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Princeton Holds Off Yale, 24-17

Max Newton recovers a fumble. (photo by Kevin McCarthy)
Max Newton recovers a fumble. (photo by Kevin McCarthy)

Late Eli Rally Not Enough

PRINCETON, N.J. - The last three weeks of the Yale football season have been marked by a pattern of late comebacks by the Bulldogs. Unfortunately, Saturday's effort at Princeton came up just short. A pair of touchdowns in the second half cut an 18-point Eli deficit down to just four points with 11:42 to play, but Princeton tacked on a field goal and denied a late drive by Yale to finish off a 24-17 win at Princeton Stadium.

"We dug ourselves a hole early and were not able to get out of it," said Tom Williams, Yale's Joel E. Smilow '54 Head Coach of Football. "I was surprised by how many missed tackles we had. The first couple drives we had the opportunity to get off the field and missed."

Yale had come back from a 12-point fourth-quarter deficit to win at Columbia two weeks ago, then nearly rallied from a 16-point third quarter deficit last week vs. Brown.

Turnovers by both teams kept the score relatively low for a game that featured 785 yards of total offense - 402 from Yale and 383 from Princeton. The Bulldogs were hurt by three interceptions, while four lost fumbles vexed the Tigers.

An interception by cornerback Cart Kelly ended Yale's first drive and set the Princeton offense up at the Yale 43. The Tigers got a third-down conversion with a 14-yard pass from quarterback Tommy Wornham to wide receiver Trey Peacock, and four plays later running back Kenny Gunter bulled his way into the end zone from three yards out to make it 7-0 Princeton at the 8:48 mark. Gunter would finish with 119 yards on 23 carries.

The Tigers took advantage of another Yale turnover, a fumble forced by defensive lineman Mark Ethridge and recovered by linebacker Keola Kaluhiokalani at the Bulldog 48, to go up 14-0. Princeton drove to the Yale one but had a third-down run turned aside by junior cornerback Adam Money and junior linebacker Dan Walsh. The Tigers quickly regrouped, and Wornham rolled out to his right with a receiver in the end zone -- but also plenty of room to run, so he took it in himself at the 2:35 mark.

Yale drove 51 yards to creep closer on a 26-yard field goal by junior placekicker Alex Barnes. The big play of the drive was a 30-yard run by senior tailback Rodney Reynolds that got the ball to the Tiger 12.

The Tigers appeared to be driving for another score midway through the second quarter but then ran into senior defensive lineman Tom McCarthy. On first and goal from the Yale 10 McCarthy and sophomore defensive lineman Reed Spiller tackled fullback Matt Zimmerman for a one-yard loss. On the next play McCarthy deflected Wornham's pass incomplete. Those two plays loomed even larger when, on the next play, Money stripped the ball from Princeton receiver Harrison Daniels and senior outside linebacker Max Newton recovered at the Yale eight to end the scoring threat. Princeton's lead remained 14-3 heading into halftime.

The Tigers extended their lead with a 76-yard touchdown drive at the start of the third quarter. Zimmerman capped the drive with a 30-yard dash up the middle for the score.

The Yale defense once again thwarted a Tiger drive with a fumble recovery late in the third quarter, as Walsh knocked the ball away from Gunter. While it at first appeared that Wornham had grabbed the loose ball -- and a number of Princeton players started signaling that it was the Tigers' ball -- it was actually senior outside linebacker Travis Henry who emerged from a pile of players at the Yale 31 triumphantly holding the ball up.

The Elis took quick advantage of the changing momentum. Witt completed a pair of passes to senior tight end A.J. Haase to get the ball to the 33, then found Balsam for a short completion that developed into a touchdown as Balsam weaved his way through the Tiger defense behind his blockers. Senior placekicker Tom Mante's extra point brought Yale within 21-10 at 4:21 of the third.

Mante then executed an onside kick that bounced off a Princeton player and back towards the oncoming line of Bulldogs. Senior tailback Brandon Scott grabbed it to give Yale another possession, but the Elis eventually faced a fourth and four at the Princeton 47 and brought out the punt team. The snap went to senior linebacker Paul Rice, though, and he dashed 13 yards to the Princeton 34 for his second successful run off a fake punt this season.

