No. 15/16 Yale Guts Out Triple-OT Win Over Penn, 26-20

Oct. 20, 2007

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PHILADELPHIA - A goal-line stand by the Yale defense in the third overtime finished off a thrilling 26-20 win at Penn Saturday afternoon, keeping the Bulldogs undefeated and tied for first in the Ivy League. The stand came after a one-yard touchdown run by junior tailback Mike McLeod put the Bulldogs ahead, and it culminated Yale's first victory at Franklin Field in 17 years.

On the final stand Yale (6-0, 3-0 Ivy) turned aside three runs by the Penn (2-4, 1-2 Ivy), then saw the 15th penalty of the game negate a game-tying touchdown for the Quakers, then celebrated when Penn's final pass fell incomplete in the end zone.

Junior cornerback Casey Gerald, who defended the final pass, lay on the ground for a moment after the play before joining the emotional celebration that capped nearly four hours of football.

"I did wait [to make sure there was no flag on the play]," Gerald said with a smile. "But after that I didn't feel like getting up."

The win was all the more remarkable considering that, by the end of the game, two starters from Yale's league-leading defense -- junior linebacker Jay Pilkerton and junior safety Steven Santoro -- were sidelined with injuries and McLeod was playing through pain en route to a gutsy 147-yard, 35-carry performance.

That was just part of the intrigue in this defensive struggle between two very similarly structured teams. The Yale defense generated the first big play of the game, as sophomore cornerback Paul Rice picked off an underthrown pass at the Quaker 46.

The Bulldog offense took immediate advantage of the turnover. McLeod burst through the middle of the line, broke through one attempted tackle and was off to the races for the 41st rushing touchdown of his career, extending his school record in that category while also increasing his school-record streak of games with a touchdown to 15.

Santoro brought Penn's next drive to an end with another interception, this one a diving grab at the Eli 28 of a ball that hit off a Quaker receiver. Santoro would eventually wind up with his arm in a sling after landing hard on the play.

The Quakers botched a 42-yard field goal attempt early in the second quarter, as a high snap forced holder Braden Lepisto to attempt a pass that fell incomplete. The next Penn drive got as close as the Yale 39, but on third-and-two from there senior defensive lineman Brandt Hollander brought down tailback Michael DiMaggio for a one-yard loss that forced a Quaker punt.

The Quakers utilized some trickery to tie the game up before halftime. Starting a drive at their own 44 after a Bulldog punt, they got a crucial first down on a fourth-and-one run by tailback Joe Sandberg. The measurement was so close that the officials took several seconds peering at the chains before giving the first down to the Quakers at the Yale 34. On the next play a pass interference call brought the ball to the Yale 19, and four plays later Penn had first and goal at the nine. Sandberg got the ball and went right before pulling back to pass. He lofted one to a wide-open tight end Josh Koontz in the end zone to make the score 7-7.

The biggest play at the end of the second quarter was actually a four-yard run by McLeod -- not because of the play itself, but because he came off limping at the end of it. With Yale's record-setting rusher on the trainer's table with an ice bag on his foot for the final 90 seconds of the half, the Bulldog defense kept the Quakers from gaining any further sense of momentum by stopping a drive at the Yale 42.

McLeod, who downplayed the injury after the game by saying he just overextended his toe and that "it was sore, but I'll be fine", came back out on the field to start Yale's first drive of the second half. But he could do nothing to keep the Quakers' Chris Wynn from intercepting a pass on the second play and setting the Penn offense up at the Yale 33. The Yale defense allowed only seven yards from there, but Andrew Samson came on to boot a 43-yard field goal to give the Quakers a 10-7 lead. That marked the first time all season Yale trailed in the second half of a game.

As the third quarter wound down, the Bulldogs began changing the field position. The first key play was freshman defensive back Gio Christodoulou chasing down Penn return man Marcus Lawrence after he was pushed back to his own 19 to field a bouncing 48-yard punt from sophomore punter Tom Mante.

The Quakers were backed up to their own 23 after another Yale punt on the first play of the fourth quarter. On the first play from there, quarterback Bryan Walker was pressured into scrambling to his right, and junior defensive lineman Joe Hathaway knocked the ball loose. It scooted along the turf briefly before junior linebacker Bobby Abare pounced on it. Senior place kicker Alan Kimball then kicked the game-tying field goal from 31 yards out with 13:02 to play.

The Yale defense got its third pick of the day when senior safety Matt Coombs, playing for an injured Santoro, stepped in front of a Walker pass and returned it seven yards to the Yale 45. The Bulldogs were unable to put points on the board after that turnover, but Christodoulou made another big special teams play by catching Mante's punt at the Penn one. The Quakers drove to their own 33, but on third-and-six from there junior defensive end Brady Hart knocked down Walker's pass and forced a punt.

Another Penn drive with less than two minutes to play was knocked off schedule early on by a personal foul call against the Quakers. Hollander managed to trip up Sandberg on a third-and-11 run before junior defensive end Kyle Hawari finished off the tackle to force another Quaker punt.

