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Resilient Bulldogs Pull Out 27-13 Win over Penn

Brian Leffler. (photo by Jack Warhola)
Brian Leffler. (photo by Jack Warhola)

Russell, Scott Lead Offense After Williams Injured

NEW HAVEN, Conn. – Battling through the loss of freshman starting quarterback Eric Williams, the Yale football team nabbed its first Ivy League win of the season Saturday afternoon at the Yale Bowl, Class of 1954 Field, beating Penn 27-13. With Williams knocked out of the game on the second drive, senior Derek Russell and freshman Logan Scott both saw time at quarterback and moved the ball effectively, tossing one touchdown pass each. The Bulldogs also ran for 203 yards, including 96 on 26 carries by sophomore tailback Tyler Varga, en route to a season high in points.  The Yale defense limited Penn to a 6-for-16 performance on third downs, and got a key interception from senior linebacker Brian Leffler.

Williams had been developing into one of the team's leaders despite his youth, throwing for 200 or more yards three times in the first five games. But once he left the game after a hard hit on an incomplete pass, the Bulldogs utilized both Russell -- a former quarterback who had converted to wide receiver -- and Scott to great effectiveness.

Russell had been taking some reps at quarterback in practice, and in his role as holder on special teams had thrown a touchdown pass earlier this year on a fake.

"We practice in a way that makes us prepare for anything," Russell said. "I take most of my reps at wide receiver, but also get some work in at quarterback to make sure that if anything like this were to happen, I'm ready."

Penn (2-4, 2-1 Ivy League) took a 7-0 lead on a three-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Andrew Holland to running back Lyle Marsh with 5:52 left in the second quarter. But by then the Bulldogs had already shown an ability to move the ball on offense; right before the Quaker touchdown Yale had driven 80 yards in 14 plays only to have the drive end with a fumble at the Penn 11. Yale's defense had also come up with an early stand, as one Quaker drive ended at the Yale three with a missed field goal.

"We had plenty of early opportunities, and when we didn't convert those we allowed them to hang around and stay in the ballgame," said Penn head coach Al Bagnoli.

Yale (2-4, 1-2 Ivy League) had only two possessions in the second quarter, but made both of them count. One ended with a 43-yard field goal from senior placekicker Philippe Panico. The other, which started just 86 seconds before halftime, saw Scott complete five of eight passes to help the team drive 59 yards for a score. The final completion of that drive was a four-yard touchdown to junior wide receiver Henry Furman with 18 seconds left in the half. It was the first career touchdown catch for Furman, also a former quarterback.

So despite the dramatic turn of events early on, the Bulldogs had a 10-7 lead at halftime.

"Our mentality is 'The Next Man In'," said Reno. "Our expectation is the next man in will be ready to play."

The Bulldogs got a boost from the defense midway through the third quarter when Leffler delivered Yale's first interception since the first game. After returning the pick 47 yards, he set the Bulldogs up at the Penn four. On the very next play Russell hit junior tight end Elijah Thomas for Thomas' first career touchdown, extending Yale's lead to 17-7.

Penn answered with a 34-yard field goal by Connor Loftus, but on Yale's next drive a roughing the punter call on the Quakers gave the Bulldogs a second chance. They eventually got the lead back to 10 on a 42-yard field goal by Panico with 1:22 remaining in the third.

Yale's defense continued to make plays when needed on the next Penn drive. The Quakers nearly had a 17-yard touchdown to wide receiver Connor Scott, but a hard hit by freshman defensive back Cole Champion forced him to drop the ball for an incompletion at the goal line. Penn settled for a 27-yard field goal by Loftus to get back within seven with 13:14 to play.

The Bulldogs got a pair of third-down conversion passes from Russell -- one to junior wide receiver Cameron Sandquist and one to senior tailback Mordecai Cargill -- as they began putting the game away on their next drive. Russell capped it with an option run left, diving into the end zone to put Yale up 27-13 with 8:01 to play. He finished with 61 yards rushing in addition to his 94 yards passing.

The Quakers' hopes were all but extinguished when their next drive ended at the Penn 30. After a bad snap, junior defensive end Beau Palin sacked Holland for a 10-yard loss on fourth down. Penn's final two drives got no closer than the Quaker 36, and the Bulldogs wound up celebrating their first win over the Quakers since 2007. This was also just the second time this season Penn had been held to 13 or fewer points.

"Our guys grind and they work hard," said Tony Reno, Yale's Joel E. Smilow '54 Head Coach of Football. "To say I'm proud of them is an understatement."

Yale returns to action next Saturday at Columbia at 12:30 p.m.

Audio Highlights from 960 WELI, Ron Vaccaro '04 and Carm Cozza (Chris Denny-Brown '07 guest analyst):

Report by Sam Rubin '95 (, Yale Sports Publicity

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