A pair of second-quarter Yale kickoff returns for touchdowns proved to be the difference on Saturday, as the football team fell to the Bulldogs 27-24 at Brown Stadium.
Brown (4-4, 3-2 Ivy League) rallied back from the two deflating scores to tie the game in the second half, but a fourth quarter field goal put Yale (6-2, 4-1) on top for good. Bruno now sits in fourth place in the Ivy standings, and hopes for a league championship seem slim.
"It's one thing to give up a big run. It's another to have two big runs for touchdowns," said Head Coach Phil Estes. "It just really takes the wind out of your sail."
Brown saw mixed performances on both sides of the ball. On offense, quarterback Joe Springer '11 had a solid day, throwing for 269 yards and a touchdown. But Springer had only a 49 percent completion percentage and the Bears' inconsistent running attack amassed a mere 58 yards on the ground. The backfield was thin, as Mark Kachmer '13 left the game in the second quarter with a leg injury, leaving a banged-up Zach Tronti '11 (108 total yards) to handle all the rushing duties.
On defense, the Bears contained one of the Ivy League's most potent passing attacks, holding Yale quarterback Patrick Witt to 18-of-38 passing for 129 yards, no touchdowns and two interceptions. On the ground, however, Yale rushed for 159 yards, led by the 131 yards of running back Alex Thomas, who scored on a 21-yard run in the first quarter.
"We got beat by the run, and it's something we try to not have happen," Estes said. "I think the difference was Thomas and the run game, not so much Witt and the throwing arm."
Yale opened the scoring with a field goal. After a Brown three-and-out, Yale then began its second drive with good field position at the Brown 49-yard line. After converting a fourth-and-5 attempt, Thomas darted through the line and carried the ball along the left sideline into the end zone, putting Yale up 10-0 only eight minutes into the game.
Brown got on the board and cut the lead to 10-7 in the second quarter on a one-yard Kachmer run, his seventh score of the year. On the drive, the Bears went for it on fourth and 3, and Springer found Alex Tounkara '11 for a huge 33-yard gain to set up first and goal.
After the score, the game got a little wild. Yale kick returner Chris Smith took the kickoff back 79 yards for a touchdown, taking away all the Bears' momentum. Brown cut into the lead as Alex Norocea '14 hit a field goal on the next drive, only to see Smith take back the ensuing kickoff again for a touchdown, this one an 83-yard score.
"I have to give credit to my blockers," said Smith. "We have a really strong kickoff return unit, and we've been talking for weeks now about how we want to break one. Everyone locked up their blocks… and it felt good."
Brown responded again, though, and put itself back into the game before halftime. With 3:53 remaining in the half, Springer led the team 64 yards down the field before hitting Jimmy Saros '12 on a slant route over the middle for a 16-yard touchdown, cutting the Yale lead to 24-17 going into the half.
Bruno tied the game 24-24 with 5:36 remaining in the third quarter. After another big gain on fourth down — this time to Jonah Fay '12 — Tronti took a draw from the 15-yard line up the middle and into the end zone.
Neither team could generate much offensive momentum until Yale broke the tie with 9:30 left in the game. The Bulldogs moved the ball from their own 26-yard line, converting twice on third down, to set up a 36-yard field goal by Philippe Panico to regain the lead, 27-24.
Brown had two more chances to tie the game, but they were hindered by poor field position on both drives. Emory Polley's '14 knee touched the ground as he slipped while catching the ball at his own 7-yard line on the kickoff return, and Yale punter Greg Carlsen later pinned Bruno at its own 5-yard line on a perfectly executed punt. On both possessions, the Bears' punt team ended up on the field.
Yale got the ball back with 4:01 remaining in the game and ran out the clock with Thomas, who ripped off big chunks of yardage to seal the victory for the visiting side.
"I want to take my hat off to Coach Estes and this team," said Yale Head Coach Tom Williams. "They are tough, feisty and well-coached, and they fought very strongly today. It was a heck of a football game."
In the conference standings, Yale remains a game behind No. 19 Penn, who moved to 5-0 in league play after demolishing Princeton, 31-10. At 3-2, Brown now sits behind Penn, Yale and Harvard, and the team will need lots of help to gain a share of the Ivy title. Estes, though, refused to "talk doom and gloom" and said that the loss was not "the end of the world."
"We have to go back and see what we did well and what we need to improve on," Estes said. "We have to get ready to go up to Dartmouth and play a better football game."
The Bears will be in Hanover, N.H., next Saturday, and kickoff against the Big Green (5-3, 2-3) is set for 12:05 p.m.