An interception ended Yale's final drive of regulation, and Penn took a knee at its own 14 to send the game into overtime.

With each team starting only 25 yards from the end zone, the overtimes featured constant drama and lots of penalties. A 21-yard play action pass from senior quarterback Matt Polhemus to senior wide receiver Chris Denny-Brown on the first play got Yale going, and a pass interference call against the Quakers drawn by junior wide receiver Jarrett Drake in the end zone gave the Bulldogs the ball at the two. McLeod took it in from there and Kimball booted the extra point to make it 17-10.

The Quakers responded on a drive that was aided by a pass interference call against the Bulldogs on fourth-and-five at the Yale 20. On the next play a holding call negated a long run by Walker, but three plays later he found Lawrence in the end zone and Samson tied the game.

Penn started the second overtime with the ball, and senior defensive lineman Jared Hamilton helped keep the Quakers at bay by dropping Sandberg for a three-yard loss on first-and-goal from the eight. On the next play Hollander tripped up DiMaggio, and after a short completion on third down the Quakers sent in Samson to boot a 23-yarder for a 20-17 lead.

A 19-yard pass from Polhemus to sophomore fullback John Sheffield got Yale to the Penn 11 on its second overtime possession, but the offense stalled at the four. With the ball on the left hash, the Bulldogs sent Kimball in for a seemingly straightforward 21-yard attempt.

A low snap that skidded along the ground nearly cost the Bulldogs their chance at the tie, but holder Rich Scudellari kept his composure and grabbed the ball as Kimball made his approach. Scudellari got the ball down quickly enough that, after pausing momentarily, Kimball was able to keep going and punch through the field goal that kept the game alive.

"I saw it [the bouncing snap] out of the corner of my eye," said Kimball, who was concentrating on the spot where the ball was supposed to be. "I had enough time to get going again."

"Richie handled it," said Jack Siedlecki, Yale's Joel E. Smilow '54 Head Coach of Football. "That was huge. Everything is huge when you're in overtime. Everything gets magnified ten times. You mishandle the snap, the game's over."

Breathing a sigh of relief, the Bulldogs went back on offense to start the third overtime. Polhemus once again found Denny-Brown for a huge completion, rolling right and hitting him across the middle for a 20-yard gain. McLeod then pushed his way in a pile and drew a facemask penalty against Penn that put the ball at the one for first and goal. McLeod's first attempt from there came up short, but on second down he powered his way in with a defender wrapped around his waist.

"That was just Mike's desire to get in that end zone," Polhemus said. "He just lowered his head and took it in."

By rule Yale had to try for the two-point conversion, and Polhemus' heave under pressure fell incomplete. The Quakers took over trailing 26-20.

The final possession of the game was a wild one, starting with the first play where the Quakers handed the ball to wide receiver Kyle Derham and he then passed toward wide receiver Dan Coleman in the end zone, where sophomore cornerback Paul Rice was able to bat the ball down. But Yale was called for defensive holding on the play, so Penn got a first down at the Yale 15.

Walker converted a third-and-three with a pass to Koontz at the one-yard line that set up the game's dramatic finale.

"By that point in a game like this, it's already peeled away all the emotions," Hollander said. "You're so exhausted you can't really get excited or get hyped up. You're just playing with what you've got. I think that's why it's so special for us to get a stop like this. I think it speaks to the character of our defense."

On first down Sandberg went right but was stood up by a crunching tackle by Rice. On second down fullback Nick Cisler tried the middle but found no room to move in a pile of players and was eventually brought down for no gain by Coombs. On third-and-goal Sandberg went right but was gang-tackled by the Bulldogs, again led by Coombs.

"Sandberg is a real tough runner," Hollander said. "We knew it was going to be a tough game. It was the D-linemen getting off blocks, getting in the backfield, and then Matt Coombs stepping up on the goal line -- I think I saw him three or four times on that final stop."

There actually wound up being two memorable plays that clinched the win. First, on fourth and goal from the one, Sandberg got the ball and went left but saw nothing but Yale jerseys -- specifically, Coombs and Hart -- in front of him. He started to improvise by heading back to the middle of the field, then launched a pass to an open Cisler in the end zone to touch off a momentary celebration by the Quakers. But there was a flag on the play, and when it became clear it was against Penn several Bulldogs began celebrating.

The infraction was illegal man down field, so Penn was assessed the five-yard penalty and had one more chance at the game-tying touchdown. Walker fired one into the end zone, but it hit off a leaping Lepisto with Gerald in coverage and fell incomplete. Finally, the Yale sideline could rush the field to celebrate.

Yale is now 6-0 for the first time since starting the 1981 season 8-0. Yale and Harvard are the only teams that are 3-0 in Ivy League play.

The Bulldogs travel to Columbia next Saturday for a 12:30 p.m. kickoff.

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

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