October 27, 2007

No. 13 Bulldogs Pull Away from Lions in Second Half, Win 28-7

Oct. 27, 2007

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NEW YORK - No. 13 Yale broke open a game that was scoreless at halftime, getting three rushing touchdowns from Payton Award candidate junior tailback Mike McLeod and one from sophomore tailback Jordan Farrell for a 28-7 win at Columbia Saturday afternoon. The Yale defense generated five turnovers, including three in the rainy first half, to help keep the Bulldogs undefeated and tied for first in the Ivy League.

"We played 60 great minutes of defense and 30 great minutes of offense," said Jack Siedlecki, Yale's Joel E. Smilow '54 Head Coach of Football. "We just did not take care of the football in the first half, but we're a resilient team."

The first half was as sloppy as the weather conditions, with three turnovers by the Lions and five by the Bulldogs. Senior strong safety Nick Solakian had an interception and sophomore cornerback Paul Rice and senior defensive back Matt Coombs each had fumble recoveries to help keep the Lions off the board.

Columbia (1-6, 0-4 Ivy) did drive to the Eli 22 late in the half, but junior cornerback Casey Gerald broke up a third-down pass and the Lions' ensuing 39-yard field goal attempt missed to the left. Yale's costliest turnover was a fumble by senior quarterback Matt Polhemus at the Columbia 22 near the end of the half.

"I don't know," Polhemus said when asked if the weather had played a role in the turnovers. "You've got to work through that and play through that. You've just got to focus harder when it's raining."

The rain abated at halftime, and the Bulldogs put together their first successful drive as the third quarter started. A 38-yard return by freshman defensive back Gio Christodoulou on the kickoff gave the offense the ball at the Yale 45. McLeod converted a third-and-one at the Columbia 46, and Polhemus converted the next third down with an 18-yard run that got the ball to the Lion eight. McLeod punched it in from there, winding his way through a series of attempted tackles and then bulldozing through a pile at the goal line. Senior place kicker Alan Kimball's extra point made it 7-0 Yale at 12:03 of the third. That also extended McLeod's school-record streak of games with a touchdown to 16.

In addition to the dash that set up McLeod's score Polhemus would execute several other big runs in the second half, getting 52 of his 92 rushing yards in the third quarter alone.

"[Yale] did a good job allowing the quarterback to get to the edge," said Columbia head coach Norries Wilson. "He made some big plays with his feet today."

Yale (7-0, 4-0 Ivy) took advantage of a pair of Lion errors later in the third. First, a holding call negated a five-yard gain and pushed Columbia back to the Eli 48. On the next play, after a screen completion to tight end Andrew Kennedy, Coombs came over and ripped the ball loose while he and senior linebacker Lee Driftmier were making the tackle. Junior linebacker Bobby Abare fell on the fumble and the Yale offense took over at its own 46.

Coombs, playing for injured junior free safety Steven Santoro, has made the most of his opportunities in the past two games by compiling 16 tackles, an interception, a forced fumble and a fumble recovery. Saturday marked his first start.

"Our defense, we had 11 guys coming back at the start of the season," Coombs said. "Coming in my goal was to help the team whenever I could. Unfortunately Steve Santoro went down. He's been one of our playmakers the last couple of years. I knew he was going to be tough to replace, but I'm just doing what I can to help out."

Six plays after the turnover, including a 28-yard pass from Polhemus to senior wide receiver Chris Denny-Brown, McLeod found the end zone again. This time he headed up the middle before cutting left and heading toward the corner. With Lion cornerback JoJo Smith racing after him, McLeod juked and then took on Smith for the last few yards while going in for the score. That was McLeod's 20th rushing touchdown of the season, breaking his own one year-old school record.

McLeod added another TD at the start of the fourth quarter, increasing his school career record to 46 (fifth-most in Ivy League history). Two plays after Polhemus converted a fourth-and-seven by finding junior wide receiver Jarrett Drake for a 17-yard gain, McLeod took the ball left and then cut upfield. Columbia free safety Adam Mehrer jumped on his back inside the five, but McLeod took him along for the ride into the end zone at 13:47 of the fourth.

After limping off the field and missing a series before halftime in last week's 26-20 triple-overtime win at Penn, McLeod was clearly not 100 percent on this day -- but he still managed to get 135 yards on 35 carries to close to within 63 yards of the school career record held by Robert Carr `05.

"It's sore," McLeod said of his foot. "It's going to be sore. It's something I'm going to have to play through."

The next Columbia drive ended with senior defensive back John Coombs, Matt's brother, picking off a desperation heave by quarterback Craig Hormann. That gave the offense the ball at the Columbia 47. With sophomore tailback Jordan Farrell in to spell McLeod, the Elis went into all-out smashmouth mode. They ran the ball 11 straight times, all by Farrell, to eat up 47 yards and 6:32 of clock. Farrell's one-yard plunge, in which he lost his helmet, made it 28-0 with 6:48 remaining.

The Lions broke up the shutout with a 66-yard drive for a touchdown with 3:46 remaining. Hormann connected with wide receiver Austin Knowlin from eight yards out. Rice recovered the onside kick attempt, and runs by Farrell and sophomore tailback Rodney Reynolds enabled Yale to kill off the clock after that.

With Harvard's 28-21 win over Dartmouth, the Bulldogs and the Crimson remain tied for first with 4-0 league records. Every other team in the league has at least two losses in league play.

The Bulldogs host Brown (3-4, 2-2 Ivy) Saturday at the Yale Bowl, Class of 1954 Field at 12:30 p.m.

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

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