October 11, 2008

Acrobatic Grabs, Turnovers Highlight 34-7 Win at Dartmouth

Oct. 11, 2008

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HANOVER, N.H. - The Yale defense limited Dartmouth to 38 rushing yards, picked off three passes and recovered a fumble to highlight a 34-7 Bulldog win over the Big Green Saturday afternoon at Memorial Field. The offense got long touchdown plays from a pair of receivers -- a 60-yard touchdown by junior Reid Lathan and a 31-yarder by senior Patrick Sedden, both from senior quarterback Ryan Fodor. Senior tailback Mike McLeod added a season-high 154 total yards and a touchdown.

"It was a battle," said Jack Siedlecki, Yale's Joel E. Smilow '54 Head Coach of Football. "That's the way we're going to play this year. We played very well defensively, we punted the ball well to control field position, and our offense came up with a couple big plays."

Dartmouth hung around until a pair of late scores bumped up Yale's margin of victory, and a physical start to the game saw several Yale players getting tended to by trainers on the turf. Fortunately for the Elis, all of them made it back in.

Dartmouth got the ball first and drove 70 yards to the Yale six, where the Big Green faced a third-and-goal. Quarterback Alex Jenny's pump fake did not fool senior linebacker Bobby Abare, whose leaping grab in the end zone snuffed out the scoring threat. That was the second week in a row that Abare, a Buchanan Award candidate, intercepted an opponent's pass in the end zone.

Yale took over at its own 20 but faced an immediate challenge. On the second play from scrimmage a hard hit knocked senior starting quarterback Ryan Fodor to the turf, and he was taken out of the game. Defensive end Charles Bay was penalized for roughing the passer on the play. Sophomore Brook Hart had seen time in two of Yale's first three games, so he was able to step right in and keep the offense moving.

"I knew I was fine," Fodor said. "[The defender] just got his helmet under my chin. I wanted to go back in on the next play, but they kept me out for precautionary reasons. Brook led us on a great drive."

McLeod, a Payton Award candidate, converted a fourth-and-one at the Dartmouth 29 with a 16-yard run. Hart completed the touchdown drive by finding junior H-back John Sheffield right at the goalline, where a pack of tacklers converged. Sheffield got the ball across and gave Yale a 6-0 lead, though the extra-point attempt was blocked. Senior lineman Adam Sato was laid out on the turf after that play, but he came back in later in the game.

Fodor returned on the next drive, but McLeod limped off after the first play and the Bulldogs once again had to hold their collective breath; the 2007 Ivy League MVP had also limped off during last week's double-overtime win over Holy Cross. But just as he did in that game, McLeod was back out on the field shortly. The second quarter started with him returning to the huddle, and by the end of the day his stats indicated how healthy he was. His average of 5.5 yards per carry was his best since averaging 5.8 in a 17-7 win over Brown in week eight of 2007.

"The O-line is coming together," McLeod said. "We're staying on our blocks, and I'm trusting them even more."

Two improbable plays then helped the Bulldogs start taking control of the game. Looking to take advantage of a Yale fumble early in the second quarter, Dartmouth drove to the Eli 45 but faced a third-and-six. Jenny scrambled to his left, got just past the line of scrimmage, and was surrounded by Bulldogs when he decided to try an unusual tactic. He flipped the ball forward, but the only player in the vicinity was junior defensive lineman Tom McCarthy. McCarthy looked as surprised as anyone to see the ball coming his way, but he grabbed the interception and the Bulldogs gladly declined the illegal forward pass penalty on the Big Green. The offense set up at the Yale 39.

Two plays later came a play that had to be seen to be believed. Fodor rolled to his left from the Yale 40 and, under heavy pressure, heaved a pass deep down the left sideline. Big Green cornerback Shawn Abuhoff had the ball in his sights, but senior wide receiver Pat Sedden was also there. With the safety coming over as well Sedden did all he could to get a hand on the pass just to prevent an interception, but the result he got was even better. The ball popped right to junior receiver Reid Lathan in stride at the Dartmouth 25, making the play look like a perfectly executed hook-and-ladder. Lathan dashed into the end zone as the stunned Big Green watched, making his first Yale touchdown catch a particularly memorable one.

