Varga Runs for 220 Yards Playing Quarterback
NEW YORK – The Yale football team, playing with sophomore tailback Tyler Varga filling in as quarterback with the top three signal-callers all out due to injury, came within 45 seconds of finding a way to win at Columbia. But ultimately, the Lions were able to overcome an outstanding effort by Varga in his new role -- he ran for 220 yards and three touchdowns -- and beat the Elis 26-22 on a last-minute touchdown pass.
Yale (2-5, 1-3 Ivy League) was coming off a win over Penn that proved costly in terms of injuries. Freshman quarterback Eric Williams, who had started the first six games, was injured early in that game. The Bulldogs won with senior Derek Russell and freshman Logan Scott filling in, but injuries sidelined those two as well. That left Varga as the best option, as he had played some quarterback in high school and had already established himself as a key part of the offense, averaging 103 rushing yards per game.
"No team expects what happened [losing three quarterbacks]," said Varga. "But Coach [Tony] Reno [Yale's Joel E. Smilow '54 Head Coach of Football] has been harping on it all year, telling us to expect the unexpected. What happened, happened. You've just got to keep moving forward."
The scoring started slowly. Columbia (2-5, 1-3 Ivy League) drove to the Yale 11 on its opening drive before pressure forced quarterback Sean Brackett into an incompletion on third down. The Lions settled for a 28-yard field goal by Luke Eddy.
Varga came out as Yale's starting quarterback shortly after returning the kickoff. While that drive was unsuccessful, the Bulldogs began clicking with him at the helm in the second quarter. Varga's first and only completed pass came early in the second quarter, when he raced to his left before tossing the ball forward to senior tailback Mordecai Cargill, who took off for an 18-yard gain with a 15-yard Columbia penalty tacked on at the end. Two plays later, Varga kept the ball for himself and raced into the end zone for a 28-yard touchdown. That capped a 94-yard drive that took just seven plays and 2:35 to put Yale up 7-3.
The Bulldogs gave up two points later in the quarter when Varga was tackled in the end zone for a safety after he could not handle a snap deep in Yale territory.
Meanwhile, the Yale defense continued to keep the pressure on Columbia. Sacks by senior defensive end Dylan Drake and junior defensive end Beau Palin on consecutive drives in the second quarter helped keep the Lions offense from getting any closer than the Yale 39.
A Yale fumble enabled Columbia to start a drive that got to the Yale one-yard line late in the first half. But the Bulldogs stuffed a fourth-and-one run from there, with Palin and senior cornerback Kurt Stottlemyer making the play. Stottlemyer also picked off a last-second heave by Brackett on the final play of the first half, keeping Yale's 7-5 lead intact at the break.
The Bulldogs fumbled on the opening play of the third quarter, setting Columbia up at the Yale 32. But Drake stopped a pair of runs from there, and after an incompletion Columbia was facing fourth-and-four from the Eli 26. A pass attempt from there fell incomplete, getting the Yale offense right back on the field.
Varga then engineered another touchdown drive, running for 52 yards on seven carries -- including a three-yard dash up the middle into the end zone at 8:33 of the third. One of his best plays was not even a run -- while trapped behind the line of scrimmage and in danger of getting sacked, he stayed on his feet long enough to throw the ball away for an incompletion to avoid a loss of about 10 yards.
Columbia answered with its first touchdown drive of the day, with Brackett tossing a four-yarder into the end zone for wide receiver Jake Wanamaker to cap a 14-play, 75-yard drive with 1:51 left in the third.
A 30-yard punt return set the Columbia offense up at the Yale 48 late in the third, but the Bulldogs' third sack of the day (by Palin and senior defensive tackle Nick Daffin) quickly knocked the Lions off schedule. But Columbia converted a pair of third downs to get to the Yale two for a first-and-goal. Brackett scored on a keeper from a yard out to put Columbia up 19-14 with 11:38 to play.
The Columbia defense still had no answer for Varga, though. On the next drive he ran for 71 yards, with his only blemish being an incompletion on his fourth pass attempt of the day. He more than made up for that by cutting a run back to the left sideline on second-and-10 from the Lion 25, outracing the defense to get the ball in for a touchdown at the near pylon. The Bulldogs got the two-point conversion with Cargill running the ball up the middle to put Yale up 22-19 with 7:30 to play.
Senior placekicker Philippe Panico had to make a touchdown-saving tackle on the ensuing kickoff, and the Lions started at the Yale 44. A tackle for loss by Drake helped force Columbia to try a 41-yard field goal that went wide left.
Yale took over at its own 24 looking to run out the clock with 5:37 to play, and the Bulldogs appeared on pace to do so until disaster struck. Varga followed a block by Cargill to get a crucial third-down conversion in the final minutes, but two plays later a fumble gave the ball back to the Lions. They then drove 59 yards for the go-ahead touchdown, a pass from Brackett to tailback Marcorus Garrett from two yards out to make the score 26-22 Columbia with 45 seconds to play.
The final score overshadowed Varga's big day, as no quarterback in Yale history had ever run for more yards in a game (the previous rushing record for a quarterback was 204 by Nick Crawford '92 in 1991 vs. Penn). Overall, Varga's effort ranked sixth all-time at Yale, 56 yards away from the record set by Mike McLeod '08 in 2007 vs. Lehigh.
"It's fun to play under pressure, in my opinion," Varga said. "But I don't really like losing, to be honest with you."
Yale travels to Brown next Saturday.
Report by Sam Rubin '95 (firstname.lastname@example.org), Yale Sports Publicity