Record-Setting 98-Yard Touchdown Pass Helps Elis Win Tony Reno's Head Coaching Debut
WASHINGTON, D.C. – Senior cornerback Collin Bibb's leaping interception in the end zone with 33 seconds left sealed a wild 24-21 win for the Yale football team Saturday afternoon at Georgetown. The Bulldogs overcame five turnovers and 11 penalties en route to earning a win in the debut of Tony Reno as Yale's Joel E. Smilow '54 Head Coach of Football. They were led offensively by a freshman quarterback -- Eric Williams, who threw for 250 yards -- and a pair of running backs, senior Mordecai Cargill and freshman Tyler Varga, who combined for 179 yards on 37 carries. Williams and junior wide receiver Cameron Sandquist also combined for the longest play from scrimmage in Yale history, a 98-yard touchdown in the second quarter that helped turn the game in Yale's favor.
For Reno, it was fitting that the Bulldogs had to overcome some setbacks en route to the historic win. Dealing with adversity has quickly become a theme for this team, which was hit hard over the offseason by the loss of many of the key players from last year's team.
"I can't say enough about our players," Reno said. "They dealt with more adversity in the first five minutes of this game than you would usually see in five games. They were resilient, and they kept coming back. They gave themselves a chance."
It wasn't long before the Bulldogs faced the first turning point of the young season, as the Elis' first possession ended with a fumble that Hoyas cornerback Jeremy Moore recovered at the Yale 42. The Bulldogs' response came just four plays later, when senior linebacker Ryan Falbo forced a Hoya fumble that sophomore linebacker EJ Conway recovered at the Yale 10.
The ensuing Yale drive marked the debut of Varga, who immediately proved himself as a downhill runner who will not be easy to tackle. Varga racked up 47 yards on that drive, the last two on a run into the end zone that, combined with an extra point from senior placekicker Philippe Panico, put Yale up 7-0 at the 7:16 mark.
The Yale defense delivered a goal-line stand at the end of the first quarter, with senior defensive end Allen Davis stuffing a run at the Bulldog two-yard line. That play loomed even larger when Hoya placekicker Matt MacZura's field goal attempt banged off the upright and bounced harmlessly to the turf on the first play of the second quarter.
The Hoyas had a chance to get those points right back when a pass from Williams hit off the intended receiver and went right to Moore for an interception at the Yale 43. But that drive ended similarly to the one before it. After senior linebacker Will McHale stuffed a second-and-three run for a loss of two yards, an incompletion forced the Hoyas to try another field goal. This one, a 36-yarder, sailed wide left and the Yale lead remained 7-0.
Momentum swung back in Georgetown's favor with two dramatic returns midway through the second quarter. The first came when sophomore punter Kyle Cazzetta boomed a punt from the Yale 21 that forced Georgetown return man Kevin Macari to start backing up. Macari was barely able to get a hand on the ball as it sailed over his head, but when he eventually corralled it at the Georgetown 21 he quickly found a seam. His 79-yard dash into the end zone tied the game 7-7 at 8:42 of the second.
Just over a minute later the Hoyas grabbed the lead with an interception return, as Moore cut underneath a route and nabbed a Williams pass at the Yale 41. Moore dashed untouched into the end zone to give the Hoyas a 14-7 lead.
If the Bulldogs were stunned by the dramatic reversal of fortune, they did not show it. The Yale offense went back to work on the ground, with Cargill pounding away with four straight runs for a total of 41 yards. That forced a Georgetown timeout, and the Bulldogs eventually came away with a 36-yard field goal from Panico to pull within 14-10.
Georgetown (2-1) got its running game working on its next drive, with five different players carrying the ball as the Hoyas drove from their own 28 to the Yale seven. But with an open field in front of him, Hoya quarterback Aaron Aiken fumbled after being knocked off balance by senior linebacker Brian Leffler. Aiken dropped the ball at the Yale two, where senior defensive back John Powers fell on it and maintained possession as a horde of players fell on top of him.
With just 45.6 seconds left on the clock and the ball at their own two there was not much reason to expect a touchdown from the Bulldogs, but a play of historic proportions changed all that. William's pass down the right sideline appeared to be sailing incomplete, but a Hoya defender got just enough of the pass to slow it down and knock it into the waiting arms of Sandquist in stride -- and with no Hoyas left to beat in front of him. While one Hoya defender expressed his frustration at the unfortunate bounce, the other one chased Sandquist in vain as the Yale wideout dashed into the end zone for a 98-yard touchdown.
That play bested the previous record for the longest play from scrimmage in Yale football history, a 97-yard pass from Don Gesicki '76 to Gary Fencik '76 at Princeton in 1975.
"Just throw it deep and see how far we could get it," Williams said of the play's intent. "That was all Cam on that play. I put the ball too far inside, but it got tipped."
Yale pulled off its first fake punt of the season on the first drive of the second quarter, with Powers racing 24 yards for a first down on fourth-and-three from the Yale 33. But a bad snap four plays later flew high over Williams' head, and Georgetown linebacker Jeremy Grasso recovered it at the Yale 46. Three plays later, running back Dalen Claytor broke off a 32-yard touchdown run that put the Hoyas back up, 21-17, at 8:21 of the third.
The Bulldog defense created a big turnover late in the third, with junior defensive end Kolu Buck knocking the ball loose and Davis recovering. That set the Yale offense up at the Georgetown 14. It took two plays for Yale to get back into the end zone, with Varga scooting nine yards through a huge hole opened up by the offensive line. The Bulldogs led 24-21 with 2:43 left in the third.
There was another tipped ball early in the fourth quarter, and this one benefitted the Hoyas. After the Bulldogs drove from their own 19 to the Georgetown 22, defensive back Nick Alfieri grabbed a Williams pass that was batted at the line of scrimmage and returned it all the way to the Yale 47.
Alfieri would have returned the ball even further had Williams not gotten back into the play and made a nice diving tackle along the sideline, and that play wound up helping to keep the Hoyas from making anything of the turnover. A three-and-out by the Yale defense forced a Hoya punt from the Yale 40, and the Yale lead remained intact.
Another stand by the Yale defense kept Georgetown from getting a first down on fourth-and-one from the Yale 29, with Aiken's attempt to dive over the pile coming up short. The defense came up with another fourth-down stand just over a minute later, with Falbo and Powers stopping running back Wilburn Logan short on a fourth-and-one pitch from the Georgetown 49. Bibb then sealed the win with the interception in the end zone with 33 seconds left.
Coming just four plays after he had been called for a potentially game-changing personal foul call, Bibb's play wound up being another example of the Elis' ability to put any setbacks in the rear view mirror quickly.
"Coach Reno has taught us, in the short time that he has been here, that no matter what happens you need to stay on an even keel emotionally," Bibb said. "Just put it behind you."
The offense came out to take a knee twice to finish the victory.
Yale visits Cornell next weekend to open Ivy League play.
Report by Sam Rubin '95 (firstname.lastname@example.org), Yale Sports Publicity