The great special teams plays were negated by another Tiger interception, though, as defensive back Dan Kopolovich picked off Witt at the Princeton 17 on the next play.

"Those are on me," Witt said of the three interceptions. "I've got to clean that up. That's something that I'm working on. A lot of those turnovers were just me making bad decisions."

Yale got closer on a drive at the start of the fourth quarter that seemed to have nine lives. On third and five from the Yale 47 the Tigers nearly intercepted another pass, but when it fell incomplete instead the Bulldogs again sent out the punting unit. This time there was no need for any fake -- before Yale even snapped the ball Princeton was penalized for having too many men on the field, giving the Elis a first down. The Bulldogs fumbled the snap on the next play, but Witt was able to fall on the ball. A pass interference call on the Tigers then moved the ball to the Princeton 34.

Witt began rolling to his right on first down from there, then stopped and fired one all the way across to Haase on the left sideline. Haase took off for a 26-yard gain. Sophomore tailback Alex Thomas got the ball to the one on the next play, and junior fullback Shane Bannon then made the most of his first career carry. He punched it in to make the score 21-17 with 11:42 left. That also gave the Bulldogs 33 points in the last three weeks' worth of fourth quarters -- they have scored 28 points in the other three quarters combined in that span.

Princeton appeared ready to answer that Yale score on its next drive, but once again the Yale defense came up big when it mattered. On first-and-goal from the Yale four, senior linebacker Tim Handlon forced a fumble that junior outside linebacker Sean Williams recovered at the two to stymie the Tigers. 

But once again Yale could not capitalize on the turnover, as an interception by Glenn Wakam ended the Bulldogs' next drive after just three plays. The Tigers started at the Yale 14, so even though they only got four yards that was still enough to gain some more breathing room thanks to a 27-yard field goal by Ben Bologna with 4:36 to play.

That drive was part of a stretch where three times in four drives the Elis held Princeton to fewer than eight yards of offense. By contrast, six of the eight drives prior to that had gone for at least 43 yards, including two of 68 yards or more.

"We just started to execute better," Rice said. "Unfortunately it was too little, too late."

The Bulldogs were able to convert one fourth down on their next drive, with Witt finding senior H-back John Sheffield for a 15-yard gain to the Princeton 46. But with less than two minutes to play Yale faced another critical fourth down, and on this one Princeton free safety Dan Kopolovich was able to break up a pass intended for junior wide receiver Peter Balsam.

The Yale defense kept Princeton (3-6, 2-4 Ivy League) from running out the clock, though, as Rice and Walsh combined to stop Gunter on third-and-one at the Yale 49. But a punt pinned Yale at its own 15. A holding penalty negated a 10-yard completion, and the only sack of the game allowed by the Bulldogs came at an inopportune time - a 13-yard loss on second-and-10 that pushed Yale back to its own two-yard line. After an incompletion, Witt's fourth-down pass to Balsam was lateraled to junior wide receiver Jordan Forney, but Kopolovich ran him out of bounds three yards shy of a first down. Princeton's offense came out for Wornham to take a knee and let the final 26 seconds of the game tick away.

Yale (4-5, 2-4 Ivy League) now turns its attention to The Game, next Saturday at the Yale Bowl, Class of 1954 Field at noon. Harvard lost to Penn Saturday in a battle of league unbeatens, giving the Quakers at least a share of the Ivy League title. A loss to the Bulldogs, or a Penn win over Cornell in Philadelphia next Saturday, would eliminate Harvard from title contention. For Yale, a win in The Game would go a long way towards erasing memories of the frustrating defeat at Princeton.

"Our defense has to take a long look in the mirror - how do we want to be remembered next week?" Rice said. "[Losing to Princeton] is really disappointing, especially for the seniors. But we've got one more chance to go out on a high note."

Audio Highlights from 960 WELI, Ron Vaccaro '04 play-by-play, Carm Cozza color:

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Report by Sam Rubin '95 (, Yale Sports Publicity