Defense Shuts Out Mustangs in Second Half
SAN LUIS OBISPO, Calif. – The Yale football team made the most of its first trip to California in eight years Saturday afternoon, upsetting No. 18/19 Cal Poly at Spanos Stadium. The Bulldogs trailed 10-7 at halftime but shut Cal Poly out in the second half, rallying to go ahead on a eight-yard touchdown pass from senior quarterback Henry Furman to senior tight end Keith Coty in the third quarter and then tacking on a diving 28-yard touchdown catch by senior wide receiver Chris Smith in the fourth for the 24-10 final.
Sophomore defensive back Cole Champion finished with 14 tackles, a pair of interceptions and a fumble recovery to lead the Yale defense.
"It's a big win," Champion said. "A lot of people counted us out, but we knew we had the potential to do this. We had a lot of people step up and make big plays."
Yale (3-0, 1-0 Ivy League) allowed 292 yards in the first half, and Cal Poly -- a scholarship school that played a pair of Football Bowl Subdivision teams earlier in the year -- controlled the ball for 19:02, but the Bulldogs got key turnovers to keep the Mustangs from scoring more than twice. Cal Poly drove 48 yards to get into Yale territory on its first drive before an ill-advised pitch wound up bouncing off the intended recipient's hands. Champion pounced on the fumble at the Yale 46.
Cal Poly's next drive almost ended with another turnover, as a tipped pass on third down fell just past the reach of Yale freshman defensive back Robert Ries. On the ensuing punt, a block by freshman cornerback Spencer Rymiszewski set the Bulldog offense up at the Cal Poly 40-yard line.
On the next play from scrimmage, Furman found Smith wide open over the middle of the field for a 29-yard gain. On fourth-and-two from the Cal three, the Bulldogs lined up for a field goal but senior defensive back Derek Russell, Yale's holder, kept the ball and dove into the end zone for a touchdown at 3:52.
Cal Poly (2-3, 1-0 Big Sky) converted a fourth-and-one from its own 42 on the next drive. Four plays later, on third-and-two from the Yale 33, fullback Brandon Howe burst up the middle, broke multiple tackles and then dashed into the end zone for the touchdown. The extra point tied the game 7-7 with 44 seconds left in the first quarter.
Smith's 45-yard kickoff return, with a 15-yard personal foul against Cal Poly tacked on at the end, got the Yale offense another drive that started at the Cal Poly 40. But after coming up a yard short on a fourth-and-four completion, the Bulldogs turned the ball over on downs.
Champion delivered another turnover midway through the second quarter, waiting on a pass over the middle before picking it off at the Yale six and returning it 23 yards.
Yale generated another turnover on special teams late in the first half. After junior punter Kyle Cazzetta boomed a punt 46 yards, the ball hit a Cal Poly player and freshman wide receiver Robert Clemons III recovered it at the Cal Poly 24. A Yale field goal attempt three plays later, however, was blocked by Cal Poly defensive lineman Sullivan Grosz.
Cal Poly placekicker Bobby Zalud then lined a 53-yard field goal as time expired to put the Mustangs up 10-7 at the half.
Yale took advantage of a personal foul call on Cal Poly that extended the Bulldogs' first drive of the second half. On a third-and-nine scramble amidst a pile of players Furman stayed on his feet long enough to get a Cal Poly player to throw him to the ground for a 15-yard penalty that got the Elis a first down at the Cal 42. The Bulldogs eventually tied the game on a 31-yard field goal by junior placekicker Parker Toms with 7:41 left in the third.
Another Yale drive was extended by a Cal Poly penalty later in the third quarter, as an unsportsmanlike conduct call gave the Bulldogs a first down at the Cal Poly 45. Furman followed that up by completing passes to sophomore wide receiver Sebastian Little and junior wide receiver Grant Wallace to get the ball to the 14. After two runs by junior tailback Tyler Varga got the ball closer, Furman hit Coty for the go-ahead touchdown with 2:49 to play in the third.
Cal Poly had an apparent 67-yard touchdown pass negated by an illegal formation penalty with 56 seconds left in the third -- the Mustangs' ninth penalty of the day. Two plays later, under heavy pressure from senior defensive lineman Dylan Drake and freshman defensive end Victor Egu, Cal Poly quarterback Chris Brown was forced into an intentional grounding call that brought the Mustangs' drive to an end. Yale went into the fourth quarter with the ball and a 17-10 lead.
Cazzetta chipped in another big punt before Cal Poly's first drive of the fourth quarter, pinning the Mustangs at their own seven with a 68-yarder. That drive ended after three plays.
The first interception of the year thrown by a Yale quarterback came at 11:06 of the fourth quarter, as defensive back Karlton Dennis grabbed the ball and set the Mustang offense up at the Cal Poly 44. Egu knocked Cal Poly off schedule immediately by sacking Brown and forcing a fumble that the Mustangs recovered. They punted two plays later.
Furman combined with junior wide receiver Deon Randall for a beautiful play midway through the fourth. On third-and-seven from the Yale five, the Eli signal caller scrambled to buy time, then flung it down the field. Randall's diving catch at the Yale 46 made it a 41-yard completion that kept the drive going.
"It was just a vertical," Randall said. "Hank threw it up there and let me make a play."
Seven plays later, Furman launched one into the end zone and Smith dove to grab it for a 28-yard scoring strike. With 3:24 to play, the Bulldogs had a 24-10 lead.
Champion brought Cal Poly's next drive to a fitting end by intercepting a pass at the Cal Poly 45.
"Cole's a playmaker," said Tony Reno, Yale's Joel E. Smilow '54 Head Coach of Football. "When I recruited him I knew he was a playmaker. Every week he gets better and better. No matter where he is on the field, he makes plays."
It was the fourth takeaway for the Eli defense, which limited the Mustangs to 37 yards in the second half. A pair of third-down conversion runs by junior tailback Kahlil Keys enabled the Eli offense to kill the clock on the upset.
"I think it's a national statement -- that we can compete with anyone in the nation," said Randall.
Yale snapped a six-game home winning streak for Cal Poly in the first meeting ever between a Big Sky team and an Ivy League team. The Bulldogs travel to Dartmouth for a league game next Saturday.
Report by Sam Rubin '95 (email@example.com), Yale Sports Publicity
Chris Smith image (by raphotos.com)