Yale Erases 3 Deficits, Improve to 5-1
PHILADELPHIA, Pa. – Kurt Rawlings found Christopher Williams-Lopez in the corner of the end zone with 4:52 left in the fourth quarter on a four-yard pass play and the Yale defense came up with one of many huge stops as the Bulldogs came from behind to beat Penn 24-19 this afternoon.
The win moves the Elis to 5-1 overall and 2-1 in Ivy League play, setting up a crucial matchup with undefeated Columbia (6-0, 3-0) next Saturday at Yale Bowl.
The Blue, which allowed an opponent to score the first points of a game for the first time this fall, overcame 7-0, 10-7 and 19-18 deficits to notch its first victory at Franklin Field since 2007.
Rawlings, the sophomore quarterback from Maryland, registered one of the gutsiest performances by a Yale signal caller in recent years. He completed 19 of 27 passes for 199 yards and two scores while running 11 times in heavy pressure from the Quaker's defense. After the Elis fumbled on consecutive possessions – including one by Rawlings on a punishing hit - and allowed the home team to score 10 straight points, the Yale QB drove his offense 80 yards on 11 plays to stun the home squad.
"I saw Chris (Williams-Lopez) out there and took a shot," said Rawlings. "I really got to give it to the guys up front, they seal the deal, we just have to put up the points to get the win. I give the credit to Chris on that [winning play], and give a lot of credit to our defense."
Williams-Lopez, who finished with six catches, also talked about the decisive score in the post-game press conference.
"I had to go based on where we were on the field. I looked at the coverage and made eye contact with Kurt (Rawlings), and I knew. He put a great ball on me and we got it. But, our success today relied on our offensive line and Kurt," said Williams-Lopez.
The Bulldog defense, led by senior linebacker Foyesade Oluokun's 10 tackles, held Penn to 297 total yards. It's most crucial series against the Quaker offense came after the final points were scored. Oluokun stopped Penn Justin Watson for no gain after a catch in the flat, and then the defensive front converged on QB Will Fischer-Colbrie on consecutive plays to force hurried throws that fell incomplete. Penn had to punt and hope to get the ball back.
"It's just a matter of relentless effort," said linebacker Matthew Oplinger. "When you look at teams that are successful on pass-rush, it's just a matter of them not quitting. We have our D-line, we call them the "Mad Dogs" and those guys get after it. I got in the mix there a couple times. Overall, it's just guys who just want to get after it. Those are the people we have been trying to recruit for the last five years since Coach [Tony] Reno has been here, and I feel like we have that kind of team now."
Yale freshman Zane Dudek (12-103) had another excellent performance, including 8.6 yards per carry and an 8-yard TD run that tied the game at 7-7. However, senior teammate Deshawn Salter may have had the most significant carries of the game. After the final punt, the Syracuse native sealed the victory with a short third-down run and then a 16-yard scamper that allowed the Elis to run out the clock.
The Yale defense, which leads the FCS in sacks and had five today, came up with a huge stop late in the same quarter that enabled its offense to seize the momentum heading into the locker room. Rawlings threw a 13-yard scoring pass to sophomore receiver Reed Klubnik with 30 seconds left to give the visitors a six-point lead. Klubnik fought off interference by the Penn cornerback and won the ball in the air before coming down a foot from the sideline.
The Elis have not been conventional this year, and they showed why on the ensuring point (s) after try. Senior quarterback Andrew Johnson, also the holder on placekicks, took the snap with an unbalanced line and looked as if he would run right for the end zone. Instead, he shuttled the ball forward to Oplinger, who blasted his way over the goal line for an 18-10 lead.
"Obviously great football game between two very good teams," said Tony Reno, Yale's Joel E. Smilow '54 Head Coach. "We have all respect in the world for Penn, I think everyone does. We knew it was going to be a tough football game, and it was everything we thought it was going to be."
Yale's first four wins were by large margins. This was the first close victory of 2017 for Reno's squad.
"You don't ever hope for a game like this, but we needed a game like this to see where we were at," said Reno. "We needed to see if we could do what we needed to do at the end. We had to come back in the fourth quarter and put one in the end zone. We had to make a stop and we had to run the clock out. I'm very proud of the guys and very proud of their ability to focus on winning plays."
Junior DE J. Hunter Roman had 1.5 sacks and was all over the Penn backfield today… Sophomore WR JP Shohfi, who had four catches, led the Blue with 68 yards… Melvin Rouse, a rookie WR who was injured at Dartmouth, came back to make two catches today… Foyesade Oluokun had a sack, a forced fumble and a team-high eight solo tackles… Columbia beat Dartmouth 22-17 in a battle of unbeatens.
by Steve Conn, Yale Associate AD/Sports Publicity Director