Bulldogs Remain Tied for Second in League
PROVIDENCE, R.I. - After falling behind early by its largest deficit in six weeks, the Yale football team responded in dramatic fashion Saturday afternoon at Brown Stadium. Trailing 20-7 in the second quarter, the Bulldogs scored 24 straight points to take a 31-20 lead, then held off several late Brown rallies to earn a 45-42 win. The Bulldogs thus remained in the running for the Ivy League title, as they are still tied for second place -- one game out of first with two game remaining. Senior tailback Tyler Varga surpassed the 1,000-rushing yard mark for the season during the game, finishing with 204 yards and two touchdowns on 35 carries. That included five straight carries for 29 yards (his first carry of the drive, for four yards, was offset by a holding call) to enable Yale to run out the clock on its final drive.
"I just try to grind out, there, run as hard as I can every single carry like it could be my last," said Varga, who was quick to credit Yale's offensive linemen. "Those big guys up front, they never get enough credit. This is definitely the best offensive line I've ever played for. Without them we wouldn't be going very far."
This wound up being the sixth time in eight games that Yale scored 40 or more points in a game, but the Bears had an early edge on the scoreboard -- and that edge might have been bigger if not for a few big plays by the Yale defense. Brown's first drive got as far as the Yale 13 before the Bulldogs sniffed out a trick play by the Bears and freshman linebacker Matthew Oplinger tackled receiver Troy Doles for a loss after he dropped back for a pass attempt. Two plays later, Brown settled for a 33-yard field goal from Grant Senne.
Yale (7-1, 4-1 Ivy League) answered by driving 72 yards for a touchdown. Varga had a pair of crucial third-down conversion runs, and junior quarterback Morgan Roberts capped the drive with a 19-yard touchdown pass to senior wide receiver Deon Randall.
The Bears once again got close to the end zone on their next drive, only to be pushed away and forced to settle for a field goal. This time, on second-and-goal from the Eli seven, a fumbled snap cost the Bears 14 yards and on third down quarterback Marcus Fuller had to throw the ball away under heavy pressure. A 38-yard field goal by Senne made the score 7-6 Yale heading into the second quarter.
The Bears went ahead early in the second quarter on a 77-yard run by tailback Andrew Coke. Brown then got a big play on defense when a failed pitch attempt by Roberts wound up on the ground, and Bears outside linebacker Ryan MacDonald picked up the loose ball and ran 53 yards for a touchdown. Yale thus faced a 13-point deficit, the largest it had faced since trailing Army by 14 in week two (a game the Elis rallied to win in overtime, 49-43).
"The great thing about this team is that Team 142 [a reference to how many years Yale has fielded a football team] has been there," said Roberts. "We've been down by 20 … If you focus on the scoreboard, you're going to get beat."
Freshman cornerback Jamal Locke returned the ensuing kickoff for a touchdown, but that score was wiped out by a holding call against Yale. On the Bulldogs' next drive, though, they drove 73 yards for a score that brought them within 20-14. Sophomore tailback Candler Rich found the end zone on a 33-yard run.
Brown (4-4, 2-3 Ivy League) took one more frustrating trip deep into Yale territory late in the first half. This time, the Bears got as close as the Yale 18 before junior strong safety Cole Champion picked off a pass at the goal line. That enabled the Bulldogs to tack on a 39-yard field goal by senior placekicker Kyle Cazzetta as time expired in the second quarter.
Yale re-took the lead quickly in the second half. The Bulldogs marched 91 yards for a touchdown on their first drive, with the big gain coming on a 35-yard completion from Roberts to senior wide receiver Grant Wallace. Varga plunged in from five yards out to make it 24-20 Yale at 12:34 of the third.
The Yale defense then got involved in the scoring on Brown's next drive. Headed up field on a blitz, sophomore linebacker Darius Manora was in perfect position to snare an attempted flea-flicker pitch back at the Brown 34. He took off untouched into the end zone, and Cazzetta's extra point extended Yale's lead to 11 points.
Brown finally broke up the string of 24 straight points by Yale by driving 79 yards in 10 plays for a touchdown on its next drive. Quarterback Seth Rosenbauer's one-yard run pulled the Bears within four.
Brown's next drive ended with a punt after a sack by Oplinger on third down. That punt set the Eli offense up at its own 43, and the Bulldogs chewed up yardage quickly after that. The first big play in the five-play drive was a 28-yard pass from Roberts to Randall. The next was a diving grab by Wallace in the end zone for an 18-yard touchdown on the first play of the fourth quarter.
The pesky Bears would not go quietly, however. They drove 75 yards for another touchdown with 10:32 left in the game, as Fuller lofted one into the end zone for wide receiver Alex Jette from 28 yards out. The Bears went for two and got it, with Fuller firing a pass to wide receiver Reiley Higgins in the end zone to make the score 38-35 Yale.
Roberts had a pair of big third-down completions on the next drive, and both came with Brown blitzing. On the first one, the offensive line gave Roberts enough time to find Wallace for a 16-yard completion on third-and-nine. On the next one, with a Brown defender in his face, Roberts led Varga for a 13-yard completion on third-and-eight.
"It all came down to execution," Roberts said. "We focus on third down a lot in practice. On game day, everybody knows 'This third down could be the game.'"
After coming up a yard short on their next third-down attempt, the Bulldogs simply handed the ball to Varga on fourth-and-one from the 23 -- and he took off for a touchdown. With 6:18 to play, Yale led 45-35.
The drama remained intact heading into the final minutes of the game, as Brown once again drove for a touchdown to stay within striking distance. Jette hauled in a 30-yard touchdown pass from Fuller with 3:33 to play to get Brown back within a field goal.
Senior linebacker Charles Cook helped make the final minutes more straightforward for Yale by covering Brown's attempted onside kick, giving the Bulldogs the ball at the Brown 43. Needing to run out the clock, Yale called upon Varga for six straight runs, and he delivered the necessary yardage for a pair of first downs. After the last one, Roberts took a knee twice to seal the win.
"There's a lot of people in the box [defensively] in that situation," said Roberts of the final drive. "Our offensive line did an incredible job of giving Varga just a little seam, and that's all he needs."
Roberts finished 20-for-26 for 248 yards and a pair of touchdowns. Wallace led the team with eight catches for 123 yards and a TD. Yale's leading tackler was freshman cornerback Jason Alessi, who had 12 tackles -- all solos.
Yale remains one game behind Harvard in the Ivy League standings. The Bulldogs host Princeton next Saturday at 12:30 p.m., the final home game of the season.
Report by Sam Rubin '95 (email@example.com), Yale Sports Publicity