Witt Becomes Yale's All-Time Passing Yardage Leader
PRINCETON, N.J. – At times Saturday's matchup between Yale and Princeton at Princeton Stadium seemed to be a battle between the arm of Yale senior quarterback Patrick Witt and the legs of Princeton freshman tailback Chuck Dibilio. Dibilio had a big day, rushing for 178 yards and three touchdowns. But Witt had a bigger day, throwing for 379 yards and three scores. His work, supplemented by a 62-yard touchdown run from senior tailback Alex Thomas and a pair of field goals from Philippe Panico, propelled Yale to a 33-24 win over the rival Tigers.
Witt became Yale's career passing yardage leader during the game, finishing with 5,807 yards after he passed Alvin Cowan '04 (5,481). His 379 yards in one game rank ninth at Yale, giving him three of the top 10 single-game passing yardage totals in school history.
Witt's Saturday stats were all the more impressive given the fact the Bulldogs were without one of their top receivers in junior Chris Smith, who was injured in last week's Brown game. Seven different players wound up catching passes Saturday, led by 10 catches for 123 yards from sophomore receiver Jackson Liguori.
"We feel like we've got great depth at that position," said Tom Williams, Yale's Joel E. Smilow '54 Head Coach of Football. "The best thing for Jackson was, because we knew Chris was going to be out, he had all week to prepare as a starter."
Witt, meanwhile, had to spend his week balancing academics, athletics and media requests. As news of his selection as a finalist for a Rhodes Scholarship -- and the impending conflict between his scholarship interview in Georgia and the Yale-Harvard game in Connecticut on Nov. 19 -- spread, Witt found himself at the center of flurry of interview requests and stories by national news outlets. Everyone wanted to know -- if forced to choose, would he opt for The Interview or The Game?
While he did not commit either way immediately after the game Saturday, Witt's work on the field made it clear he had been able to balance his time demands well enough to deliver one of the best passing performances in Yale history.
"If you ask him about [his thought process in making the decision], he'll answer," said sophomore receiver Cameron Sandquist, who had four catches for 90 yards. "But he hasn't been distracted. In practices and meetings, his focus is all on football. He's really good at balancing all that."
Witt and the Yale offense were hitting on all cylinders right from the start en route to the 500-yard day. Yale's first drive of the game was disrupted only momentarily by a holding call on the third play. Two runs Thomas for a total of 11 yards, and an 11-yard reception by sophomore wide receiver Deon Randall, helped the Bulldogs get the a first down despite the infraction. They eventually came away with a 33-yard field goal by Panico at 8:58.
Princeton answered that with a 62-yard touchdown drive, capped by Dibilio taking a direct snap and winding his way through the Yale defense for a 19-yard scoring run. The Tigers had a chance to extend their lead when they recovered a Yale fumble on the kickoff, but the Bulldog defense got a key tackle from senior defensive end Matt Battaglia on a shovel pass to Dibilio and the Tigers eventually turned the ball over on downs at the Yale 26.
Yale's next drive featured a key third-down conversion run by junior tailback Mordecai Cargill on third-and-one from the Yale 35. Three plays later the Bulldogs were facing a third-and-eight from their own 41, so Witt took to the air looking for the conversion -- and got much more than that. His pass over the middle hit off Liguori and popped high in the air. Sandquist nabbed it and dashed into the end zone to complete the bizarre 59-yard scoring play. Panico's extra point made it 10-7 Yale at 1:22 of the first.
"I was in the right place at the right time," said Sandquist. "I was running a seam route up the middle, and was just trying to help out with a block for Jackson. Then the ball came out of the sky and into my hands."
The Tigers kept their running game going even as they fell behind. Dibilio ran four straight times for a total of 25 yards on a Princeton drive near the start of the second quarter. But a sack by senior linebacker Jordan Haynes helped derail that drive, which ended with a punt from the Princeton 30.
Witt continued to have the hot hand on the ensuing Yale drive, completing five of six passes. The last one was a 28-yarder on third-and-two to a diving Randall in the end zone that put Yale up 17-7 at 4:12 of the second. The Tigers fought back by driving 41 yards for a career-long 47-yard field goal by Patrick Jacob as time expired in the half.
The Bulldogs wasted no time in extending their lead in the second half. Three runs by Cargill (for 17 yards), one by sophomore fullback Elijah Thomas (for five) and three completions by Witt (the last a nine-yard touchdown to Randall) gave Yale a 24-10 advantage.
The battle between the Yale air attack and the Princeton ground attack continued with the next series, as the Tigers drove 51 yards in nine plays -- seven of them runs -- for a touchdown. Dibilio, who had five carries for 25 yards on the drive, scored on a four-yarder at 8:31 of the third.
The Bulldogs then gave the Tigers a taste of their own medicine with a rushing touchdown -- this one a 62-yarder from Thomas, who zipped untouched through a wide-open hole on the right side of the line. That one play gave Yale more rushing yards than it had on the 19 rushes before it (49). It was also a nice moment for Thomas, whose senior year had been sidetracked by an injury three weeks earlier at Penn.
"We were so happy that he was able to play today," Witt said. "He's been battling to get back on the field. It was almost as if he limped all the way to the end zone."
A tackle for loss on Dibilio by senior defensive end Austin Pulsipher ensured that the run of scoring drives would end on a Princeton possession midway through the third. The Tigers punted after the three-and-out.
That started a series of traded punts that eventually ended with Princeton piecing together another touchdown drive behind its running game. This time the eight-play drive consisted entirely of runs -- by four different players -- and Dibilio capped it with a six-yarder for a touchdown at 9:38 of the fourth. That run also pushed him past the 1,000-yard mark for the season, making him the first true freshman in Ivy League history to rush for more than 1,000 yards.
But when the Yale offense needed to kill the clock, it did just that. A methodical 15-play, 58-yard drive culminated with a 27-yard field goal by Panico with 3:17 to play. That put the game out of reach at 33-24, as Princeton's next drive ended with a turnover on downs after four plays and the Tigers' final possession ended with Bulldog freshman defensive end EJ Conway recovering a fumbled lateral attempt at the Princeton 39 to allow the offense to come out on the field in victory formation.
While the end of the game marked a return to further scrutiny of his upcoming decision about whether to play in The Game or interview for the Rhodes Scholarship, Witt still had time to reflect on a satisfying win over Yale's second-biggest rival on Saturday afternoon.
"It takes your mind off things," Witt said. "You can just focus on playing a game that you love, and playing with your friends. I couldn't have asked for a better day."
Yale (5-4, 4-2 Ivy League) hosts Harvard -- which clinched sole possession of the Ivy League title with a win over Penn Saturday -- Nov. 19 at Noon.
Report by Sam Rubin '95 (firstname.lastname@example.org), Yale Sports Publicity