September 19, 2009

Bulldogs Roll Past Georgetown in Opener, 31-10

 Farrell Scores Two TDs; Defense Holds Hoyas to 23 Rushing Yards

WASHINGTON, D.C. - The season opener at Georgetown Saturday afternoon saw Yale benefit from a two-headed running attack, an efficient passing game, a tenacious defense and some spectacular special teams plays. It all added up to a 31-10 win in the debut of Tom Williams as Yale's Joel E. Smilow '54 Head Coach of Football.

Yale (1-0) did have some of the typical first-game mistakes; were it not for a fumble that Georgetown (0-3) returned for a touchdown, the final score would have been more lopsided. As it was, the Bulldogs still won handily because the Yale defense - coming off leading the nation in scoring defense the past two years - limited the Hoyas to 23 rushing yards on 11 carries, and the Yale offense helped control the possession time (35:39 to 24:21) on a hot and sunny day.

"This was a complete team victory - offense, defense and special teams all performed when they needed to," said Williams. "You saw the difference between a team that was playing its third game and a team that was playing its first game. We have to get the kinks out, but we are on our way. When all components are working the way they worked in the second half I think we're going to be tough to beat."

The Bulldogs' first score was set up by the defense, as sophomore cornerback Drew Baldwin stepped in front of a Georgetown pass at the Hoya 27. Three plays later Williams faced his first big in-game decision as head coach, and senior punter/placekicker Tom Mante rewarded his faith by drilling a 50-yard field goal at the 9:23 mark.

Junior defensive lineman Joe Young ended the next Georgetown possession with an eight-yard sack. Even after a fumbled snap forced a hurried Eli punt attempt that set the Hoyas up at the Yale 47, the Bulldog defense kept Georgetown off the scoreboard with a three-and-out.

Yale upped its lead on a series that included a 10-yard run by freshman tailback Mordecai Cargill on his first career touch. The drive ended with a couple more firsts: Patrick Witt's first career touchdown pass and A.J. Haase's first career touchdown catch, as the sophomore signal caller hit the senior tight end in stride down the middle for a 28-yard score.

The Hoyas drove as far as the Yale three midway through the second quarter. But after a holding call pushed Georgetown back 10 yards, excellent coverage by Baldwin in the end zone kept receiver Brandon Floyd from coming down anywhere other than out-of-bounds after he leaped from the end zone to grab a potential touchdown pass. Senior linebacker Paul Rice then batted another pass incomplete, and Georgetown's Jose-Pablo Buerba came on for a 30-yard field goal.

Yale answered that score immediately. Junior receiver Gio Christodoulou's 33-yard kickoff return set the Bulldogs up at their own 43. Six plays later senior tailback Jordan Farrell - who also had a key 11-yard reception earlier in the drive - went up the middle untouched from 19 yards out for a touchdown.

It was Farrell's first score since 2007, as he missed all of 2008 with an injury. He showed no signs of any lingering effects on Saturday, dishing out several punishing hits on would-be tacklers.

"I hated not being able to get out there last year," Farrell said. "I'm glad this game turned out the way it did. It's a boost for my confidence and the whole offense's confidence."

A wild sequence of turnovers allowed Georgetown to get back within striking distance heading into halftime. As he was getting drilled by senior outside linebacker Travis Henry, Hoya quarterback Isaiah Kempf attempted a pass that wobbled into the hands of senior linebacker Tim Handlon, who grabbed it and set the offense up at the Hoya 45. But two plays later Georgetown linebacker Paul Sant'Ambrogio scooped up a fumble after a sack and returned it 38 yards for a touchdown. Yale went into halftime up 17-10.

The third quarter turned into a defensive struggle where the Bulldogs kept an edge in field position thanks to Mante's work as punter. That included a 65-yarder and a 73-yarder that was two yards shy of the Yale record set by Dave Colwell ‘38 in 1937.

