Sophomore Scores on 83- and 79-yard Returns
PROVIDENCE, R.I. –Yale's special teams unit came up with its best game of the year just when the Bulldogs needed it most. Highlighted by two kickoff returns for touchdowns by sophomore wide receiver Chris Smith, the Bulldogs edged Brown 27-24 at Brown Stadium Saturday afternoon to remain in the hunt for the Ivy League title.
Smith's returns included an 83-yarder and a 79-yarder.
The Bulldogs also made all their kicks -- including a pair of 36-yard field goals by sophomore placekicker Philippe Panico, the second of which proved to be the game-winner.
"I have so much confidence when the line is blocking the way they are," Panico said. "The snaps are coming in perfectly, and [senior wide receiver] Jordan Forney is doing a great job holding."
Panico opened the scoring with a 36-yarder at 10:13 of the first. The Yale defense then stopped Brown deep in Bear territory, with senior defense end Tom McCarthy's rush disrupting a third-down pass and forcing a punt that got the offense started just 39 yards from the end zone.
Junior quarterback Patrick Witt converted a fourth-and-five from the Brown 34 with a seven-yard toss to Forney, and two plays later junior tailback Alex Thomas burst through a huge hole on the left side of the line and headed in for a 27-yard touchdown, crashing into a Brown defender just as he crossed the goal line.
"There was a huge hole," Thomas, who finished with 121 yards on 27 carries, said. "We came into this game expecting to be able to break tackles in the secondary and keep running. The offensive line came out and really opened up some holes."
Brown took advantage of its second interception of the day to get on the scoreboard at 6:38 of the second. The Bears got the ball at the Yale 49, and were able to overcome a seven-yard sack by senior outside linebacker John Pagliaro on first down. Brown got a 33-yard completion on fourth-and-three that got the ball to the Yale nine, and two plays later tailback Mark Kachmer took a direct snap in for a one-yard touchdown.
Yale responded on the kickoff, as Smith found a hole and then outraced the last remaining potential tackler en route to a 79-yard return for a touchdown that made it 17-7 Yale at 6:24 of the second.
A 52-yard catch-and-run by tailback Zach Tronti helped Brown drive for a 32-yard field goal by Alex Norocea on its next drive, but Smith once again had a huge hole to run through on the next kickoff. This one went for an 83-yard touchdown that made it 24-10.
The Bears kept the shootout going by scoring on their next drive, going 65 yards in seven plays for a touchdown. Quarterback Joe Springer rifled one to flanker Jimmy Saros in the end zone to pull the Bears back within a score.
The sarcastic cheers on the Brown sideline when Smith was finally tackled on the ensuing kickoff underscored the edge Yale's special teams had for the day. The Bulldogs added to it when a punt from freshman Greg Carlsen was downed by senior strong safety Adam Money at the Bears' two-yard line. The Bears then had to be content just to allow the clock to run out on the first half.
After the two teams combined for 31 points in a span of less than five minutes near the end of the first half, the second half turned into a defensive struggle. The Yale defense had allowed Brown 229 yards in the first half, but allowed only 99 in the second.
"We just felt they came out with a great scheme against us, and they obviously did their homework," said Haynes. "We had to make a few adjustments."
Brown drove 69 yards in eight plays to even the game at 24 in the third quarter, capitalizing on a scrambling fourth-and-five completion by Springer to wide receiver Jonah Fay that kept the drive alive. On the next play tailback Tronti took the ball in from 15 yards out.
The game then turned into a battle of punting and field position, and junior linebacker Nick Schneider helped shift that in Yale's favor with a 10-yard sack of Springer on a third-and-four. Yale took over at its own 26 after the ensuing punt, and drove far enough to have a couple cracks at the end zone. On a second down from the Brown 30 Bears defensive back Nick Leedy saved a touchdown by racing into the end zone to deflect a pass away from Forney. Four plays later Witt just missed connecting with a wide-open senior tight end Chris Blohm from the Brown 18, so Panico came on for a 36-yard field goal that gave Yale a 27-24 lead with 9:30 to play.
Special teams continued to haunt Brown on the kickoff, as the Bears return man stumbled and inadvertently downed the ball at the seven. The Yale defense then got a three-and-out, with sophomore defensive tackle Chris Dooley and junior linebacker Jordan Haynes denying a third-and-one run.
Carlsen pinned the Bears at their own five with another punt late in the fourth quarter, and they got no further than the 18 before punting the ball back to Yale with 4:01 to play. Thomas converted a crucial third-and-four at the Brown 44 with a burst up the middle. His next run (an eight-yarder) was just as impressive, as he kept pushing his way through a pile to tack on an extra few yards and remove a few more seconds from the clock. He then sealed the game with a run up the middle for another first down with just 1:58 to play. That was more than enough to enable the Bulldogs to kill the clock and bank their sixth win of the season -- five by five or fewer points.
"With four minutes left we knew we had to run the ball," Thomas said. "I can't say enough about how well the offensive line was blocking. [Senior fullback] Shane Bannon was doing his job too -- we ran 10 powers in a row and he blocked them all 100 percent."
The win keeps Yale (6-2, 4-1 Ivy League) in the thick of the chase for the Ivy League title and also damages the title hopes for Brown (4-4, 3-2 Ivy League). The Bulldogs are tied with Harvard, which beat Columbia Saturday afternoon, for second place behind Penn, which beat Princeton. The Quakers, who are 5-0 in the league, host Harvard next Saturday while Yale hosts Princeton.
Report by Sam Rubin '95 (firstname.lastname@example.org), Yale Sports Publicity