Nov. 12, 2005
PRINCETON, N.J. - Behind seven turnovers from the defense and two touchdowns in a span of 27 seconds at the end of the fourth quarter from the offense, Yale knocked Princeton out of first place with a 21-14 win at Old Nassau Saturday afternoon. The Bulldogs trailed 14-0 at the half but got 21 points off turnovers, including a game-winning one-yard touchdown run by QB Jeff Mroz with just 47 seconds to play, to pull out the victory.
"This is probably the best feeling I've had all year," said Mroz, whose 10-yard touchdown pass to WR Todd Feiereisen on fourth down with 1:14 to play tied the game and set up a dramatic finish.
Starting the day in a tie for first place with Brown at 4-1 in the Ancient Eight, Princeton came out flying in front of the home crowd. The Tigers opened with a big play, a 25-yard gain on a run by WR Derek Davis, but the Yale defense came up with a stop as the Tigers drew closer. After a false start pushed Princeton back to the Yale 22 for a first-and-15, Sponheimer batted a pass by QB Jeff Terrell into the air. Terrell decided to grab it, but that wound up being a mistake as Sponheimer was right there to drag him down for an eight-yard loss. A short screen pass and an option run totaled only nine yards after that, so the Tigers gave PK Derek Javarone a chance. The Ivy League's all-time leader in field goals missed this 39-yarder wide right.
The Bulldogs appeared to have made another defensive stand when, on third-and-12 from the Eli 28, three Bulldog linemen surrounded Terrell and forced him to throw the ball away. But Princeton went for it on fourth down, and a mistake in Yale's coverage left Davis wide open in the end zone for a touchdown with 1:20 left in the first quarter.
Midway through the second quarter the Tigers connected on another long touchdown pass, with Terrell finding an open WR Brian Brigham in the end zone from 32 yards out on third-and-12. With 6:22 to play in the half the Princeton lead was 14-0.
Tigers CB Jay McCareins then picked off a Mroz pass, the 16th interception of his career, to jump start the next Tiger drive at the Princeton 26. The Tigers overcame a holding call for a first down deep in Yale territory thanks in part to a 19-yard run by Terrell, who dragged several tacklers with him for the last few yards to get the Tiger crowd fired up. But three plays later Terrell's pass from the Eli five was tipped by DE Brandon Dyches and then intercepted by LB Lee Driftmier, who took off from the five down the left sideline and got as far as the Yale 49. Yale drove to the Tiger 28 and tried a field goal as time expired, but it fell short. Still, avoiding a third Princeton touchdown wound up being crucial.
"We made a big play [Driftmier's interception], and it was the only big play we made in the first half," Siedlecki said. "We made one play, and it kept us out of being down by 21."
Driftmier picked off another tipped pass to stop the first Princeton drive of the third quarter, but the Bulldogs were unable to turn it into points. The next time around, though, a pick by FS Nick Solakian on a long pass from the Tiger 26 was returned 20 yards to the Tiger 25. Ten plays later, on a fourth down from just inches out, TB Mike McLeod pushed his way into the end zone and PK Alan Kimball added the extra point to pull Yale within seven.
The Bulldogs picked off their fourth pass of the day when, with Abare blitzing up the middle, Terrell fired one toward the left sideline. Yale CB Mike Holben was waiting, and returned the ball 24 yards to the Tiger 42. The Bulldogs converted a fourth-and-one with a five-yard run by McLeod, and the freshman followed that one with a 12-yarder to get the ball to the 16. But a 30-yard field goal attempt with 10:46 to play was blocked.
The fifth Tiger turnover of the day, a fumble forced by Abare and recovered by Driftmier, could have been a turning point were it not for four Yale penalties - a personal foul, a holding call and two false starts - that pushed the ball back from the Princeton six to the 36. Mroz' fourth down pass from there was picked off by McCareins at the Princeton three with 3:29 to play.
The Tigers would have been better off had McCareins just knocked the ball down, because the Bulldog defense took full advantage of the field position edge. Dyches and Driftmier dropped TB Cleo Kirkland for a two-yard loss on first down, and Abare tackled Terrell after a one-yard keeper on second down. Sponheimer tackled Kirkland after another one-yard gain on fourth down, forcing a Tiger punt from their own end zone.
The Yale offense took over just 36 yards away from the tying score and with 2:25 to work with. McCareins, one of the top players in the league, figured in two more crucial plays. First, he was flagged for pass interference to give Yale a first down at the Tiger 24. On the next play, he had his hands on a Mroz pass until WR Ashley Wright got a hand in to knock the ball loose.
The Bulldogs took advantage of the second chance. Mroz hit Wright for 14 yards to get the ball to the 10 with less than two minutes to play. Three straight incompletions then set up one of the defining moments of the season. With Wright drawing the attention of the defense on the right side, Feiereisen - who had been knocked out of the game briefly earlier in the drive with a shoulder stinger - freed himself in the near corner of the end zone just long enough for Mroz to fire one to him. Kimball's extra point tied the game at 14 with 1:14 to play.
"We've only got two seniors playing on offense," Siedlecki said in reference to Mroz and Feiereisen. "That's it. Boy, they came through today. That's senior leadership. It's huge for us."
Then, just when it seemed the Yale defense had given all it could, the Bulldogs came up with yet another turnover. Sponheimer drilled Shields just after he grabbed a first-down pass from Terrell, and the ball popped loose right to Abare. His dash down the left sideline set up the offense for three tries from the one, the last a successful push from Mroz for the lead with 17 seconds to play.
Princeton got a 17-yard completion to get the ball to the Tiger 44 on its final drive, but Terrell's pass from there was picked off by Holben with 19 seconds left. That enabled Mroz to come on for a victory kneel.
The Bulldogs finish their season with Harvard next Saturday at the Yale Bowl (12:30). Yale, Harvard and Princeton are now tied for second place at 4-2 in the Ivy League, a game behind Brown.
Radio highlights from 960 AM WELI (Ron Vaccaro '04 play-by-play, Carm Cozza color):
- Mroz' touchdown pass to Feiereisen ties the score with 1:14 to play
- Abare's fumble return sets up Yale's go-ahead touchdown
- Mroz runs the ball in with 47 seconds left for the lead
- Holben's second interception of the day ends Princeton's final drive
report by Sam Rubin '95 (firstname.lastname@example.org), Yale Sports Publicity