"It was funny, because something like that happened in practice earlier in the week," Lathan said. "It was a matter of finishing the play, and also being in the right place at the right time."

Sedden will not get any line in the stats for his work on that play, but it did not go unnoticed by his coach.

"Some receivers would have given up on that ball," said Siedlecki. "Patrick went up and made a basketball play on it. Yeah, you could say it was a lucky play, but it was also a hustle play."

The Eli defense brought Dartmouth's final threat of the first half to an end at the Yale 34. The Big Green was trying to convert a fourth down, but after McManus scrambled and then tossed the ball to tailback Milan Williams, senior linebacker Jay Pilkerton brought Williams down just shy of the marker. Yale took a 13-0 lead into halftime.

Yale's first drive of the second half ended in a punt, but the defense quickly got the offense back on the field. Senior strong safety Larry Abare, who had a team-high five solo tackles, drilled Williams on a second-down run from the Dartmouth 42. The ball popped loose and junior defensive lineman Matt Kelleher was able to recover it all the way up at the Big Green 31.

Four plays later, Sedden made the Elis' decision to go for it on fourth-and-10 look brilliant with a spectacular over-the-shoulder grab behind a defender in the end zone for a 20-0 lead at 11:03 of the third. It was also the first touchdown of Sedden's career.

"It was in the sun for about half the way," Sedden said. "It came out of it just in time. It was the perfect call and a perfect pass."

Senior cornerback Paul Rice ended Dartmouth's next drive by blitzing up the middle on third-and-five at the Big Green 40, forcing backup quarterback Tim McManus back and then tackling him for an eight-yard loss. The defense kept the pressure on during the Big Green's next drive, as sophomore defensive end Max Newton started it with a sack. Junior defensive end Travis Henry tackled fullback Nick Schwieger after a short gain on second down, taking Schwieger's helmet off in the process. Henry also tackled Schwieger on third down after a short gain -- this time on the other side of the field -- to force a punt.

Dartmouth finally got on the board with a 44-yard drive at the end of the third quarter. Jenny found McManus, in as a receiver, for a leaping grab from 21 yards out in the near corner of the end zone.

The Big Green's next drive ended with sophomore cornerback Adam Money breaking up a pass on third down. Back-to-back sacks by senior defensive linemen Joe Hathaway and Kyle Hawari on third and fourth down stopped the next Dartmouth possession at the Big Green 46 with 6:12 to play.

"Kyle and Joe did a great job in the middle," said Siedlecki. "We were also able to bring pressure with Paul in what we call our dollar package, playing him up front at linebacker and bringing him off the edge. Bobby Abare also made a ton of plays. Against that spread/draw offense, you've got to have a linebacker that can make tackles, and he did."

McLeod capped his day with a two-yard touchdown plunge with 4:12 to play, giving him 135 yards rushing to go with his 19 yards receiving.

Rice, whose six tackles on the day included two for a loss, added one last highlight with an interception at the Dartmouth 24, wrestling the ball away from the intended receiver and taking off into the end zone with 3:39 left.

Lathan's five catches and 113 yards led the receiving corps. Fodor finished with 192 yards, completing 14 of 26 passes.

Yale (3-1, 1-1 Ivy) also got some good news from out of town. Harvard's win over Cornell, the team that beat Yale in the Ivy League opener, puts the Bulldogs back in control of their own destiny in the race for the Ivy title. Yale, Cornell and Harvard are all 1-1, with Brown, Penn and Princeton at 1-0. Dartmouth drops to 0-2 in the league and 0-4 overall.

Yale visits Fordham for its last non-league game of the season next Saturday at 1:00 p.m.

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

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