Yale’s football team has won or shared the Ivy title 15 times since the League’s formation in 1956, but they’ve suffered a championship drought for 37 long years. The Bulldogs ended their dry spell on Saturday, November 18, by beating arch rival Harvard 24-3 in the 2017 edition of The Game. Yale secured their program’s first unshared Ivy League championship since 1980.
It was the first time that Yale (9-1, 6-1 Ivy) had beaten Harvard (5-5, 3-4 Ivy) at the Yale Bowl since 1999. It also marked the first time that the Bulldogs had won two straight in the Harvard-Yale series since winning three in a row from 1998-2000.
Yale’s only loss this year was by one point, 28 – 27, to Dartmouth’s Big Green gridders on October 7 in Hanover, New Hampshire. However, Yale prevailed in away games over both of last year’s co-champions, Penn, their long-time rivals, by 24 – 19 on October 21, and Princeton, 35 – 31 on November 11.
In the season’s final game, Bulldog QB Kurt Rawlings threw for 177 yards and a touchdown. Melvin Rouse and Zane Dudek combined for 106 yards on the ground and another TD. But it was Yale’s defense that dominated the afternoon. The Bulldogs held the Crimson scoreless after a 29-yard field goal on their opening possession and held their offense to just 164 total yards in the game. Yale defenders sacked freshman QB Jake Smith six times and forced four turnovers.
Rawlings and receiver J.P. Shohfi put up Yale’s first points in the second quarter, connecting on a 46-yard pass and then following up three plays later with a 9-yard completion to the left corner of the end zone. Yale soon increased their lead when Harvard’s Smith blew an option play and fumbled a hasty pitch. Linebacker Malcolm Dixon scooped up the ball and ran it in 19 yards for a touchdown. On the last play of the first half, another errant pitch by Smith set up a Yale 25-yard field goal, giving the Bulldogs a 17-3 lead at the half.
Dudek’s 2-yard scoring run in the fourth quarter capped an eight-play 81-yard drive that put the game out of reach. Dudek’s 64 yards rushing were well below his season average of 119 per game. The Yale freshman finishes the year with 1,133 yards on just 159 carries, an average of more than 7 yards per carry.
Other football conferences lack parity and are dominated by one or two strong teams from the start of the season, which detracts from fan interest. However, this cannot be said of the Ivy League. On November 10, with only two games left in the season, it was still possible that the Ivy League would end the 2017 season in a 7-way tie for first place. Obviously, all games would have needed to go a certain way. Yale needed to lose its last two games to fall to 4-3. Harvard, Columbia, Dartmouth, and Cornell had to go 1-1, moving them to 4-3, and Penn and Princeton needed to win both of their last two games, raising them to 4-3.
The 2017 season didn’t end in a 7-way tie (the Wall Street Journal estimated the odds against at 200 to 1), but the fact that it was even mathematically possible that late in the season makes the Ivy League a rarity in Division I-AA football, and a long thrilling ride for its fans.
The Ivy League does not participate in college football’s Division I-AA Football Championship Subdivision (FCS) playoffs, so the Ivy gridiron season ended on November 18.
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