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Bulldogs Stifled by Columbia Defense, Fall 17-7

Jason Alessi returns a punt for a TD (photo by Jack Warhola)
Jason Alessi returns a punt for a TD (photo by Jack Warhola)

Yale Defense Holds Columbia To 243 Yards

NEW HAVEN, Conn. – An 80-yard punt return touchdown by sophomore Jason Alessi, the third-longest in school history, proved to be Yale football's only offense in a 17-7 loss to Columbia on Saturday afternoon at Yale Bowl.

In the first home game for the Bulldogs (4-3, 1-3 Ivy) since Sept. 26 against Cornell, the Elis were unable to get anything going on offense – managing just 120 total yards against Columbia's stout defense.

Three turnovers coupled with just one trip to the red zone and going 1-for-13 on third downs doomed the Yale offense, which came into the game averaging 22.2 points per game.

Columbia's defense put intense pressure on senior quarterback Morgan Roberts, as well as sophomore quarterback Rafe Chapple, who saw playing time on Saturday. The Lions' defense combined for six sacks, resulting in 48 lost yards.

"They played great defense against Princeton, they played great defense against Dartmouth last week, letting up just 13 points. Coach Bagnoli has them playing well," said Joel E. Smilow '54 head coach Tony Reno.

With sacks included, the Bulldogs netted -14 rushing yards in the game, while the Lions managed 153, led by running back Cameron Molina with 76 yards on 23 carries.

Yale's defense held its own against Columbia, allowing just 243 yards of total offense and forcing two turnovers in the game. Much was asked of the defense, however, as Columbia held a 38:36 to 21:24 time of possession advantage.

Junior wide-out Robert Clemons III led the Elis with four catches for 56 yards, while sophomore Chris Williams-Lopez added five receptions for 33 yards of his own. The Bulldogs managed just five first downs in the game.

Freshman free safety Hayden Carlson led all players today with 12 tackles, while sophomore linebacker Matthew Oplinger had eight tackles and two sacks in the loss.

Each team punted the ball eight times, showing inconsistency on offense and strength on defense. Columbia punted six times before the 11-minute mark in the second quarter. However, the Lions scored on three of their next six possessions to hold-off the Bulldogs.

With a 10-7 lead and the ball on Yale's 13-yard line, Columbia lined up for a field goal that turned into a fake. Punter Cameron Nizialek took the ball and ran it around the edge into the corner of the end zone, stretching Columbia's lead to two possessions with 13:28 remaining.

Nizialek hit a 40-yard field goal at the 9:38 mark in the third quarter, which gave Columbia its first lead of the game at 10-7.On Yale's seven possessions in the second half, it punted four times, turned it over on downs twice, and fumbled.

"We didn't execute in any area of the offense today…We need to get better as a team," said Reno.

The game was tied 7-7 at halftime after Columbia went on a 13-play, 72-yard drive in the second quarter, which was capped off by a seven-yard touchdown reception by Hank Trumbull. Before that drive, the Eli defense had allowed just two first downs on the Lions' six possessions.

Skyler Mornhinweg, Columbia's primary quarterback, went 11-for-22 for 82 yards with a touchdown and an interception against the Bulldogs. He also ran the ball 11 times for 47 yards, the second-highest rushing total in the game.

Yale's offensive spark came by way of Alessi's dazzling punt return, in which he broke-out into the open field with a spin move and darted to the left corner of the end zone on his 80-yard score. At the time, the Elis led 7-0 at the 9:25 mark in the first quarter. It was Yale's first punt return for a touchdown since Gio Christodoulou returned one for 53 yards against Dartmouth on Oct. 8, 2011.

"It's obviously a good win for our program. As we try to take that next step as a program, it's critical for us to play a good team and not just play it close, but actually get a win," said Columbia head coach Al Bagnoli, who is in his first season with the Lions after 23 years at Penn.

The Bulldogs look to end their two-game losing skid next Saturday when Brown comes to Yale Bowl for a 12:30 p.m. kickoff. The game will be televised on the Fox College Sports Network and streamed online at FoxSportsGo.


Filed by Steve Lewis, Yale Sports Publicity