NEW HAVEN, Conn. -- With Penn trailing by 10 and the clock at the Yale Bowl showing just under 2:40 left in the fourth quarter, Quakers cornerback Fred Plaza ran into Yale punter Eric Johnson, post-punt. It's ironic that Penn's hopes of an undefeated Ivy title season went up in smoke on a play when Johnson was, well, just standing there. Because Johnson -- a punter in the sense that Smokey Joe's is a restaurant -- terrorized the Quakers secondary on Saturday, hauling in a Penn opponent-record-tying 13 passes for 172 yards. The most prolific receiver in Elis history, Johnson accounted for both of Yale's offensive touchdowns, putting the home team ahead for good when he hauled in a 14-yarder from Peter Lee midway through the third quarter. The game wasn't truly over, though, until Plaza's momentum turned a Yale punt into a Yale first down. Instead of a Penn ball at its own 22 with two timeouts and two-and-a-half minutes to play, the Quakers regained possession at their own 14 with 1:26 left, no timeouts and no chance of scoring twice. Of course, Plaza -- a sophomore who came up with two sacks and had a couple of solid kick returns -- is not to be blamed for Penn's failure to assert itself as the top team in the Ivy League standings. On a day when neither team was at full-strength and neither was playing to its potential, Johnson and Yale came up with a few clutch plays, and the Quakers simply did not. After stalling on the opening drive and settling for a Jason Feinberg field goal, the Quakers offense shut down for the rest of the first quarter and Yale built a 14-3 lead on just four offensive plays. The Elis opened their first drive with a 57-yard bomb down the right side to Johnson, who broke Hasani White's tackle and sprinted to the 8-yard line. Three plays later, a well-covered Johnson made a diving catch in the end zone for Yale's first score. "We knew Othe wheel' had hurt them with past teams, running the out-and-up," Johnson said of Yale's first play, the longest reception of the season against Penn this year. "[But] I was pretty amazed when I turned back up field and was that wide open." Yale picked up its second score when Ryan Lazzeri suffered his first blocked punt of the season. After Hoffman fired three straight incomplete passes from the Penn 28, a stunned Lazzeri watched Elis freshman Steve Ehikian swat the ball away at the 20; senior special teams player Scott Wagner pounced on it in the end zone for the first touchdown -- not to mention touch of the ball -- of his career. Yale was cruising, and the impressive 35,000-plus crowd at the Yale Bowl erupted when news came over the PA early in the second quarter that Ivy undefeated Cornell -- the team that beat the Elis in the league-opener when All-Ivy kicker Matt Murawczyk's 32-yard field goal attempt sailed wide right as time expired -- was being hammered by Brown. It was the visiting Quakers, though, who rallied to the call, as Hoffman completed 8-of-10 passes for 109 yards, throwing for one touchdown and plunging in himself for another. Penn led 17-14 at the half, poised to clear some room atop the Ivy standings. But the Elis, knowing a loss would send them to 1-2 in league play and all but derail their hopes of repeating as Ivy champs, answered in the second half. None was bigger than the 6'3", 225-pond Johnson, who snared four passes on the opening drive of the third quarter, including a key third-down grab at the Penn 15 and his sixth touchdown of the season two plays later. "We knew he was very good," Penn coach Al Bagnoli said of Johnson, who set an Ivy record with 21 catches, including a fingertip grab of the winning touchdown in the waning seconds, against Harvard in The Game last season. "He presents match-up problems, not only in terms of his ability to run, but also his size, when he's being guarded by the prototypical corner who's 5'9", 180 pounds." Unlike Yale and Johnson, Penn accomplished little after the break. When the dust settled with 1:26 left and the Quakers down 10, Penn had accumulated just 11 yards of second-half offense. But it wasn't so much that Penn was offensively inept -- they just didn't have the ball. The Quakers defense fared OK late, keeping Yale out of the end zone and forcing them to settle for a field goal twice on trips inside the 10 in the fourth quarter. But the Elis milked the clock to perfection, eating up 19 minutes in their three scoring drives, while Penn responded with one first down. The final drive to make the game a respectable 27-24 was an impressive exhibition, as Penn moved the ball 86 yards in just over a minute. But it was just that -- an exhibition. The Yale fans had long since begun their post-game celebrations when Feinberg punctuated the afternoon with an extra point at the 0:00 mark. After the game, Johnson and his Yale teammates, knowing that Cornell lost -- and remembering that they themselves won nine straight after losing a season-opening heartbreaker to Brown last year -- were all smiles. Johnson kidded Lee about throwing "a little bit behind" him on the 57-yard completion. Then he joked about his one botched punt attempt of the day. "I was fed up with punting it badly, so I, uh, decided to drop the ball and run for the first down," Johnson said, describing the first-half play when he dropped the snap, then picked it up and scrambled 12 yards for a first down -- his first rush attempt of the season. So with a win in hand and his team suddenly looking the best of the bunch in a muddled Ivy race where five teams are currently tied for first, Johnson could laugh with ease about making the best of a momentary mental lapse. But the Penn Quakers, somber as they filed onto the bus for the ride home from New Haven, had little to smile about. They let a winnable game slip away, the clock expiring on hopes of an undefeated Ivy season.Comments powered by Disqus
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