PRINCETON, N.J. – A few big plays helped Princeton get an early lead on the Yale football team Saturday afternoon at Princeton Stadium, and the Tigers never looked back from there. Princeton scored three times in the first quarter, all on plays of 23 yards or more, en route to earning a 59-23 win over the Bulldogs. With the win, Princeton remained unbeaten in the Ivy League and clinched at least a share of the league title.
This is Princeton's first Ivy title since 2006, when the Tigers shared the crown with Yale. Harvard, which comes to New Haven next Saturday, is one game back in the standings with one game to play and could earn a share of the crown.
The halftime stats showed Yale with a 273-241 edge in total offense, but the Bulldogs nonetheless trailed by 15. That was an ominous sign on a day where a handful of plays made a major difference in the final score. By the end of the game Princeton had outgained Yale 507-336.
"I definitely thought it was closer than the 36-point final score," said Tony Reno, Yale's Joel E. Smilow '54 Head Coach of Football. "You've got to give credit to Princeton. They are a very good football team. They have proven that week-in and week-out. We left a lot of plays out there, and you can't do that versus a really good team."
Yale (5-4, 3-3 Ivy League) gained a gradual edge in field position as a series of punts started the game, including one by junior punter/placekicker Kyle Cazzetta that pinned the Tigers at their own seven. Princeton got just five yards on that drive before punting, setting the Bulldogs up at the Yale 49. On the second play of that drive, under heavy pressure, sophomore quarterback Logan Scott tossed the ball to freshman tailback Candler Rich for what initially appeared to be a short gain. But Rich followed his blockers and then got to the left sideline, where he outran the last Tiger defender with just enough room to dive into the end zone and touch the near pylon for a 48-yard touchdown. The Bulldogs went for two and were denied, but led 6-0 at the 9:04 mark.
Princeton (8-1, 6-0 Ivy League) answered with a big play of its own. Running back Dre Nelson's 42-yard touchdown run capped a five-play, 58-yard drive that took just 92 seconds. The extra point by Nolan Bieck gave the Tigers a 7-6 lead.
Princeton's next drive also ate up yardage quickly, including a series of three straight plays that went for seven or more yards that got the ball to the Yale 23. From there, quarterback Quinn Epperly tossed one up for wide receiver Connor Kelley in the end zone. Despite a pass interference call on the Bulldogs, Kelley still made the catch for the touchdown and a 14-6 lead.
The Bulldogs rallied with a 75-yard drive that was highlighted by two big plays from junior wide receiver Deon Randall: one an 18-yard run, the other a 23-yard reception on a pass from Scott. The final play of the drive was the first career touchdown catch for sophomore quarterback Morgan Roberts, who nabbed a 13-yard pass in the end zone. Cazzetta's extra point pulled Yale within one.
An onside kick on the next play went awry for Yale, as Princeton cornerback Jakobi Johnson grabbed the ball at the Bulldog 46 and took off untouched into the end zone to extend Princeton's lead to 21-13.
The scoring continued at a rapid pace as the second quarter began. The Tigers drove 72 yards to go ahead 28-13 on a 13-yard pass from Epperly to running back Di Andre Atwater at 11:59. Princeton got a first down deep in Yale territory on a pass interference call against the Bulldogs on a third-and-nine play from the Yale 27 during that drive.
Yale drove to the Princeton 21 late in the second quarter, but a great play by Princeton defensive back John Hill broke up a pass from Scott to Roberts that would have been a touchdown. The Bulldogs settled for a 39-yard field goal from Cazzetta to pull within 28-16 with 4:56 left in the half.
The Bulldogs had a chance to trim the lead further shortly before halftime, but after a long throw by Scott from the Princeton 30 fell incomplete the Bulldogs fumbled on the next play and Princeton recovered. A third-down pass breakup by freshman defensive back Robert Ries forced a Princeton punt on that drive, but the Tigers got the ball back again in the waning moments of the half. Yale caught a tough break when a blocked field goal by senior defensive lineman Dylan Drake was negated by a timeout that had been called just before the snap, and the Tigers took advantage to get a 21-yard field goal by Nolan Bieck as time expired in the half.
Princeton drove 71 yards to go ahead 38-16 on the first possession of the third quarter, with Epperly running the ball in from four yards out for the touchdown. The second play of Yale's next drive provided another tough break, as Scott's pass was partially deflected and wound up going right to Princeton defensive back Phillip Bhaya, who took off untouched for a 34-yard interception return for a touchdown.
The Tigers scored on their next offensive possession, driving 84 yards and finishing with a 24-yard pass from Epperly to wide receiver Roman Wilson. That put them up 52-16 with 4:47 left in the third.
A 29-yard kickoff return by Rich, followed by a five-yard penalty on Princeton, set the Yale offense up at the Princeton 43. A third-down conversion run by junior tailback Kahlil Keys kept the drive going, and Scott ended the drive in dramatic fashion with a touchdown pass thrown under heavy pressure. Randall grabbed the ball in the end zone with 1:03 left in the third to make the score 52-23.
Princeton answered with a 20-yard touchdown run by Nelson on the first drive of the fourth quarter to make the final 59-23.
"We started off playing well defensively," said Reno, as his team limited Epperly to just six completions on 12 attempts in the first quarter. "We were very concerned about getting a high enough point total. We knew we needed to score some points. The defense did a nice job early on, but as the game wore on our inexperience started to show."
Yale once again played without three offensive starters, with senior quarterback Henry Furman, senior wide receiver Chris Smith and junior tailback Tyler Varga all sidelined. Randall finished with a game-high 13 catches for 127 yards and a touchdown. He also ran the ball three times for 28 yards. Scott, making his first career start, finished 22-of-39 for 240 yards and three touchdowns.
Yale hosts Harvard at Noon next Saturday.
Report by Sam Rubin '95 (firstname.lastname@example.org), Yale Sports Publicity