Bulldogs' Edge in Total Yards Negated by Great Danes' Special Teams Play
NEW HAVEN, Conn. – Albany handed Yale its first loss of the season Saturday afternoon, surviving a late threat from the Bulldogs for a 23-20 win. On a day where special teams play was pivotal, a blocked punt return for a touchdown by the Great Danes in the first quarter, combined with another Albany TD in the second quarter that was set up by downing a punt at the Yale one-yard line, put the Elis in an hole that proved to be too big. The Yale defense held Albany to 108 yards in the second half, but 80 of those came on a touchdown drive that helped put the game away.
In addition to the blocked punt, Yale was hurt by a blocked field goal and a blocked extra point.
"We made too many mistakes today," said Tom Williams, Yale's Joel E. Smilow '54 Head Coach of Football. "We had a lot of maladies in the kicking game, and we sputtered a little offensively … Albany is a good football team, but we didn't play our best today."
The Bulldogs moved down the field efficiently on their first drive, converting a pair of third downs with passes from junior quarterback Patrick Witt -- one an eight-yarder on third-and-five from the Yale 44 to junior tailback Alex Thomas, the other a five-yarder on third-and-three from the Albany 30 to senior wide receiver Jordan Forney. Forney capped the drive in spectacular fashion, out-leaping an Albany defender for the ball at the goal line and falling into the end zone. The extra point attempt was blocked, but Yale led 6-0.
Albany drove to the Yale six on its first drive, but senior cornerback Adam Money broke up a pass in the end zone on third-and-five, and the Great Danes missed a 24-yard field goal attempt.
Albany's special teams made up for that miss by blocking a Yale punt at the end of the Bulldogs' next drive. Free safety Justinian Mason recovered defensive tackle Trevor Anderson's block at the seven-yard line and took it in for the touchdown. Herb Glass' extra point gave the Great Danes a 7-6 lead at 3:31 of the first.
The rest of the first half turned into a battle of field position, and Albany utilized some more special teams play to gain an edge. A successful fake punt on one drive did not lead to a score, but it did start a trend of pinning the Bulldogs deep in their own territory. Two straight Eli drives started at the Yale 20 and neither got further than the Yale 35. That Great Danes then got the big play they needed when an Albany punt was downed at the Yale one-yard line. The Bulldogs could not get a first down and punted from their own end zone. Albany started its next drive at the Yale 21, and two plays later a 16-yard pass from quarterback Dan Di Lella to wide receiver Jameel Gay gave Albany a 14-6 lead.
The first turnover of the game was an interception that set the Albany offense up at the Yale 10 after a 35-yard return by outside linebacker Chris Blais. The Yale defense stuffed a pair of runs after that, and Di Lella's third-down pass fell incomplete. Glass' 25-yard field goal made it 17-6 Albany 1:02 before halftime.
Yale's special teams unit had a trick of its own to end the half. First, a 22-yard scramble by Witt got the ball from the 50 to the Albany 28 with just one second left. Senior placekicker Alex Barnes lined up for the 45-yard field goal attempt, but instead Forney, the holder, took off with the ball and headed towards the left sideline. Another diving attempt got him into the end zone, and Barnes' extra point pulled Yale within 17-13 heading into halftime.
"That was a play we practiced all week," Forney said. "It got blocked up pretty good, especially by [senior tight end] Chris Blohm and [senior fullback] Andrew Pappas. [At the end of the run] I knew if I had gotten that far I better get it into the end zone."
The gadget plays kept coming in the third quarter. Yale sent in freshman running back Deon Randall for a play from the Wildcat formation, with Randall in the shotgun taking the snap from center. But after a handoff sophomore wide receiver Chris Smith tossed the ball to Witt, who launched one deep down the field for a 45-yard completion to senior wide receiver Gio Christodoulou at the three-yard line. Albany's defense denied Yale from there, though, and the Bulldogs' 20-yard field goal attempt was blocked.
Special teams continued to be a factor as the third quarter came to an end. Yale was facing a fourth-and-10 from its own 33, but first a running into the kicker penalty on Albany gave the Bulldogs five yards. Then, as Barnes improvised a kick after chasing down a snap that went off his hands, Albany got a roughing the kicker penalty that gave Yale a first down at the Albany 47. Three plays into the fourth quarter Yale had to punt, though, after an incompletion on third-and-six from the Albany 43.
Albany finally broke up a string of four straight three-and-out drives by getting its first first down of the second half a minute into the fourth quarter. That was part of a 14-play, 80-yard drive that ended with tailback Dillon Romain pushing his way into the end zone from inside the one-yard line. The point-after kick was no good, but Albany still held a 10-point lead with 7:23 to play.
The Yale defense then changed the field position edge in Yale's favor by forcing an Albany punt from the Great Danes' seven-yard line. Sophomore defensive end Allen Davis had a tackle for loss on first down, and Money and sophomore defensive back John Powers combined for a tackle on third down to force the punt. That set the Yale offense up at the Albany 31, and a personal foul penalty on the Great Danes moved the ball to the 16. A scrambling Witt then found Smith wide open in the back right corner of the end zone to pull Yale within 23-20 with 4:19 to play. Smith finished the day with 131 all-purpose yards, including 97 on kickoff returns.
Yale then tried an onside kick but could not recover it in bounds. Still, the Bulldog defense got the stand it needed by stopping a fourth-and-two run one yard shy of the first down (sophomore outside linebacker Will McHale had the tackle).
The Bulldog offense took over at its own 17 with 1:36 to play, but after a short completion, three straight incomplete passes ended any hopes of a comeback. Albany (2-2, 0-1 NEC) took a knee for the win.
One of eight Bulldogs with a catch Saturday, Forney led all receivers with 65 yards receiving. But the edge in the air (231 yards for Yale, 160 yards for Albany) was not enough for a Bulldog victory.
"It's very disappointing," Forney said. "A loss is never a fun thing to deal with, but we're going to bounce back next week."
Yale (2-1, 1-0 Ivy League) returns to Ivy League play with a visit to Dartmouth next Saturday.
Report by Sam Rubin '95 (firstname.lastname@example.org), Yale Sports Publicity
Video highlights by Sam Dorward '13, Yale Sports Publicity