Nov. 1, 2008
NEW HAVEN, Conn. - Field position was the name of the game Saturday afternoon at the Yale Bowl, Class of 1954 Field, as Yale utilized three scoring drives that went for a total of 35 yards to break open a 7-6 game en route to a 27-12 win over Columbia. The Yale defense generated three turnovers, and the Yale special teams set up a touchdown by blocking a punt deep in Lion territory.
Junior punter/placekicker Tom Mante and the Yale kick and punt coverage teams left the Lions with an average drive start of their own 18-yard line. The Bulldogs' average drive start was 29 yards better.
"Our defense and our kicking game were absolutely phenomenal," said Jack Siedlecki, Yale's Joel E. Smilow '54 Head Coach of Football. "We had such an advantage in that [kicking] area of the game it was unbelievable."
Yale was unable to capitalize on junior cornerback Paul Rice's interception at the Yale 39 on the first play of the game. After the Bulldogs punted, Columbia drove 65 yards in seven plays for a 37-yard field goal from Jon Rocholl to open the scoring.
The Bulldogs started gaining a field position edge when Mante bounced one down at the Columbia four, one of four times on the day he pinned the Lions inside their 20 as he averaged 41 yards per punt. The Lions got only five yards on the drive, which was stopped on third down by a hard tackle from junior defensive end Travis Henry after a five-yard pass.
The ensuing Lion punt gave Yale the ball 48 yards from the end zone, and sophomore wide receiver Peter Balsam ate up 35 of those yards with a reception from sophomore quarterback Brook Hart on first down.
"All week long we thought this was a team we could beat on an out-and-up," Siedlecki said. "That was a play where we said we're probably only going to get one opportunity. We hit it."
Senior tailback Mike McLeod then had two runs, the last an eight-yarder where he pushed the pile into the end zone for a 7-3 Yale lead at 6:06.
Another Mante punt pinned Columbia at its own eight late in the first quarter, but the Lions were able to drive 87 yards in 15 plays for a 22-yarder from Rocholl at 8:09 of the second to get within one.
Balsam continued his big day by breaking through the line to block a Columbia punt from the Lion 27 later in the half. The ball bounced to sophomore fullback Shane Bannon, who brought it to the two-yard line.
"That was big," Balsam said. "Just to get the ball in good field position and go up by two scores was huge."
Three plays later McLeod got in the end zone again from a yard out to extend Yale's lead to 14-6 at 3:06 of the second.
The Lions made one more threat in the quarter, getting to the Yale 37, but quarterback M.A. Olawale was sacked for an eight-yard loss by senior defensive lineman Kyle Hawari on first down, then flushed from the pocket and tackled for a four-yard loss by senior linebacker Bobby Abare on second down. After a short gain on third down the Lions went for it on fourth-and-nine from the Yale 36, but an incompletion ended the drive there 13 seconds before halftime.
Special teams continued to factor into the game as the second half began. Senior snapper Joe Dennison and senior defensive back Brian Stephenson raced down the field to tackle Columbia return man Mike Stephens at the three on a Mante punt. The Yale defense then forced a three-and-out, and Rocholl's punt got only 15 yards.
The Yale offense was momentarily knocked off schedule by a sack on first down, but Hart made up for that with a 21-yard completion to sophomore wide receiver Jordan Forney on third-and-16. The Bulldogs eventually got a 37-yard field goal from Mante to make it 17-6.
The Elis had another short field to work with when the next Columbia drive ended with Hawari chasing down a scrambling Olawale for a sack, knocking the ball loose. Senior defensive lineman Joe Hathaway grabbed the loose ball at the Lion 19.
Abare, a candidate for the Buchanan Award as the top defensive player in the Football Championship Subdivision, was happy to see some recognition for the players up front that have made his job as a linebacker so much easier.
"All year long, they've been doing the job. People talk about me a lot and they don't understand that Joe Hathaway and Kyle Hawari are some of the best defensive linemen in the league," Abare said. "Kyle Hawari, the last couple games have been some of the best of his life."
Three plays later, McLeod had plenty of room on the left side of the line and dashed in from two yards out to make it 24-6 with six minutes left in the third.
Columbia then went to backup quarterback Shane Kelly, and he engineered an 80-yard scoring drive that ended with him dashing 10 yards on a keeper for a touchdown with 1:15 left in the third quarter. Abare batted down the two-point conversion pass attempt in the end zone to keep the score 24-12.
Yale put the game out of reach with a 13-play, 73-yard drive that took six minutes off the clock in the fourth quarter and ended with Mante booting a 37-yarder. McLeod and junior tailback Ricardo Galvez combined for nine rushes for 49 yards on the drive.
"This feels great," McLeod, who was named Walter Camp Player of the game after finishing with 85 rushing yards and 25 receiving yards, said. "It felt reminiscent of the last two years that I've been here -- we controlled the ball. Hopefully we can get back into that mentality these last few games."
Columbia (1-6, 1-3 Ivy League) got the ball back with 4:20 to play, and the Yale defense delivered one last turnover. Hawari chased down Kelly and knocked the ball loose, with junior linebacker Tim Handlon falling on it at the Columbia 34. The offense then came on to run out the clock.
Yale (4-3, 2-2 Ivy League) remains alive in the Ivy League title race. The Bulldogs visit Brown next weekend. The Bears took sole possession of first place in the league at 4-0 by beating Penn 34-27 Saturday.
report by Sam Rubin '95 (firstname.lastname@example.org), Yale Sports Publicity
Video by Neil Horowitz '09, Yale Sports Publicity