Bulldogs clinch share of Ivy League title
Yale rallies past Princeton to earn first title since 2006
PRINCETON, N.J. — They lit a handful of victory cigars on the field at Princeton Stadium not long after the final seconds on the clock expired Saturday. When you’ve waited 11 years for an Ivy League championship, the longest drought in program history, a few puffs of a celebratory stogie are in order.
The fact is that Yale, a year after losing seven of 10 games, pushed itself hard toward this end, the school’s 15th Ivy League title. And the Bulldogs worked tirelessly just to pull out this game, a 35-31 slugfest over Princeton, in which Yale trailed by 17 points late in the second quarter.
But when senior linebacker Foye Oluokun intercepted Princeton quarterback Chad Kanoff’s pass on fourth down with 1 minute, seven seconds left and the Tigers’ lethal offense driving, Yale had clinched at least a share of first place for the first time since 2006.
“That’s when it kicked in and I started crying on the sideline a little bit,” Oluokun said. “We didn’t know what to expect this year. We came a long way from being 3-7 last season. All we did was work and work and work. We’re happy now, but we have
one more game and want to cap it off with a win.”
The season finale comes next Saturday against Harvard at the Yale Bowl. The Bulldogs (8-1, 5-1) could claim their first outright Ivy title since 1980.
It’s an opportunity that’s there only because Yale found a way to regroup after teetering on the brink of disaster against Princeton (5-4, 2-4).
Kanoff threw for a school-record 454 yards and four touchdowns. Three came in the first half, when the senior continually beat Yale’s secondary with the deep ball.
Jesper Horstead caught an 88-yard touchdown pass in the first quarter. Stephen Carlson caught one from 18 yards out before Tiger Bech, in what appeared to be the knockout blow, hauled in a 58-yarder with 1:51 left in the half.
Two huge plays helped turned the tide for Yale.
The first came just 29 seconds after Bech’s touchdown catch gave Princeton a 24-7 lead. Kurt Rawlings threw a perfect pass and hit tight end Jaeden Graham in stride for a 58-yard touchdown, cutting the deficit to 10 points at halftime.
The next occurred on the second play from scrimmage in the second half. Princeton running back Collin Eaddy was hit by defensive end Earl Chism, fumbling the ball. Spencer Matthaei recovered on the Tigers’ 35.
Four plays later, Zane Dudek, Yale’s brilliant freshman running back who had 35 carries for 180 yards and three touchdowns, scored on a 33-yard run to make the score 24-21.
“We created an extra possession with the fumble,” Yale coach Tony Reno said. “At the end of the day, that was a huge turning point in the game.”
Things got wild from there. Yale scored again, on a 1-yard run by Dudek, to take its first lead of the game, 28-24, with 3:58 to play in the third quarter. Another touchdown pass by Kanoff briefly regained the lead for the Tigers at 31-28. Yale promptly marched downfield and scored again, a 4-yard run by Dudek, to make the score 35-31.
The Bulldogs, who’d struggled to contain the Princeton passing attack all game, made a pair of huge defensive stops to thwart potential go-ahead drives in the fourth quarter.
Hayden Carlson broke up a pass on 4th-and-3 from the Yale 31 to get his team the ball back. A time-consuming Yale drive ended when Alex Galland missed a 41-yard field goal attempt with 2:20 remaining.
Kanoff’s 31-yard completion put the ball in Yale terrirory. But on 4th-and-8, linebacker Matt Oplinger pressured Kanoff into a hurried throw, which was picked off by Oluokun to preserve victory.
“It’s the best feeling in sports I’ve ever had,” Dudek said. “I’m still speechless. It’s been a long season, and we do this all together. So to win it for the guys beside me, that’s the best feeling. To be able to send (injured senior running back) Deshawn Salter out with a championship ring, to send (captain) Spencer Rymiszewski out the way he’s supposed to be sent out. That’s what we do it for, and that’s a great feeling.”
For now, Yale — which, until this drought, had never gone longer than 10 years without winning the Ivy League — will bask in the afterglow of this longawaited championship. Though it will be shortlived. Title or no title, losing to Harvard would be a blemish on the season.
“We have a 24-hour rule around here,” Reno said. “Good, bad, we say enjoy it for 24 hours. A little less for the coaches. By the time we get in tomorrow, we start talking about adjustments and get on to game No. 10.”
Yale’s Ross Drwal runs away from the defense on a touchdown reception against Princeton on Saturday. Courtesy of Yale Athletics
Members of the Yale football team celebrate after beating Princeton to clinch a share of the Ivy League championship.