The defense faced a momentary touchdown threat by Georgetown when, on third-and-four from the Hoya 27, Kempf hit slot receiver Robert Lane and Lane took off down the left sideline. Junior cornerback Adam Money kept him out of the end zone by chasing him down from behind at the Yale five. Rice then forced Kempf into an intentional grounding penalty, and three plays later Buerba missed a 34-yard field goal attempt.

The fourth quarter started with Rice once again pressuring Kempf, this time into an incompletion. A 23-yard punt return by freshman receiver Chris Smith set up the offense at the Georgetown 35, and four plays later senior H-back John Sheffield finished off the drive with a leaping 19-yard touchdown grab. Yale led 24-10 with 12:13 to play.

Sheffield and junior receiver Peter Balsam finished the day tied for the team high in catches with six each, establishing themselves early on as favorite targets for Witt.

"One word that describes them is ‘reliable'," Witt said of the sure-handed duo. "They're extremely reliable, they have great hands and they're always in the right place. They came up big today."

Faced with a fourth-and-seven at the Yale 47 with 9:57 to play, the Hoyas went for it and momentarily appeared to have new life with a 40-yard completion from Kempf to running back Charlie Houghton. But that play was negated by a facemask call, and the Hoyas had to punt.

That gave Yale the ball and the chance to chew up some clock with the combination of Farrell and Cargill, with Witt going 4-for-4 to help keep the chains moving as well. Farrell capped the 12-play, 75-yard drive with a three-yard touchdown run with 3:18 to play.

Farrell finished the day with 91 yards on 17 carries, showcasing the type of bruising running style and smashmouth instincts that have earned him the nickname "Old School."

"I would rather run someone over than make him miss," Farrell said.

The performance of Farrell and Cargill (who contributed 36 on 11 carries) underscored Williams' belief in the depth this team has at running back. The Bulldogs were without injured sophomore tailback Alex Thomas, who had been expected to see significant action, but they did not miss a beat.

"Jordan Farrell had some great runs," said Williams. "What he showed was some senior savvy and some patience. He also has the ability to read the holes well. It was great to see that, and when young Mordecai got a chance to go out there and do his part he did some really nice things. We had a couple guys that didn't even have a chance to get into the rotation. We feel like that's a really deep position for us."

The Hoyas got down to the Yale six in the waning moments but still could not break through against the Yale defense. An incompletion on fourth down gave the Bulldogs the ball and the chance for one last play (a run by senior tailback Brandon Scott) to kill the clock and finish off the season-opening victory.          

Witt finished his debut an efficient 22-for-27, noting that his transition to Yale after transferring from Nebraska this summer has been a smooth one thanks in large part to his teammates.

"I feel so comfortable with these guys, I feel like I've been playing with them for years," Witt said. "The camaraderie here is something special."

Adding to Witt's comfort level are the similarities between Yale's new offense (installed by new Joel E. Smilow '54 Offensive Coordinator Brian Stark) and the offense Witt played in at Nebraska.

"It's very similar," Witt said. "A lot of the concepts are the same. I thought Coach Stark did a great job calling the plays. They were giving us the stuff on the outside and we really took advantage of that. Running the ball, I was very impressed with the offensive line. They just wore down that defensive line."

And while Witt's stats were impressive, it was the way he handled the hits from Georgetown's defensive front that impressed Farrell.

"It's a lot of little things that people don't always see," Farrell said. "There was a third-and-20, and a third-and-10, where he completed the pass and got hit hard, but he stayed in the pocket. Both times I went over there after and I walked up to him laughing, ‘That was a hell of a shot.'. Staying in there -- we got the first down that way, then got a touchdown that put it out of reach. "

Senior strong safety Larry Abare led the defense was seven unassisted tackles and five assists.

Yale opens Ivy League play next Saturday vs. Cornell at the Yale Bowl, Class of 1954 Field.

Report by Sam Rubin '95 (sam.rubin@yale.edu), Yale Sports Publicity

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