NEW HAVEN, Conn. – The Lions may have had a roar, but the Bulldogs – especially on defense – had all the bites in a battle for first place in the Ivy League.
Yale’s defense, which had four sacks and two interceptions, held Columbia to 206 yards of offense and dealt the visitors their first loss of the season in a 23-6 decision at Yale Bowl. The program’s 900th victory helped the Elis grab a share of first place along with the Lions and Cornell.
The Bulldogs (6-1 overall) kept Columbia off the scoreboard for the first 44 minutes of the contest, while the Yale offense put up 13 first-quarter points.
Rookie running back Zane Dudek, who tied his and Yale’s season-high with 173 rushing yards, moved the chains on 10 of his 25 carries. He also led his team with four receptions for 45 yards in one of the most impressive performances ever by a Yale freshman back.
Dudek and senior Deshawn Salter had big runs to set up the first two Yale scores, both in the opening quarter. A pair of first-down carries by the rookie set up what Columbia thought would be a short field goal attempt. Instead, senior backup quarterback Andrew Johnson, the holder on placekicks, operated out of the unbalanced line, took two steps forward with the snap and then flipped a jump pass over the middle to senior tight end Jaeden Graham to give the Blue a 6-0 lead.
“They gave me the call, so I knew there was a chance of running the play,” said Johnson. “The situation called for it, and I tried to get the officials to hurry up and place the ball. I wanted to snap it quickly. I have a lot of trust in Jaeden [Graham] to make the catch. We needed Conor [Furey] to make the block on the defensive end and Jaeden made a great catch.”
On the ensuing Columbia possession, senior safety Hayden Carlson picked off an Anders Hill pass on the Yale 28 to set up the next touchdown. This time Salter had two big carries before sophomore quarterback Kurt Rawlings ran it in from the one-yard line. The Lions, who blocked a PAT and a field goal attempt, knocked down Alex Galland’s try to keep the score at 13-0.
Galland, who booted three of his five punts inside the visitor’s 20, did connect on a 37-yard field goal late in the third quarter to up the margin to 16. That three-pointer was made possible when Rawlings and senior receiver Christopher Williams-Lopez hooked up on a 40-yard pass play.
The Lions, who had come from behind to beat Princeton and Penn, got on the scoreboard late in the third but could not convert a two-pointer to make it a one-possession game. With hopes for another comeback, Columbia drove down the field early in the fourth. After two penalties called on Yale trying to defend passes, Hill fired a long pass down the right sideline that Eli rookie corner Deonte Henson picked out of the air with a diving play at the home 30.
“It starts with the older guys [on defense],” said Henson, talking about a pass interference call on him leading up to the pick. “They told me to keep my head up, don’t think about it, just brush it off. The motto we have is ‘one play warrior.’ I completely forgot about it [penalty]. I made a good play on the ball [interception], but it all starts up front. The D-line dominates every week, so I give all respect and credit to the D-line.”
The Bulldogs used that momentum to drive 70 yards on six plays, which included a number of highlight jukes and dashes by Dudek. The result was a nine-yard TD pass play to Michael Siragusa Jr. in the left side of the end zone. The senior receiver caught the pass while falling to the ground.
The Yale defense, which leads the nation in sacks, rushing yards allowed and red zone effectiveness, took over from there. Senior linebacker Matthew Oplinger, the nation’s leader in sacks per game, tackled Hill behind the line twice.
“It was a great football game against an exceptional opponent,” said Tony Reno, Yale’s Joel E. Smilow ’54 Head Coach. “I have a world of respect for Coach [Al] Bagnoli and his staff. They’ve done an incredible job with that team.”
Yale is the third team in Division I history to reach 900 wins. Only Michigan and Notre Dame have more… Matthew Oplinger now has 20 career sacks (4th at Yale) and 10 for the season (3rd)… Hayden Carlson made his 8th career interception… Jaeden Graham now has 3 TD catches this season… Yale hosts Brown next Friday night at 8 in a game airing live on NBCSN… Columbia head coach Al Bagnoli had this to say about the Elis: “They forced us into it not being our day. Very balanced in terms of offense and defense. This is a really good team we are playing on the road. Kudos to Yale.”
by Steve Conn, Yale Associate AD/Sports Publicity Director – firstname.lastname@example.org