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Four Interceptions Fuel 25-7 Win at Columbia

Jason Alessi - Pass Interception. (photo by Jack Warhola)
Jason Alessi - Pass Interception. (photo by Jack Warhola)

Cazzetta Boots Four Field Goals

NEW HAVEN, Conn. - The Yale football team's defense enjoyed its most effective game of the year Saturday afternoon at Columbia, picking off four Lion passes in a 25-7 Bulldog win -- the fewest points allowed by the Elis since a 30-0 win vs. Dartmouth Oct. 8, 2011. Freshman cornerback Jason Alessi had a pair of interceptions, and senior placekicker Kyle Cazzetta booted four field goals as the Elis won for the sixth time in seven games this season. This was Columbia's 18th straight loss.

With cold, rainy and windy conditions at Wien Stadium making things tough for both offenses, Yale's offense still racked up 586 yards -- led by a career-high 202 rushing yards from sophomore tailback Candler Rich and a career-high 13 receptions (for 133 yards) for senior wide receiver Grant Wallace.

Rich got all those yards while splitting carries evenly (17 each) with senior tailback Tyler Varga, who added 106 yards and a pair of touchdowns.

"It's a privilege to play in a dynamic offense like this," said Rich. "We may have had the yards, but we expect more out of ourselves as far as getting in the end zone."

This actually was a season-low point total for the high-flying Yale offense, which entered the game leading the nation in scoring offense (45.5 points per game). Still, the Bulldogs got the points they needed early on to keep Columbia from entertaining much hope of an upset.

Varga had three rushes for a total of 49 yards during the first drive, so it was only fitting that he got the call to plunge over the goal line on first-and-goal from the one for a 6-0 lead at 13:02. The Bulldogs' attempted two-point conversion failed.

After a failed fourth-down conversion attempt deep in Columbia territory on Yale's second drive, the Bulldogs returned to the end zone on their third drive -- driving 98 yards to do so. Sophomore tight end Leo Haenni ate up a good chunk of that yardage with a 28-yard reception from junior quarterback Morgan Roberts, and Varga once again capped the drive by diving in from a yard out at 14:16 of the second. Later in the second, Cazzetta extended the lead with a 31-yard field goal. 

The Yale defense, meanwhile, forced punts on Columbia's first four drives. The Lions got no closer than the Yale 47-yard line until late in the first half, when Yale already had a 16-0 lead. Their final drive of the half ended with an incompletion on fourth-and-four from the Yale 24 with 57 seconds left.

The defense kept the pressure on as the second half got underway, forcing punts on the first two Lion drives. The third Lions drive ended when Alessi picked off a pass and returned it 13 yards to the Columbia 26. That enabled Cazzetta to boot a 25-yard field goal that made it 19-0 at 3:19 of the third.

Columbia's next drive ended with another interception, this one by sophomore free safety Foyesade Oluokun. He returned that one 32 yards to the Lion 15, and Cazzetta added another 25-yarder to make it 22-0 heading into the fourth.

The Lions broke up the shutout bid with 13:05 left in the game, when wide receiver Ryan Flannery hauled in a 12-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Trevor McDonagh on a fourth-and-goal.

A big 42-yard run by Rich highlighted Yale's next drive, which ended with another Cazzetta field goal -- this one a 33-yarder. Yale led 25-7 with 9:12 to play, and Cazzetta became the first Yale player with four field goals in a game since Mike Murawczyk '01 at Dartmouth Oct. Oct. 14, 1998.

Yale's defense forced McDonagh into an incompletion on fourth-and-four from the Eli 32 with 7:17 to play. Alessi then picked him off again with five minutes left, and freshman strong safety Hayden Carlson added Yale's fourth pick with 2:15 to play.

"It was a solid day on defense," said Alessi. "Our biggest goal was to win the turnover battle."

Yale (6-1, 3-1 Ivy League) is now part of a three-way tie for second in the Ivy League, one game behind 4-0 Harvard. The Bulldogs travel to Brown next Saturday.

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