Late Comeback Falls Short Against Penn, 27-20

Tom McCarthy and Jake Stoller. (photo by Kevin McCarthy)
Tom McCarthy and Jake Stoller. (photo by Kevin McCarthy)

Offense Totals 360 Yards, but Quakers Come Away with Win

NEW HAVEN, Conn. – Defending league champion Penn prevailed in a battle of Ivy League unbeatens Saturday afternoon at the Yale Bowl, Class of 1954 Field, withstanding a late Yale comeback for a 27-20 win. The Bulldogs got 331 passing yards from junior quarterback Patrick Witt, including a pair of touchdowns, but the Quakers had one score set up by an interception and also got a 53-yard punt return for a touchdown.

"We made too many mistakes against a good football team that's well-coached.," said Tom Williams, Yale's Joel E. Smilow '54 Head Coach of Football.

A Family Weekend crowd of 22,293 added to the atmosphere at the Bowl as two teams with their sights set on the Ivy League title collided. Ultimately, Yale had the edge in total offense (360 to 308) but could not overcome some crucial missteps.

The Yale defense came up with a big stand to start the game when Penn drove to the Yale 27 and tried a fourth-down run that was stuffed by senior outside linebacker Jesse Reising. The offense then got a pair of big passes from Witt – one a 29-yarder to senior wide receiver Gio Christodoulou and the other a 25-yarder to senior wide receiver Jordan Forney – to get the ball to the Penn 22. Sophomore placekicker Philippe Panico drilled a 39-yard field goal from there to give Yale a 3-0 lead at 3:50 of the first quarter.

Penn (5-1, 3-0 Ivy League) got on the scoreboard with an 87-yard drive early in the second quarter. Ryan Becker, who alternated with Billy Ragone at quarterback all game, came on for his first series and completed a key 20-yard pass on third-and-10 to wide receiver David Wurst. Running back Jeff Jack capped the drive by grabbing a pass from Becker and ducking through the Yale defense for a 17-yard touchdown. Penn missed the extra point but still led 6-3.

The Quakers grabbed a field position edge by executing a surprise onside kick after the touchdown; while Penn could not get any points it did pin Yale at its own 19 with a punt. When the Bulldogs punted from their own 15 after a sack, running back/defensive back Bradford Blackmon returned it 53 yards for a touchdown. The extra point put Penn up 13-3 at 4:30 of the second.

The Bulldogs' defense then came up with a much-needed turnover when senior strong safety Adam Money grabbed an overthrown pass at midfield.

"We knew they were going to try to run the ball," Money said (Penn ran 45 times for 149 yards). "When they threw the ball we hoped we'd have the opportunity to get a turnover. The ball was a little behind the receiver. I just read it well and made a play on it."

The offense overcame at third-and-17 at the Penn 45 by getting a pair of completions from Witt to Christodoulou that got the ball to the 25 with 1:16 left in the first half. But a holding call negated a completion to sophomore wide receiver Chris Smith that would have gotten the ball to the goal line. Yale eventually punted and the Quakers ran out the clock.

Penn got the ball to start the second half and executed a clock-chewing drive that ended with fullback Luke DeLuca plunging over the goal line on third-and-goal from inside the one-yard line. The 14-play drive took 6:48 and gave Penn a 20-3 lead at 8:07 of the third quarter.

"The first drive of the second half -- you can't let that happen," said senior defensive end Tom McCarthy, Yale's captain. "That really set the tone for the second half. It was a great drive by Penn."

The Bulldog defense gave the home crowd something to cheer about by stopping a Penn drive at the Yale 45 thanks in part to back-to-back tackles by senior outside linebacker John Pagliaro -- one for a loss and one for no gain. The Quakers punted and the Yale offense started off at its own 14.

A fumbled snap on the ensuing Yale possession gave Penn the ball at the Yale 24. But on the first play from there, junior free safety Geoff Dunham intercepted a pass in the end zone and returned it to the 18.

That turnover set up a touchdown drive, as the Bulldogs got a pass interference call in the end zone while trying to convert a third-and-six from the Penn 11. Given a second chance, Yale took advantage with Witt lofting a pass to the end zone for sophomore wide receiver Allen Harris -- Harris' first career touchdown. Panico's extra point brought Yale within 20-10 with 14:50 left.

Penn missed a 45-yard field goal early in the fourth but immediately got the ball back when defensive lineman Brandon Copeland batted a pass in the air and grabbed it when it came down, returning the ball seven yards to the Yale 11. Four plays later DeLuca plowed into the end zone from inches away again and the Quakers had a 17-point lead.

Yale (4-2, 2-1 Ivy League) still had a chance to get back in the game, but Smith was ruled out of bounds on a throw into the end zone from 21 yards out on a fourth down with 8:23 to play.

The Bulldogs were able to get one more touchdown when the defense forced a Quaker punt from the Penn 14. Yale got the ball back at the Penn 46, and Witt completed four straight passes to get the ball into the end zone. The last was a four-yarder to Forney that pulled Yale within 10, but just 1:22 remained. Money recovered the onside kick, and that enabled Panico to come on for a 26-yard field goal with 13 seconds left. But the attempted onside kick after that sailed out of bounds, giving Penn the chance to run out the clock.

Despite being handed a league loss, Williams took positives out of the way his team responded after trailing by 17 at two different points in the second half.

"I told the team in the locker room, I don't care what our record is, I love this group of men," Williams said. "That was a great example at the end of the game today. These guys never quit."

Yale hosts Columbia next Saturday at Noon. The Lions lost to Dartmouth on Saturday. With Brown's win over Cornell and Harvard's win over Princeton, the Bulldogs are now tied with the Crimson at 2-1 in the Ivies, behind 3-0 Brown and Penn.

Report by Sam Rubin '95 (, Yale Sports Publicity