Sept. 16, 2006
NEW HAVEN, Conn. - A San Diego team riding a 10-game winning streak proved to be too much for Yale in the Bulldogs' season opener Saturday afternoon at the Yale Bowl, Class of 1954 Field. Toreros quarterback Josh Johnson threw for 345 yards and four touchdowns, adding 70 yards and a touchdown on the ground, as San Diego won 43-17.
"I'd put him with [Ryan] Fitzpatrick," said Jack Siedlecki, Yale's Joel E. Smilow '54 Head Coach of Football, comparing Johnson to the former Harvard quarterback who is now in the NFL. "He's probably even a better athlete and faster. The thing that was frustrating is he laterally ran around us. That was a big factor."
Johnson and the Toreros (3-0) took advantage of a fumble by sophomore tailback Mike McLeod on Yale's opening drive that gave San Diego the ball at its own 40. Nine plays later, Johnson connected with Doyle in the end zone for the first of his touchdowns.
Junior quarterback Matt Polhemus, making his first collegiate start, was kept under wraps early as eight of Yale's first nine plays were runs by McLeod. On the Bulldogs' third drive, Polhemus showed some of his potential by rolling right and tossing a 12-yarder to senior wide receiver Ashley Wright, then rolling left and taking off for 12 yards.
"We were trying to ease into the game plan a little bit, with Matt being a first-year starter at quarterback," said Siedlecki.
That Yale drive fizzled out, however, and Johnson showed his elusiveness in spectacular fashion on the next San Diego possession. He evaded a half-dozen would-be Bulldog tacklers, diving into the end zone to cap a 46-yard jaunt. Hutch Parker missed the extra point, but the Toreros were up 13-0 and seemingly had the Bulldogs back on their heels because of the run/pass threat Johnson posed.
"We just didn't do the little things well," said junior defensive lineman Brandt Hollander. "A lot of little things snowballed on us."
Yale's special teams responded immediately to Johnson's big play, however. Sophomore kick returner Steven Santoro - who had drilled San Diego punt returner Ryan Ecker right after he caught the ball for another huge special teams play in the first quarter - made his first collegiate kickoff count. After his initial burst through the line, Santoro guided his last blocker through a crowd of Toreros and cut over to the sideline, where he somehow maintained his balance for the final 10 yards on his way into the end zone. The 94-yard return was the longest for Yale since David Knox' 96-yard dash in 2002.
"He kicked it really deep," Santoro said. "I just tried to do what I could with it. [Senior wide receiver] Jordan Spence picked up two or three guys for me."
While the Yale Bowl crowd of 12,308 was energized by Santoro's heroics, San Diego remained composed. Johnson engineered a 12-play, 72-yard drive that featured four crucial third-down conversions. One was a seven-yarder that Johnson got with a 14-yard scramble, one was a 12-yarder that Johnson got with a 28-yard pass to Doyle and one was a one-yarder that Johnson got by scrambling to buy time for a nine-yard pass to Taber LeMarr on the sideline. The last conversion was a one-yard dive for a touchdown by tailback JT Rogan with 5:13 left in the half.
"We're not scared of third downs," Johnson said matter-of-factly. "Our offense is designed to get positive yardage on every play."
The Yale offense got the ball back and was able to work in senior wide receiver Chandler Henley for his first catch since the 2004 season (Henley, the team captain, missed last year with a broken collarbone). But the Eli drive stalled at the Yale 33, and a short punt gave San Diego the opportunity to drive 37 yards for a 27-yard field goal by Parker with only 40 seconds left.
That was still enough time for Yale (0-1) to get another boost from its special teams. Polhemus' 24-yard completion to Henley and a 17-yard scramble got the ball to the 31-yard line with 5.2 seconds left. From there junior place-kicker Alan Kimball drilled the ball through the uprights, a 48-yarder that got Yale within 13.
Any momentum Yale might have gained for the score right before halftime was negated 1:34 into the third quarter when Johnson found Doyle behind the Yale defense for a 57-yard touchdown. The Toreros' try for two was incomplete, but the lead was at 19 points.
The Bulldogs answered with a big pass play of their own. Polhemus lofted one down the right sideline for Wright, who made the catch despite pass interference by defensive back Josh Brisco and took off for a 43-yard touchdown. Kimball's kick pulled Yale within 12.
The Yale defense, which was on the field for nearly two-thirds of the first half, needed to make a stand as San Diego drove deep into Yale territory. The Bulldogs did just that as junior defensive tackle Jared Hamilton broke through the line to stop Rogan for a one-yard loss on fourth-and-one at the Yale 24.
A two-yard third-down conversion run by McLeod was the lone highlight of Yale's next drive, however, and San Diego took advantage of the chance to extend its lead. A 30-yard completion to Doyle quickly moved the ball into Yale territory, and four plays later Johnson found tight end Mitch Ryan open in the end zone from three yards out after a play-action fake. The third quarter ended with San Diego up 36-17.
Yale's last chance to get back in the game ended with a tough break, as Wright was able to keep defensive back Patrick O'Neill from intercepting the ball at the San Diego goal line but it deflected to Brisco, who returned it to the Torero 23 with 6:10 to play. Doyle tacked on one more touchdown catch, a 15-yarder, for the 43-17 final.
"It was our first game," Siedlecki said. "We dropped some balls. I think there's a lot of offensive frustration. I think we probably could have made more plays and scored more points, but we didn't. They're a good football team."
Yale opens Ivy League play next Saturday at Cornell (1:00 p.m. Eastern).
report by Sam Rubin '95 (firstname.lastname@example.org), Yale Sports Publicity