Coming off a last-minute loss to Penn that virtually took them out of Ivy League championship contention, the Bears rebounded in resounding fashion, defeating Yale 20-0 Saturday at Brown Stadium. The victory marks Bruno’s first shutout of the Bulldogs since 1949.
With freshman quarterback Eric Williams back in the starting lineup after sitting out last week’s Columbia matchup with an injury, the Bulldogs (2-6, 1-4 Ivy) may have been expecting a rejuvenated offensive attack. But the Bears (5-3, 2-3) came out with an electric defense, limiting Williams to four completions on 18 attempts for just 22 passing yards.
“Our defensive line did a good job of putting pressure on the quarterback and flushing him out of the pocket,” said Head Coach Phil Estes.
With Williams unable to gain any breathing room, the Bulldogs had to rely heavily on their high-powered running back duo of Tyler Varga and Mordecai Cargill. Together, they racked up an impressive 191 yards on 33 combined carries.
Estes called Varga “one of the scariest running backs in the league” but added that the Bears’ defense “did a great job of containing him” even given his 104 yards. Despite Yale’s strong showing on the ground, simply rushing the ball was not enough to put the Bulldogs on the scoreboard. One reason for that was cornerback and co-captain AJ Cruz ’13, who picked off two passes in the first half.
“We didn’t see too much of a threat on the pass but had to be smart in case they tried something overhead,” Cruz said.
A first-quarter fumble recovered by outside linebacker Ade Oyalowo ’14 added to the Bulldogs’ turnover woes. That fumble stopped a drive at the Bruno 32, and Yale would only get that far downfield once more the entire game.
Yale Head Coach Tony Reno said the “margin of error is so slight” in football that such turnovers typically cost the game. “We got on track in spurts but weren’t able to finish off drives,” Reno said.
The Bulldogs were also called for seven penalties, which set them back an additional 62 yards.
The Bears’ successful defensive effort was in large part due to the coaches, Cruz said, who “did a great job of preparing” the team.
Yale’s best chance for a score came on the first possession of the game. After a pair of good runs by Varga set up a 42-yard field goal attempt, Philippe Panico came up short on his only opportunity.
Though the Bears went three and out on their first drive, Cruz secured his first interception of the game on Yale’s next drive, spurring a dynamic 80-yard touchdown drive. A 23-yard reception by tailback Jeffrey Izon ’13 and a 24-yard run by quarterback Patrick Donnelly ’13 were the drive’s biggest plays, and a 3-yard pass to Cody Taulbee ’14 in the end zone capped off the drive.
Reno commended the Bears for playing a “heck of game” and capitalizing on plays in the red zone. Bruno managed to score a touchdown both times it got inside the 20, while the Bulldogs were unable to advance the ball that far into Bears territory. The next score came early in the second quarter on a 37-yard field goal from Alex Norocea ’14, putting the Bears up 10-0.
A short punt from deep inside Yale territory gave the Bears excellent field position early in the third, and though they were only able to advance the ball three yards, Norocea nailed a 46-yard field goal to extend the lead to 13-0.
The Bulldogs’ offense could not catch a break and failed to convert on all of their 10 third-down opportunities and both of their fourth-down attempts.
Donnelly was able to easily pick apart the defense on the Bears’ next drive, passing to wide receivers Tellef Lundevall ’13 and Jordan Evans ’14 for a combined 55 yards on two consecutive plays. The explosive series got Bruno into the end zone to push the lead to 20-0.
Especially in light of the injuries that have decimated the team’s running back corps, Estes said Donnelly has done a “tremendous job” this season. With Donnelly’s options limited, Estes said there has been “pressure on him to make a lot of plays.” Still, he added there was room for improvement, calling the team’s offense a “work in progress.”
“Can he get better?” Estes said, speaking about the team’s quarterback. “Absolutely. But he’s done a good job and will only get better.”
The Bears, now tied for fifth in the Ivy standings, prepare for their last road trip of the season when they travel to Dartmouth for another conference battle next Saturday. They will return to Brown Stadium for their final game of the season Nov. 17 against Columbia.