart hit him in stride, and Smith shook off the lone defender and dashed into the end zone for a 73-yard touchdown at 4:23 of the second. That tied for the 12th-longest completion in Yale history.
The play took some time to develop, but as was the case most of the day Hart had all the time he needed thanks to the Yale offensive line. After a sack on Yale's first play of the game Hart was virtually untouched the rest of the way.
"It felt great," Hart said. "The line wasn't letting anybody in the backfield. That's awesome. It gives me time to get the ball to our playmakers, who are going to make the plays after the catch."
Yale special teams kept the momentum going, as the ensuing kickoff was an onside kick by senior placekicker/punter Tom Mante that junior wide receiver Peter Balsam recovered. Eight plays later Hart led junior receiver Jordan Forney over the middle just as he reached the goal line, and while being tackled Forney stuck the ball over to complete the 24-yard touchdown just 44 seconds before halftime.
The Big Green took advantage of a Yale penalty that negated an 82-yard interception return for a touchdown by junior cornerback Adam Money midway through the third. Two plays later, Kempe hit a wide-open John Gallagher for a 17-yard touchdown that made the score 21-7.
That was the only blemish for a Yale defense that was otherwise back to looking like the group that led the nation in scoring defense for the past two seasons. The Bulldogs had allowed an uncharacteristic 31 points in last week's loss to Lafayette.
"What impressed me most was the way we responded to last week," said senior linebacker Paul Rice, Yale's captain, who had five tackles. "That really motivated us the entire week. We came out and we responded."
While Hart was having his big day, the Bulldogs also got a big day from the player at the position that Rice called "the quarterback of the defense." That was sophomore Geoff Dunham, who led the team with six tackles out of the free safety spot. Dunham was in just his fourth game as starter.
"In our defense, it's not an easy position to learn," Rice said. "Geoff has done everything we've expected him to. It's really impressive to see how far he's come just from spring to [preseason] camp to right now. We all expect a lot out of Geoff and Geoff expects a lot out of himself."
For his part, Dunham spread the praise around to his teammates.
"It helps when you play with the group of guys that we have on defense," Dunham said. "They're awesome. They've taught me through different situations. Even though I'm usually one of the first ones back [on each play] I feel like I have a safety net behind me because they play so well."
Yale had another touchdown wiped away by a penalty on the next drive, as Farrell's 17-yard dash was negated by a holding call. The Elis scored anyway four plays later on a four-yard toss from Hart (who completed all five passes he threw on the drive, for 76 yards) to Forney at 5:20 of the third.
The next big contribution came from Mante, who dashed 17 yards for a first down on a fake punt and then finished the drive with a 34-yard field goal for a 31-7 lead with 14:11 left in the game.
The Bulldogs extended the lead with a drive that showcased elusive sophomore tailback Alex Thomas. Thomas had 27 yards rushing and six receiving in the span of five plays. He finished the drive, which also included a 20-yard completion from Hart to freshman receiver Allen Harris, with a five-yard touchdown run. It was Thomas' first career touchdown.
The youngsters on offense certainly made big contributions, as Harris finished with five catches for 76 yards and classmate tailback Mordecai Cargill had a team-high 14 carries for 52 yards. Smith added 138 all-purpose yards, including 82 receiving, 51 on returns and five rushing.
"They were amazing," Sheffield said of Yale's freshmen. "They're freshmen but they're not playing like it ... In the past we haven't had a lot of freshmen playing, but these guys have come in, they know the offense, they know where they're supposed to be, they know where they're supposed to go and they're executing."
Yale had not scored this many points in a game since a 47-7 win over Georgetown in the 2008 season opener. As the orchestrator of the offensive outburst Hart summed up his teammates' belief that Saturday was just the validation of what the Bulldogs have been seeing all along in practice.
"I felt like we had a great game plan," Hart said. "I knew our defense would rebound, and we've got great playmakers on offense ... It was kind of like a sleeping giant just waiting to come out. Hopefully we keep it rolling."
With Harvard's win over Cornell, Yale (2-2, 1-1 Ivy League) is right back in control of its own destiny in the Ivy League title race. Dartmouth (0-4, 0-2 Ivy League) has now lost 16 straight games.
Yale visits Lehigh next Saturday for a 12:30 kickoff.
Video Highlights and Post-game Interview with John Sheffield (compiled by Steven Horn '10; Ron Vaccaro '04 play-by-play, Carm Cozza color):
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