Bulldogs Fall at Lafayette, 28-19

Chris Smith. (photo by Kevin Warhola)
Chris Smith. (photo by Kevin Warhola)

361 Yards of Offense Not Enough

EASTON, Pa. - An early 14-2 deficit proved too much for the Yale football team to overcome Saturday night against Lafayette at Fisher Stadium, as the Bulldogs fell to the Leopards 28-19. A pair of touchdown passes from senior quarterback Patrick Witt nearly fueled a comeback, as the Bulldogs got within 21-19 in the fourth quarter before the game slipped away. Lafayette cornerback Darius Safford had a pair of interceptions to lead the Leopards defensively.

Yale finished the game outgaining the Lafayette 361-325, but the two turnovers hurt. The Bulldogs' output included 245 yards in the second half, when the Blue tried to rally from a 21-9 halftime deficit.

"I don't know why we didn't start faster," said Tom Williams, Yale's Joel E. Smilow '54 Head Coach of Football. "I thought we were prepared and hungry to keep our momentum going, but we didn't play well in the first half."

Lafayette (2-4) scored on its opening drive after a Yale punt, driving 66 yards in 11 plays. A mix-up in coverage left receiver Kyle Hayes wide open in the end zone to catch a seven-yard pass from quarterback Andrew Shoop.

The Yale defense negated the Bulldogs' first interception by forcing a three-and-out. Senior defensive lineman Jake Stoller flushed Shoop from the pocket on third down, and he scrambled out of bounds four yards shy of a first down.

Yale (3-2) had an early edge in field position thanks to the punting of freshman Kyle Cazzetta, whose first three punts averaged 43 yards. After a 52-yarder by Cazzetta pinned the Leopards at their own 16, a sack by Stoller and senior linebacker Cliff Foreman pushed Lafayette to its four-yard line. From there, a bad snap on the punt forced the Leopards to take a safety that pulled Yale within 7-2 at the 9:12 mark of the second quarter.

The resulting free kick after the safety set the Bulldogs up at the Lafayette 44, but an interception ended that drive after three plays. The Leopards then drove 53 yards for a score, their first rushing touchdown of the season. It was a six-yarder by tailback Pat Mputu.

Down 14-2, the Bulldog offense operated quickly to get Yale back in the game. Utilizing three straight completions from Witt, including a 17-yard completion to junior wide receiver Chris Smith (174 receiving yards on the day) to convert a third-and-five, the Bulldogs got from their own 43 to the Lafayette 10 in five plays. Witt capped the drive with a play-action touchdown pass to sophomore running back Elijah Thomas.

Lafayette answered the Yale score with a touchdown drive in the final minutes of the second quarter. Aided by a 34-yard pass from Shoop to wide receiver Rodney Gould, and a pass interference call deep in Yale territory, the Leopards went ahead 21-9 on a 19-yard toss from Shoop to wide receiver Mark Ross. They took that lead into halftime after a Yale drive stalled at the Leopard 37 in the final seconds.

After a Lafayette punt on the Leopards' first drive of the third quarter, the Bulldogs drove 73 yards in 16 plays for a 24-yard field goal by junior placekicker Philippe Panico. Yale converted three third downs on the drive, including one by a 13-yard completion to Smith, one by a six-yard run from senior tailback Alex Thomas and one by penalty.

The Yale defense began taking over the game in the third quarter, as Lafayette got no more than 20 yards on its first three drives. The third was derailed by a tackle for loss on second down by junior defensive back Collin Bibb, and after a short punt the Yale offense took over at midfield. One play later -- a 50-yard bomb from Witt to Smith -- the Bulldogs had pulled within 21-19 with 13:17 to play.

"We didn't do anything differently in the second half, other than making plays," Williams said. "The calls were the same, offensively and defensively."

The Leopards got their offense going again on the next drive, which started at the Yale 34 after the Bulldogs' attempt at an onside kick went out of bounds.

"We had it," Williams said. "That was something we practiced, and we knew it was there. The blocking was there, we just needed the kick to go a little further. It was an opportunity we felt we had to really change the momentum."

An acrobatic 11-yard reception by Ross at the Yale 21 converted a fourth-and-eight, and four plays later quarterback Ryan O'Neil kept the ball on an option for a six-yard touchdown that made it 28-19 with 9:15 to play.

A 57-yard pass from Witt to Smith dramatically reversed the momentum on Yale's next drive, as the Bulldogs went from facing a third-and-five on their own 35 to having first-and-goal at the Leopard eight. But the Bulldogs missed a field goal attempt, and Lafayette's lead remained at nine with 6:42 to play.

The Leopards converted a key third-and-one at their own 29 on the ensuing drive, enabling them to kill the majority of the time left in the game. Yale got the ball back at its own 22 with 2:04 to play, but a tackle for a loss on fourth-and-one from the Lafayette 24 ended any chance of an Eli comeback.

Yale starts a stretch of five straight Ivy League games to end the season with a trip to Penn next Saturday.

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