October 14, 2006

Yale Edges Lehigh 26-20 in Overtime

Oct. 14, 2006

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NEW HAVEN, Conn. - Sophomore tailback Mike McLeod's one-yard touchdown plunge on Yale's first possession in overtime lifted the Bulldogs to a 26-20 win over Lehigh Saturday afternoon at the Yale Bowl, Class of 1954 Field. The Bulldog defense had forced the Mountain Hawks to settle for a field goal attempt on their overtime possession, which they missed. A 20-yard pass from junior quarterback Matt Polhemus to senior wide receiver Chandler Henley set the stage for McLeod's game-winner.

"There's something I really love about this team," Henley said. "They don't want to lose."

This marked Yale's first win over Lehigh since 1989, snapping a string of five straight Mountain Hawk wins in the series that included a 28-21 overtime game last year in Bethlehem. As they had done in last year's game, the Bulldogs (4-1) let a lead slip away late in the game on Saturday -- but this time they came back for the victory in the end.

"We made some mistakes," Polhemus said. "But we didn't let it kill us. The guys we've got here have that resilience."

The Mountain Hawks (2-4) took advantage of special teams play to take an early lead. After blocking a 36-yard field goal attempt by the Bulldogs and having cornerback Julian Ahye return it to the Yale 49, Lehigh went up 3-0 on a 19-yard field goal by Jason Leo.

The Bulldogs began rolling on their second drive of the game. The turning point came three plays in when Yale faced a third-and-16 at the Eli 25. An acrobatic leaping grab by Henley at the 40 left Yale inches from the first down. Yale went for it and got it when senior fullback Taylor Craig plowed ahead for two yards.

McLeod then followed with a big run, dodging one tackler and bulldozing another on his way to a 14-yard gain. That was a sign of things to come on a day when Yale would rack up 257 yards on the ground -- 204 from McLeod. That was a personal best for him and tied Nick Crawford's 1991 performance against Penn for fourth on Yale's single-game rushing record list.

"We definitely felt that we had control [up front]," McLeod said. "All the linemen were happy. They were going out there having fun, doing what they do."

The Bulldogs found themselves facing a third-and-seven three plays later so they turned to Henley again. The Yale captain's 19-yard reception kept the drive alive, and two plays after that Polhemus took a bootleg untouched into the end zone from 17 yards out.

The Bulldog defense and special teams then combined to enable another Yale score. Sophomore linebacker Bobby Abare batted down a third-down pass from Lehigh quarterback Sedale Threatt to force the Mountain Hawks to punt from their own 38. Freshman wide receiver Jordan Farrell came off the corner and smothered Leo's punt, knocking it all the way back to the Lehigh 10 where it was recovered by senior linebacker Michael Woodson. The offense got two yards from there before junior place kicker Alan Kimball booted a 25-yard field goal for a 10-3 lead at 10:07 of the second quarter.

After Leo brought Lehigh within four points with a 41-yard field goal, the Mountain Hawks came up with a turnover to keep the Bulldogs off the board. Six McLeod runs for 70 yards got the ball to the three, but on second and goal from there the Mountain Hawks grabbed a Polhemus fumble to snuff out the scoring threat with 1:46 left in the half.

While McLeod dominated the first half on the ground (14 rushes for 96 yards), the first play of the second half showed his effectiveness as a receiver. He flew down the right sideline on a wheel route and Polhemus' perfectly placed pass found him for a 44-yard gain.

"We ran that play [in practice] at least two times a day," said Jack Siedlecki, Yale's Joel E. Smilow '54 Head Coach of Football. "That was a great throw and catch. That outside linebacker ran with him pretty good."

Henley then made another big catch, coming back to grab a 16-yarder from Polhemus at the nine-yard line. Henley would finish with eight grabs for 122 yards, a career high. Three runs from there had Yale just inches from pay dirt, and the Bulldogs went for it on fourth down. McLeod dove in over a surge from the offensive line to extend Yale's lead to 17-6 at 10:25 of the third.

The Mountain Hawks had only 61 yards passing in the first half; they got 37 on their first pass of the second half. Threatt threaded the needle between two Yale defenders to get the ball to wide receiver Brannan Thomas at the three and two plays later tailback Matt McGowan took the ball in. Sophomore defensive end Kyle Hawari took Threatt down for a loss on the two-point conversion attempt, but the Yale lead was down to five points.

After a Yale punt the Mountain Hawks had the chance to take the lead but the Bulldog defense once again produced a turnover when needed. Senior defensive end Brendan Sponheimer pounced on the loose ball at the Yale 33 after it was knocked out of fullback Greg Fay's hands by sophomore free safety Steven Santoro.

Santoro now has been a part of five turnovers on the year -- two interceptions and five forced fumbles. He has proved to be a major factor in a young Yale secondary where he is one of three sophomores seeing significant action.

"Everybody's stepping up to make plays," said junior middle guard Brandt Hollander. "We're trying to develop the same thing the offense has -- just trust each other and let playmakers make plays. It's nice to see young guys come up and make big individual plays."

As much as Yale has used McLeod as an offensive playmaker this year, it was his backup -- senior tailback Matt Murray -- who got the call to convert a third-and-four at the Eli 39. He did so with an eight-yard run. McLeod got the next conversion, and Polhemus got another one with some key down-field blocking from senior wide receiver Ashley Wright for a 26-yard run. A holding call negated a McLeod touchdown from there and the Bulldogs eventually came away with a 19-yarder from Kimball to make it 20-12.

The Eli defense then forced a three-and-out, with freshman cornerback Paul Rice grabbing hold of Threatt's legs to drag him down six yards short of a first down on a third-down scramble.

The Bulldog offense could not sustain its drive, so the Mountain Hawks got the ball at their own nine with 10:32 left in the game after a punt from freshman Tom Mante. A nine-yard pass from Threatt to wide receiver Mike Fitzgerald with a personal foul tacked on got the ball from the Lehigh 42 to the Yale 34. Four plays later tailback Marques Thompson took it in from a yard out, and Threatt found tight end Landon Maggs in the end zone for the game-tying two point conversion.

Yale converted two third downs on its next drive but could not get the all-important third, punting from the Lehigh 39. Mante pinned the Mountain Hawks back at their seven with 4:15 to play.

Last year Threatt haunted the Bulldogs by coming on for an injured Mark Borda to lead the Mountain Hawks to a game-tying touchdown and two-point conversion with 4:42 left in the game. This year the Yale defense would not allow him to perform any heroics. After an incompletion, junior defensive lineman Jared Hamilton wrapped him up after a three-yard gain. Abare then took him down two yards shy of a first down on the next play to force a punt.

The Bulldogs drove 39 yards in 9 plays to get Kimball a 36-yard attempt on the last play of regulation, but the kick sailed wide left.

Lehigh started with the ball in overtime and had first and goal at the six when the defense stiffened. Hawari was able to trip up McGowan for no gain on a run to the left, and Hollander sacked Threatt for a six-yard loss on third down. Forced to try a 30-yard kick, Leo missed wide left.

That enabled Polhemus, Henley and McLeod to finish the game off. McLeod now has nine rushing touchdowns for the season, all in the last four games, and is one away from cracking the school's single-season top 10 list in that category.

The win gives Yale its first four-game winning streak since winning the first four games of the 2003 season.

The Bulldogs host Penn next Saturday at 12:30 p.m.

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

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