Oct. 11, 2003
NEW HAVEN, Conn. - The score was no indication of how this one was played.
Quarterback Alvin Cowan threw for 318 yards and two touchdowns and led the ground game with 89 yards as the Yale football team remained unbeaten with a 40-17 win over Dartmouth before 20,891 at Yale Bowl on Saturday.
The Bulldogs, who move to 4-0 for the first time since 1981, survived their toughest test of the year despite 29 yards from tailback Robert Carr, the league's leading rusher. Yale found other sources to compile 484 yards of offense, including the conversion of all four of its fourth-down attempts.
"This was a helluva football game, very tight and many big plays," said Yale head coach Jack Siedlecki. "You saw some great Ivy League football players out there today."
The Big Green, which had won 10 of the last dozen meetings, came in with the plan to stop the Yale ground game and held the Elis to 33 yards (3.0 avg.) in the first half and 173 overall. Fortunately for the Blue, Cowan and the passing attack clicked. The Eli QB completed 14 passes for 173 yards as both teams amassed just over 200 total yards in the first 30 minutes.
"I'm still not throwing spirals," said Cowan with a smile in the post-game press conference. "They stopped the run and that opened up some other things for us. I knew there was going to be a game where we had to win through the air."
"They sold their souls to defend the run and we did a good job and earned every yard," said Siedlecki. "There were a couple of [passing] plays we knew they couldn't defend."
For the first time this fall, the Bulldogs did not score on its opening possession but they did get the game's initial points. Carr's one-yard run at 4:09 of the first quarter, which was the result of the Big Green's second fumble of the day, capped an 11-play drive.
The visitors countered when Charlie Rittgers hit Casey Cramer on a 33-yard scoring play in the opening minute of the second quarter. Six minutes later Ron Benigno snared his sixth TD catch of the fall on a 28-yard play to put Yale up 14-7 before Tyler Lavin booted a 38-yard field goal to end the scoring in the half at 14-10.
While Dartmouth made the effort to stop the Bulldogs' ground game with an eight-man front, the Hanover gang was equally determined to establish its rushing attack, which had been lackluster the first three weeks. The Green (0-4, 0-2) entered the day with 92 yards rushing per game but managed to gain 125 yards by the end of the half (203 overall), while Rittgers (23-36, 258 yards, 1 TD) was a model of passing efficiency with an 8-for-10 mark in the first half.
"Yale made the big plays... they protected their quarterback and their kids made the catches. We could not stop them," said Dartmouth mentor John Lyons, who has had great success in this rivalry. "We did a great job stopping the run but they hurt us with the pass."
John Troost connected on the first of his two field goals midway through the third to give the Blue a seven-point advantage, which would not last more than two minutes. Rittgers got away from the Yale defense and scampered down the sideline on a 31-yard TD run to even the score at 17, but that was all the Bulldog defense would allow.
After a Dartmouth penalty on the ensuing kickoff, Carr hauled in Lavin's second attempt, bounced off a few tacklers and raced 86 yards for his first TD kick return at Yale. The junior back, who was able to reach the end zone because of a James Beck block 10 yards from the goal line, got knocked down at his own 35 but reached out pushed off the ground to regain his balance.
"I don't remember much of that play other than pushing off the ground," said Carr. "I will have to see that one on the tape. I did get great blocking."
Carr's second TD, which moved him into sixth place (ahead of Rich Diana '82) on the all-time school rushing TD list with 20, was all Yale needed but the theatrics were not complete.
Leading 23-17 early in the final quarter and facing a fourth down after entering Dartmouth territory, Cowan connected with Ralph Plumb on the first of the junior receiver's three big plays late in the game. Plumb, named the Walter Camp Yale Player of the Game because of his nine catches for 161 yards, finished the drive with a 14-yard TD reception at 12:02.
Troost's 30-yard field goal and a 35-yard run by David Knox put the game away for the Elis, who ended a two-game Dartmouth win streak in the series.
The Yale defense may have allowed 461 yards but it also may have won the game. Led by junior linebacker Ben Breunig (7-3-10) and sophomore DB Matt Handlon (6-2-8), the Elis forced two fumbles, broke up six passes (DE Brandon Dykes had a big knock down late in first half) and got an interception from Fred Jelks, his second of the year.
Pat Risha led the Green rushing game with 109 yards on 21 carries, while WR Jay Barnard had another amazing day by hauling in 11 balls for 97 yards.