NEW HAVEN, Conn. - A Southern Conference team making a rare appearance at Yale Bowl got a cold welcome from an Ivy League team making big FCS statements this season. Yale (3-2) scored the first three touchdowns of the game on the way to a 35-28 win over Mercer.
The Bulldogs' last non-league game of the year was also the second win over a highly-regarded FCS opponent. Yale, which knocked off No. 16 Maine three weeks ago at home, got big days from junior QB Kurt Rawlings (344 yards, 4 TDs), sophomore RB Alan Lamar (21-116) and junior WR JP Shohfi (6-152, 2 TDs)
Mercer (3-3), which had a win over No. 9 Samford on Sept. 15, had scored 116 points over its last three games, including two victories. However, the Bears were also giving up some decent numbers on the scoreboard.
Yale's first score came from Shohfi on a slant pattern over the middle that he broke for a 57-yarder.
The Yale defense came up with big plays in the first half and kept the visitors off the board until late in the second quarter. Junior DL Joshua Keeler and rookie linebacker Noah Pope combined on a sack and fumble play on the ensuring series that sophomore DB Rodney Thomas II scooped and raced 41 yards for a TD to make it 14-0.
The Elis made it 21-0 on a 2-yard pass play to Shohfi, who set up the drive with a nifty punt return. The San Marino, Calif., native and Rawlings hooked up on another 57-yard play to set up Yale's fourth score of the day.
"Our offense is fun to play in, fun in every way. We stress running the ball and pounding it, and we want to be a physical team," said Shohfi. "That starts with our O-Line. Even when we're not throwing the ball all over the place, it's fun to know that we're going to do our best to out-physical our opponent, move the ball forward, and win every individual play."
First-year WR Jaylan Sandifer's first career TD catch, a 38-yarder with 2:06 left in the second, put the home team up 28-7. The Yale signal-caller made an amazing, athletic play by stepping up from the pocket, as if to run, and then flinging the ball into the corner of the end zone.
The Bears scored three of the game's last four TDs, but the Yale offense clicked when it had to the most. Junior WR Reed Klubnik, who had a game-high seven catches, hauled in a 16-yard throw from Rawlings early in the fourth quarter, which turned out to be the game-winning points.
Mercer cut the lead to seven again, but Rawlings, Lamar and sophomore tight end JJ Howland each made crucial plays to move the chains and get the Bulldogs to victory formation.
Today was Heroes Day at the Bowl... Kurt Rawlings' 4 TD passes today moved him past Brian Dowling '69 on the Yale career list into 6th place with 33… Sophomore QB Jimmy Check got a bunch of snaps today and completed 3 of 5 passes for 37 yards… Noah Pope had two forced fumbles and was one of three Bulldogs to lead the team with 4 solo tackles and 5 overall stops… Rookies Kyle Ellis and Dathan Hickey and sophomore Deonte Henson each broke up two passes in the defensive backfield… Yale is back in Ivy play next Friday night with game at Penn that airs on ESPNU.
By Steve Conn, Yale Associate AD/Sports Publicity