Bulldogs Score Three Touchdowns in Final Quarter for Win
NEW YORK - Senior tight end A.J. Haase's 10-yard touchdown catch with 58 seconds to play -- Yale's third touchdown of the fourth quarter -- capped an improbable Bulldog comeback and finished off a 23-22 win at Columbia Saturday afternoon. The Elis got turnovers on Columbia's final three drives of the game, plus a touchdown-saving tackle from junior cornerback Adam Money, to pull out the victory after trailing by 12 points with just over six minutes left.
"That was probably the craziest game I've ever been a part of," said senior H-back John Sheffield, who had five of his game-high seven catches in the final quarter to help the Bulldogs rally. "We just wouldn't be denied, regardless of what happened."
Coming off a tough 9-0 loss at Penn the week before, the Bulldogs started slow on Saturday. The lone highlight of a scoreless first quarter was a 65-yard punt by senior punter/placekicker Tom Mante that sent Columbia receiver Austin Knowlin racing back to try to catch the ball; Knowlin bobbled the ball and had to fall on it back at the Columbia seven.
The Lions had good field position to start their fourth drive of the game, taking over at their own 42 after a Yale punt, but that drive stalled thanks to great back-to-back defensive plays. First, senior outside linebacker Travis Henry chased down running back Zack Kourouma from behind for no gain on second down. Then, sophomore linebacker Jordan Haynes got a seven-yard sack on third down to force a punt.
Columbia got the first turnover of the game, recovering a Yale fumble at the Bulldog 36. The Lions took advantage on the next play, executing a flea-flicker for a touchdown from quarterback Sean Brackett to receiver Taylor Joseph. Yale answered thanks to a 48-yard kickoff return by Money that started the offense at the Columbia 47. Eight plays later junior placekicker Alex Barnes came on for his first career field goal, a 47-yarder as time expired in the half.
"Kicking the field goal right before halftime was a good emotional lift for the team," said Tom Williams, Yale's Joel E. Smilow '54 Head Coach of Football.
The Lions' first drive of the second half ended at the Yale 41 when sophomore defensive lineman Jake Stoller came up with a big tackle amidst a pile of players on fourth and inches, but Columbia turned another Yale fumble into another touchdown at 2:44 of the third. Right after getting the ball at the Eli 31 Brackett found tight end Adam Kennedy wide open down the right sideline for the score. Brackett then dashed into the end zone for a two-point conversion that made the score 14-3 Columbia.
Brackett (10-19, 180 yards, three touchdowns) and running back Leon Ivery (16 carries, 127 yards) both filled in impressively for the injured starters they were replacing (M.A. Olawale and Ray Rangel, respectively). But in the end it was not enough for Columbia (2-5, 1-3 Ivy League). The Bulldogs began their comeback on a drive that featured some great efforts by the receiving corps. First, junior Peter Balsam fought his way for extra yardage to get a 15-yard completion on third-and-nine from the Yale 40. Two plays later Sheffield also battled through a series of tackles for a 17-yard gain to the Lion 24.
"Some of the route concepts we had called in the first half didn't take advantage of Sheffield and the positions that he was in," said Williams. "He's dangerous. Not only does he have great hands, but he also has the ability to break tackles and he gets a lot of those yards after catch. That hidden yardage often makes a big difference at the end of the game, which it did today."
After a four-yard run by Thomas, sophomore quarterback Patrick Witt rifled a pass down the middle that Sheffield dove to catch just as he crossed the goal line for a 20-yard touchdown with 11:57 to play. That was Yale's first offensive touchdown since the Dartmouth game three weeks earlier.
"The past few weeks we've been putting a lot of pressure on ourselves to get out there and make plays," Witt said. "That last quarter, we were just out there having fun."
Columbia answered with a touchdown drive of its own, with Brackett launching a 32-yarder to Knowlin with 8:32 left. The drive almost ended six plays earlier, but Brackett's fumble bounced right to him and he turned it into a nine-yard gain to the Yale 45.
Witt got hot in the fourth quarter, and at one point had eight straight completions. That included a nine-yarder to Sheffield, following a 26-yarder to Haase, that set up a five-yard touchdown run by sophomore tailback Alex Thomas that got Yale within 22-17 with 6:05 to play.
Witt had come on to start the second half in relief of junior quarterback Brook Hart, who was 9-for-15 for 64 yards. Witt finished 14-for-23 for 166 yards.
"We didn't think [Hart] was seeing the field as well as we would have liked," said Williams. "We thought we'd give Pat an opportunity to go out there so Brook could watch from the sideline and see a different picture. Sometimes that helps a quarterback to be able to see it. Then Pat got hot and of course we wanted to ride the hot hand."
Money made a game-saving play by racing back to tackle Ivery at the Yale two at the end of a 75-yard run. The play became even bigger when senior linebacker Paul Rice forced a fumble on the next play and junior outside linebacker Sean Williams recovered at the Yale five.
"That saved the game," Rice said of Money's play. "It was a great hustle play. Adam's one of those kids that never gives up on a play. That's a testament to the type of player he is."
After a Yale punt the Bulldogs generated another key turnover, as Money stripped the ball from Brackett at the end of a seven-yard run and recovered the fumble at the Yale 49.
"I was able to hit him from the side and my hand just happened to get around the end of the football," Money said. "I just pulled it out. The ball was a little wet and slippery [from the rainy conditions]."
The Bulldogs got a first down on a fourth-and-one at the Columbia 20 thanks to a Lion defensive holding penalty, and on the next play Witt found Haase in the left corner of the end zone with 58 seconds left. The two-point conversion pass was incomplete, but Yale had a 23-22 lead.
Senior strong safety Marcus Wallace sealed the win with his first career interception, picking off Brackett on first down and giving the Bulldogs the ball at the Columbia 35. Yale then ran out the clock on its eighth straight win over the Lions.
Rice finished with a game-high 14 tackles, including two for a loss. Despite the stunning way it happened, the Yale captain said he always knew what the end result was going to be.
"I felt we were going to win the entire time," Rice said. "We came out in the second half with real purpose."
Yale (4-3, 2-2 Ivy) continues Ivy League play with a game vs. Brown at the Yale Bowl, Class of 1954 Field at 1 p.m. A live video stream is available at http://www.stretchinternet.com/yaleschedule.html
Audio Highlights from 960 AM WELI, Ron Vaccaro '04 play-by-play, Carm Cozza color, Alex Goldberger '08 sideline (right-click and select "Save As" to listen on your computer):
Report by Sam Rubin '95 (firstname.lastname@example.org), Yale Sports Publicity