Sept. 20, 2008
NEW HAVEN, Conn. - The first game of the season for the Yale football team was full of individual firsts as well. Eight Bulldog players were involved in their first career scores, and the defense limited Georgetown to 46 rushing yards, in a 47-7 Eli win at the Yale Bowl, Class of 1954 Field Saturday afternoon.
"This is the way you would want an opening game to go," said Jack Siedlecki, Yale's Joel E. Smilow '54 Head Coach of Football. "A lot of guys played, and we got a chance to look at a lot of people."
While the Bulldogs worked in a number of new players, the ones under the most scrutiny were the two under center. After a preseason competition, senior Ryan Fodor and sophomore Brook Hart were named as a tandem earlier in the week -- Fodor would start, but Hart would see significant time as well. The pair was faced with the task of replacing Matt Polhemus '08, who had led Yale to a 17-3 mark over the past two seasons -- including an Ivy League championship.
It did not take long for Yale's new signal-callers to impress. On the Bulldogs' first play from scrimmage, Fodor rolled right after a play-action fake and had sophomore wide receiver Jordan Forney wide-open after a mix-up in the Hoya secondary. After gathering in Fodor's pass, Forney headed down the right sideline and made it all the way to the Georgetown 24 for a 61-yard gain.
"It was a nice way to start," Fodor said. "We had that planned all week, and I've been thinking about it a lot for the past couple days. They had a lot of trouble with that post-wheel, especially coming out of the bootleg. You know they were going to be prepared to stop [senior tailback] Mike [McLeod] first and foremost."
Two plays later the same duo combined for a touchdown, as Fodor found Forney in the end zone on a post pattern at the 10:51 mark.
The Yale defensive line also had something to prove, with four regulars and 10 sacks lost to graduation. By the end of the day the players the Bulldogs were counting on to step up had done just that; senior Joe Hathaway had 3.5 tackles for loss and a forced fumble, while junior defensive lineman Tom McCarthy had his first career sack (and nearly his first career safety). Hathaway's big day started with a seven-yard sack on Georgetown's first possession, while McCarthy got his sack on the Hoyas' third drive.
"It took us a little time to get up to game speed," Hathaway said. "It helps knowing you have a lot of veteran guys behind you [at linebacker and in the secondary]."
One player Yale knew it could count on coming into the season was McLeod, a preseason All-American and a candidate for the Payton Award as the top offensive player in the FCS. Yale's third drive of the day started at the Bulldog six, and McLeod had to power his way out of the end zone to avoid a safety, but the drive eventually got deep into Georgetown territory. McLeod had a 28-yard touchdown taken off the board because of a holding call, and kicker Tom Mante booted a 39-yard field goal -- the first of his career after spending his first two seasons concentrating on punting.
The second quarter belonged to Hart, who came on and made his first pass just as memorable as Fodor's -- the same exact play, just to the opposite side of the field since Hart is a lefty. Forney hauled in the 41-yard toss and the Bulldogs were once again deep in Hoya territory.
"I saw on Ryan's drives that what we said would work was working," said Hart. "All that focus on Mike just made our job easier."
Amid all the firsts, one of the more special moments came when senior fullback Shebby Swett gathered in his first career touchdown on a five-yard pass from Hart with 1:42 left in the half. It was the first touchdown for both of those players, and for Swett -- who first came to Yale in 2003 (he missed two years on a Mormon mission) -- it was a long time coming.
"That was one of those plays we practices on the goal line," said Hart, who was 14 when Swett first arrived on the Yale campus. "I have confidence in him catching the football. It felt good to get that first touchdown."
"I was really happy for Shebby, being in the program for so long," said Fodor. "He works as hard as anybody. He's respected by everybody; everybody loves him. For him to get a touchdown was great."
Mante tacked on a 29-yard field goal as time expired to make it 20-0 at halftime.
The Bulldogs put the game out of reach late in the third. The Hoyas were trying to take advantage of a Yale fumble and had driven from their own seven to their own 45 when quarterback Keerome Lawrence made the mistake of firing a pass to Yale senior safety Steven Santoro, who is now tied for ninth on Yale's career interceptions list after making his ninth career pick. Santoro brought the ball back to the Georgetown 13, and on the very next play Hart found Forney in the end zone.
The Hoyas got a 37-yard return from Mychal Harrison on the kickoff, but on the first play from scrimmage Lawrence fired one right to sophomore cornerback Adam Money, who had nothing but green grass and sunshine in front of him as he raced into the end zone with a 60-yard return -- the first interception of his career. Yale's lead was 33-0 at 2:10 of the third.
Those two scores made the Yale defense's bid for the shutout one of the last bits of suspense, but that was spoiled by a 26-yard touchdown pass from James Brady to receiver Kenny Mitchell with 38 seconds left in the third quarter.
The Yale defense produced a few more highlights in the fourth quarter, with senior linebacker Jay Pilkerton picking off a pass at the Georgetown 17 and McCarthy nearly getting a safety when he tackled running back Keion Wade just outside the Georgetown end zone.
"The defense made it easy for us in the second half, with all the turnovers and the field position," said Siedlecki.
McLeod, Yale's career leader in rushing touchdowns with 48 entering the year, finally got his first of 2008 on a 21-yard run with 9:51 left. Sophomore kicker Alex Barnes booted his first career extra point to make it an even 40 for the Bulldogs.
A play-action touchdown pass from Hart to sophomore fullback Shane Bannon, Bannon's first career catch and first career score, made it 47-7 with 4:51 left.
Bannon's catch made him one of 10 different players to catch at least one pass for the Elis -- already more players with receptions than Yale had last season. The Bulldogs were led by six catches from junior tight end John Sheffield, while Forney finished with 136 yards on four grabs. Fodor completed 10 of 15 passes for 185 yards, while Hart was 14-for-18 for 176 yards.
"We have so many guys on the field that can make plays," said Fodor. "We're so deep; it's great for the receivers because they're always fresh when they're running their routes. You have confidence they're going to be open. They all do something a little bit different, but when they get the ball in their hands they can make plays."
Yale opens Ivy League play next Saturday at Cornell.
report by Sam Rubin '95 (firstname.lastname@example.org), Yale Sports Publicity