Bulldogs Stay in Title Hunt with 14-13 Win Over Princeton

Geoff Dunham. (photo by Kevin McCarthy)
Geoff Dunham. (photo by Kevin McCarthy)

Defense Limits Tigers to 50 Yards in Second Half

NEW HAVEN, Conn. – Only two teams remain in contention for the Ivy League title after Saturday's games, and the Yale Bulldogs are one of them thanks to a 14-13 win over Princeton at the Yale Bowl, Class of 1954 Field. Yale got a 57-yard fumble return for a touchdown by junior free safety Geoff Dunham and a 16-yard touchdown pass from junior quarterback Patrick Witt to senior tight end Chris Blohm to back a defense that shut down Princeton's offense for the final 32 minutes, allowing the Tigers only 64 yards on their final eight possessions as they tried to mount a comeback.

The win was a fitting way to send off Yale's seniors in their final home game, keeping them in contention for an Ivy League title.

"We wanted to give everything we had for our seniors," said wide receiver Gio Christodoulou, whose five punt returns for 90 yards helped provide the Bulldogs with a spark. "It has been their leadership that we have followed to this point."

That leadership has helped the Bulldogs produce six wins by five or fewer points this season, and when it came time to seal Saturday's game they were ready. The back-breaker for Princeton (1-8, 0-6 Ivy League) was a third-and-six scramble by junior quarterback Patrick Witt that enabled him to find senior wide receiver Jordan Forney for a first down with just 1:42 to go, enabling Yale to run out the clock. Princeton had crept within one point with more than 22 minutes left in the game -- but after that the Tigers had four drives with a chance to take the lead and came up empty on all of them.

"Guys feed off each other, and we know how to win these games," said Witt. "I think that's the most important thing. There's no panic on the sideline … there's a lot of confidence."

Witt's play came as he was under heavy pressure from a Princeton defense that had already produced five sacks -- Yale (7-2, 5-1 Ivy League) had allowed only seven sacks in the eight previous games combined.

"Obviously we didn't plan it to be a rollout," Witt said. "I was looking to get something underneath. By the time I saw Jordan was covered I had the guy right in my face. I managed to get out of it. It was a critical play, and the guys just executed. The team is unbelievable, the way we've pulled out games."

Despite Princeton's winless record in league games entering the day, the Elis knew their ancient rival would be looking for an upset. The Tigers' no-huddle offense appeared to have the Bulldogs on their heels on the second Princeton drive of the day, reeling off five straight runs for a total of 23 yards. But at the end of the fifth Dunham emerged from a pack of players with a fumble forced by junior linebacker Jordan Haynes and then headed down the left sideline for a 57-yard touchdown return. Sophomore placekicker Philippe Panico's extra point made it 7-0 Yale at 10:24 of the first.

"It was a simple run play," Dunham said. "They handed it off, the back went up the middle … Haynes popped the ball out, and it was bouncing on the ground for a couple seconds. There was a void, and I ran up and grabbed it, then swept around the left side. [Senior strong safety] Adam Money had a block that sprung me and I just took it all the way."

Yale once again foiled a Princeton threat with a turnover at the start of the second quarter. The Tigers drove from their own 19 to the Yale three, after a tackle by senior outside linebacker Jesse Reising stopped a first-down run. Haynes then snared Tiger quarterback Andrew Dixon's pass in the end zone to keep Princeton off the scoreboard.

The Tigers were able to respond to the turnover by picking up a Yale fumble at the Bulldog 23. The Bulldog defense did not allow a first down, with Dixon pressured by senior defensive end Sean Williams into an incompletion on third down. Patrick Jacob came on to kick a 33-yard field goal to make the score 7-3 Yale at 7:32 of the second.

A spectacular diving catch by wide receiver Trey Peacock gave Princeton a 28-yard touchdown late in the second quarter, but the Bulldog offense needed just four plays to respond. A 33-yard pass from Witt to Forney started the drive. Witt's short toss to Blohm then turned into a 16-yard touchdown thanks in large part to senior left tackle Alex Golubiewski blocking the only defender within 10 yards of Blohm.

Princeton closed within 14-13 on a 35-yard field goal by Jacob at 7:34 of the third quarter. The Tigers had four drives after that, but all of them ended in punts. After racking up 272 yards of offense in the first half, the Tigers got only 50 in the second half.

The final Princeton punt gave the Yale offense the ball at its own 13 with 3:25 to play, and from there the rushing of junior tailback Alex Thomas (five carries for 32 yards on that drive, 15 carries for 77 yards on the day) combined with the crucial Witt-to-Forney connection clinched the win.

"That's something we've done the last few weeks -- the four-minute drill, just run the clock down," Thomas said. "When the game is on the line, we just come together and do what we need to do."

Saturday's win moves Yale to 5-1 in the Ivy League, one game behind first-place Penn. The Quakers' 34-14 win over Harvard in Philadelphia dropped the Crimson out of title contention, and Penn could claim sole possession of the title with a win at Cornell next weekend. Still, the Bulldogs make the trip to Harvard for The Game next Saturday knowing that an Ivy League title is still within their reach with a victory.

Report by Sam Rubin '95 (sam.rubin@yale.edu), Yale Sports Publicity