Early in the first quarter of Saturday afternoon’s game against Princeton, Yale defensive back Brandon Benn notched his first interception of the season when he came down with a throw from Blake Stenstrom. Not only was it Stenstrom’s first pick since late September, it also ended a 13-play drive that seemed like it was going to result in a score.
It was plays like that... whether they were uncharacteristic on the Tigers’ part or simply well-executed on the Bulldogs’ part... that kept Yale in the game long enough to upend the Ivy League standings and knock Princeton from its lofty perch atop the conference. With only one week to go, Yale got the win it desperately needed.
Despite grabbing the momentum at home early from Benn’s takeaway, the Bulldogs gave it right back to the Tigers when quarterback Nolan Grooms was intercepted by linebacker Ozzie Nicholas to return the favor.
Princeton was unable to produce anything on their second drive, though. Running back Ryan Butler was stuffed on fourth down at midfield giving Grooms another chance as the second quarter began. This time Yale looked to their bread and butter; their rushing attack. Joshua Pitsenberger carried the ball seven times on the series; his last a one-yard run into the end zone to give the Bulldogs a 7-0 lead. It was just the second rushing score Princeton’s defense has allowed all year.
It only took five plays for the Tigers to respond. Michael Axelrood snagged a pass from Stenstrom on the sideline and turned on the jets to stay ahead of Yale’s defenders and bolt into the end zone. Now tied at 7 all, Princeton was starting to feel itself in the passing game it so often excels at.
That passing attack only heated up more later in the half when Stenstrom threaded a pass over the middle to Dylan Classi who went untouched over the goal line. Much to the dismay of the Yale faithful, what was once a touchdown lead had quickly turned into a 14-7 advantage for the Tigers at the break.
The second half got off to an inauspicious start for Princeton despite forcing an opening Yale punt. Their first drive only went backwards and they had to boot the ball right back. Grooms made the Tigers pay one play after their punt when he scampered 49 yards to set up the Bulldogs inside red zone. Grooms then hit Chase Nenad on a 14-yard dart to tie things back up.
An ill-timed fourth down fumble by the Tigers on the ensuing possession gave the ball back to the Bulldogs who got close enough for kicker Jack Bosman to give Yale the lead back. His 44-yard field goal sailed against the wind and between the uprights.
Princeton was going ice cold in by this point and another offensive drive stalled out. With the ball back once more, Grooms extended Yale’s lead late in the third period with a 19-yard touchdown run. When the fourth frame came around, the Bulldogs led 24-14.
The Tigers can seemingly score at will, though, and Stenstrom put that on full display early in the final quarter with an 80-yard drive that just took four snaps. Tight end Carson Bobo authored his first touchdown of the season when Stenstrom connected with him on a big 22-yard score with 10:42 to go. The PAT was blocked as Yale still led 24-20.
While the Tigers were working quickly, the Bulldogs were doing the opposite. Run play after run play chewed four more minutes off the clock but ultimately nothing came of the drive other than lost time.
With their backs against the wall, the Yale defense rose to the occasion and pushed Princeton backwards on two straight plays, eventually forcing a 4th and 20 with under four minutes to play. The Tigers felt compelled to go for it but Benn stepped in front of Stenstrom’s deep pass and came down with his second interception of the game.
Princeton drove inside Yale’s 30-yard line, but Yale sacked Stenstrom twice. Then this fourth-down interception by Brandon Benn—his second pick of the day—gave the Bulldogs the ball with 3:27 left.— Jake Klein (@kleiny42) November 12, 2022
24-20 Yale. @newftbj @kstone06 pic.twitter.com/HXbHLmEJjV
For as momentous as their stop was, the Bulldogs were tasked with doing it one final time after the offense couldn’t bleed out the rest of the time. On their last drive, Stenstrom completed two quick passes to get the ball to their own 40-yard line but again the Yale D forced a fourth down. This time Stenstrom converted to keep the game alive.
Princeton kept marching but the Bulldog defenders were doing an excellent job keeping the Tigers in bounds. It all culminated in one final play from the Yale 15-yard line. The failed extra point loomed large as the two teams lined up for the last snap. Stenstrom unloaded his throw into the end zone but it fluttered incomplete. The Bulldogs fans and players rejoiced.
Grooms finished his afternoon with 65 passing yards and a touchdown. On the ground, though, he led the way with 152 yards and another score. Pitsenberger rushed for 108 yards and a touchdown as well.
Stenstrom ended the day with 367 yards for three touchdowns. Standout receiver Andrei Iosivas, who has already accepted an invitation the annual Senior Bowl, was held relatively in check by the Bulldogs defense. He caught nine passes for 86 yards but did not find the end zone.
Princeton slips to 8-1 on the season and, at 5-1 against the Ivy League, now needs a victory next week against Penn to grab a portion of the Ivy League crown. There exists a long-shot scenario in which they can still grab a share of the title even with a loss pending on what happens with Yale’s game against Harvard.
The Bulldogs, which are now 5-1 in conference play, still has a hope for a share of the Ivy League title themselves but they’ll need a win next week against the Crimson.