Yale Tops Holy Cross in Double-Overtime, 31-28

Oct. 4, 2008

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NEW HAVEN, Conn. - A 34-yard field goal in the second overtime by junior placekicker Tom Mante, followed by a defensive stand that forced Holy Cross into a missed 37-yard field goal, gave Yale a 31-28 win over the Crusaders Saturday afternoon at the Yale Bowl, Class of 1954 Field. The Bulldogs had to regroup after letting a 14-point lead slip away in the fourth quarter, but eventually pulled out the win. The Yale defense limited Holy Cross to 55 rushing yards and picked off three passes, including one returned 32 yards for a touchdown by senior linebacker Bobby Abare.

Mante's kick came after the Bulldogs had to battle back in the first overtime. Holy Cross got the ball and scored first on a leaping grab by receiver Nick Cole in the back of the end zone. Yale outdid that, though, as senior quarterback Ryan Fodor hit sophomore wide receiver Jordan Forney on Yale's first offensive play and Forney broke a tackle on his way into the end zone for a 25-yard touchdown.

"We've had a lot of success with that play," said Forney. "We also saw other teams were having success with that crossing route. I came across the middle, got lost in traffic, and Ryan put the ball right where it needed to be."

The Bulldogs started the second overtime with the ball and got to the Crusader 16, but a third-down run by senior tailback Mike McLeod lost a yard and left Mante to attempt the field goal from 34 yards out on the left hash.

"I don't really feel too much pressure," said Mante, who is in just his third game as the team's placekicker after adding that to the punting duties he has held since his freshman year. "It's been a while, but I knew I had the leg strength. I knew as soon as it hit my foot it was good."

Mante's kick put the pressure on the Crusaders, who had already lost a pair of heartbreakers this season -- 25-24 at Harvard on a touchdown with 1:42 to play and 45-42 to UMass on a field goal with no time left.

Holy Cross went for the end zone on the second play of its second overtime possession, but quarterback Dominic Randolph's pass was too far for receiver Jon Brock. Facing third-and-five, Randolph appeared to have tailback Terrance Gass open in the left flat for a first down, but junior defensive end Travis Henry was able to race over and lunge in front of Gass to knock the ball away with his left hand. The play was an example of the athleticism that Henry brings to his relatively new position, as he converted to defensive end earlier this year.

"You've got to give credit to the coaches," said Abare. "Travis was a defensive back and now he's a D-end. He likes playing aggressively. He saw that play, went and made something happen. That's Travis for you."

That forced Matt Partain to kick from 37 yards out, and his attempt headed wide left to start the Yale celebration. Many of the Youth Day participants stuck around to the end and rushed the field to join the Bulldogs.

For most of the game's first 55 minutes it did not appear headed for such a nail biting finish. The first 10 minutes were a battle of field position, as neither defense allowed more than one first down. The Bulldogs got an edge thanks to a pair of punts from Mante that pinned Holy Cross inside its 20. The second punt ended with a tackle by senior Steven Santoro for no gain at the Crusader 14.

Five plays into that Holy Cross drive, receiver Josh Jenkins lost the ball after making a catch. Junior cornerback Paul Rice recovered the fumble at the Crusader 36, setting up the Bulldogs' first score.

Yale first appeared to get into the end zone when McLeod, a candidate for the Payton Award as the top offensive player in the NCAA's Football Championship Subdivision, turned the corner and headed down the left sideline on first-and-goal from the 10. But not only was McLeod ruled out of bounds just outside the end zone, the Bulldogs were hit with a holding call. Three plays after that, a false start left the Elis facing a third-and-goal from the 18. But Fodor hit junior H-back John Sheffield on a post route in the end zone to redeem the drive with a touchdown at 1:13 of the first quarter.

The Crusaders had their best drive yet going early in the second quarter, taking the ball 57 yards to the Yale seven. But Abare, Yale's captain and a candidate for the Buchanan Award as the top defensive player in the FCS, put an end to the threat with a leaping interception in the end zone that he returned to the Yale 18.

Abare had the game's next big play as well. He snagged Randolph's pass into the flat and took off untouched for a 32-yard touchdown at 10:18 of the second, the eighth interception of his career and third he returned for a score.

"The defensive line really got good pressure up front," Abare said. "I just read [the quarterback's] eyes a couple times there."

The Crusaders responded quickly, driving 72 yards in four plays and 1:51 -- all completions by Randolph. The last was a 28-yarder to tight end Ryan McGuire at 8:21 of the second.

The Bulldogs then ground out a 17-play, 71-yard drive that took 7:24 off the clock right before halftime. Thirteen of those plays were runs by McLeod, though it almost looked as if the Holy Cross defense would deny him at the end. McLeod was ruled to have stepped out of bounds inches from the end zone on a play from the Crusader five where he hurdled over a pile of tacklers at the goal-line. His next run was stopped for no gain, but on third and goal he found a huge hole in the left side of the line between senior guard Stephen Morse and senior tackle Darius Dale. Mante's extra point gave Yale a 21-7 lead at halftime.

The first scoring threat of the second half came late in the third quarter, when Holy Cross got as far as the Yale 24. But senior defensive lineman Kyle Hawari sacked Randolph for a six-yard loss, and two plays later a 46-yard field goal attempt by Partain fell short as junior defensive lineman Tom McCarthy got a piece of it.

The Crusaders knew they had to try to make something happen on their first drive of the fourth quarter, and it wound up backfiring. Randolph went deep into double-coverage looking for receiver Jon Brock, but sophomore defensive back Adam Money made an over-the-shoulder interception at the Yale 29 to end the drive.

Money's progression at cornerback has helped change the composition of the Yale defense.

"Corners are the hardest guys to find," Siedlecki said. "We've been trying for two years to get Paul [Rice] inside more, where we think he'll be even more active, more physical. He's 230 pounds -- he's the biggest corner in America. We need him there. But Adam is coming along. He's a sophomore and he's made some plays. That catch he made today was absolutely phenomenal. He's gaining confidence, and that enables us to play Paul more inside."

Holy Cross' two scoring drives in the fourth quarter were dramatically different in style. The first was a methodical 24-play, 91-yard drive that ended with Randolph sneaking the ball over from a yard out with 3:47 to play. After the Yale offense was forced to punt, the Crusaders then drove 90 yards in a mere 50 seconds. The game-tying touchdown was a three-yard pass to McGuire with only six seconds left in regulation.

Adding to the concern for Yale was the fact that McLeod came off the field limping after a tackle on Yale's final offensive drive in regulation. As Holy Cross marched down the field for the tying score, McLeod was on a bench on the sideline being attended to by the Yale trainers. He was back out on the field for Yale's overtime drives and finished with 131 yards on 39 carries.

"Right when Holy Cross got the ball back I told K-Man [trainer Billy Kaminsky] `If we need to go to overtime, tape me up,'," McLeod said. "I was pretty confident with the way the defense was playing. They played phenomenally, but I just wanted to be ready right away. We did a great job in overtime."

Yale resumes Ivy League play next Saturday at Dartmouth (12:30 p.m., NESN).

report by Sam Rubin '95 (sam.rubin@yale.edu), Yale Sports Publicity

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