November 8, 2008

Yale Keeps Ivy Title Hopes Alive with 13-3 Win at Brown

Nov. 8, 2008

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PROVIDENCE, R.I. - The Yale Bulldogs showed why they are the nation's number one scoring defense Saturday afternoon, holding Brown's high-octane offense to three points. That enabled the Yale offense to deliver the knockout blow in the fourth quarter, as sophomore quarterback Brook Hart's 78-yard touchdown pass to sophomore wide receiver Peter Balsam put the game out of reach. The Elis' 13-3 win drops the Bears into a first-place tie in the Ivy standings and keeps Yale's hopes of an Ivy League title alive.

This was just the second time in the last 12 years that a team has held Brown to fewer than seven points in a game. The Bears finished near their season average of 360 yards per game entering the day, which had placed them 14th in the country. They got 333 yards against the Bulldogs, but the field position edge Yale enjoyed from junior punter/placekicker Tom Mante (41.0 yards per punt) and the Bulldog special teams unit made sure that most of those yards were gained far away from the Yale goal line.

"This was the game we wanted," said Jack Siedlecki, Yale's Joel E. Smilow '54 Head Coach of Football. "It was a field position battle. We kept them 80-90 yards away, and our defense made play after play after play."

The Bulldogs hurt themselves with four offensive penalties and a fumbled punt in the first quarter, but the defense rose to each challenge to keep the game scoreless. The muffed punt gave the Bears the ball at the Eli 18, but on third down from the 14 senior linebacker Jay Pilkerton picked off a pass from Michael Dougherty -- 11th in the nation in passing yards entering the day -- that was thrown under heavy pressure.

The Bears pieced together an 11-play, 48-yard drive that ended with a 39-yard field goal by Robert Ranney at 8:52 of the second. They could have had more, but Dougherty's 22-yard play-action pass to receiver Buddy Farnham in the end zone two plays earlier was defended perfectly by senior strong safety Larry Abare and sophomore cornerback Adam Money and fell incomplete.

A 26-yard pass from Hart to Balsam got the next Yale drive off to a good start, and the Elis eventually drew close enough for Mante to answer Ranney's 39-yard field goal with one of his own at 6:23 of the second.

The Bulldogs later overcame a 50-yard punt by Ranney that pinned them at their own six, driving to the Brown 46, but an interception halted the drive there. That gave Brown the ball with 1:06 left in the half, and the Bears were able to get close enough to try a long pass deep into Yale territory in the waning seconds. But Money and senior free safety Steven Santoro had receiver Bobby Sewall well-covered, and Dougherty's pass to him at the Yale 10 sailed over his head and out of reach.

The Yale defense made a quick statement on the first drive of the second half, with junior defensive end Justin Oplinger tackling running back Dereck Knight for a four-yard loss on first down. Senior linebacker Bobby Abare and junior defensive lineman Tom McCarthy then sandwiched Dougherty for a seven-yard loss on second down. The Bears got a short gain on third down before punting.

Sophomore receiver Gio Christodoulou took that punt back 42 yards to the Brown 39, setting up the go-ahead score. A 26-yard completion from Hart to Balsam led to another Mante field goal, a 27-yarder at the 9:42 mark that gave Yale a 6-3 lead.

Brown drove to the Yale 31 on the following possession but a fourth-down pass attempt from there sailed long, with senior cornerback Casey Gerald defending intended receiver Sewall perfectly. The offense took over for a long drive that did not get any points but did take five minutes off the clock.

"We generated more offense [368 total yards] than we have in the last few weeks," Siedlecki said. "It was tough getting into scoring position."

The Bears started a drive at the Yale 49 after stopping the Bulldogs deep in their own territory early in the fourth quarter. They got a 21-yard completion to get the ball to the Yale 16, but on the very next play Bobby Abare came charging up the middle to stop Knight for a one-yard loss. The Bears got enough yardage to set up a crucial third-and-one at the seven, but Pilkerton led a gaggle of tacklers who were not fooled by a reverse, bringing down Farnham for a five-yard loss. That play looked even more important when Ranney hooked the ensuing field goal attempt wide left, keeping the Yale lead intact.

That gave the Eli offense a chance to put the game away with a drive that started at the Yale 21 with 4:12 to play. On second-and-nine, the Bears thought they had a Yale screen pass defended perfectly, but instead it was a deep pass down the right sideline to Balsam on a go route. Balsam was wide open, and after he caught the pass he didn't face any defenders until just as he got to the goal line. There, he dodged one defender and dove to get the ball over while being tackled.

"I fake-blocked the free safety coming up," Balsam said. "[Junior tight end] A.J. Haase had a great down-field block, then I cut it back."

Senior defensive end Brady Hart, Brook's brother, forced an incompletion on Brown's fourth-and-six pass at the Yale 41 with 2:01 to play by keeping tight end Colin Cloherty from wrapping up the ball. The Yale offense was not able to run out the clock, but that wound up giving the Yale defense the chance to add one more highlight. Gerald corralled Dougherty's long pass at the Yale 45 for his first career interception, returning it 14 yards.

It had become a bit of a running joke on the team that Gerald, the Rhodes Scholar candidate and three-year starter, had never managed to pick off a pass despite being one of Yale's best defensive players. Most teams don't even attempt throwing to his side of the field. So when he finally did get that interception, it touched off a particularly emotional celebration on the Yale sideline.

"It felt great," Gerald said. "I had been telling the guys, good things come to those who wait."

Brook Hart then came out to take a knee and cap his best day as a Bulldog, as he outdueled Dougherty by throwing for 292 yards and completing 22 of 32 passes.

That also finished off the defense's remarkable performance. It was no coincidence that what would be the Bears' only points of the game were scored on one of the two drives where Bobby Abare, Yale's captain, was out of the game. One of Yale's prime playmakers was sidelined after a drive in the first quarter and eventually taken in for treatment, but he would return to finish with four tackles and 2.5 tackles for loss.

"The trainers did a great job," Abare said. "I had a back spasm that really tightened up. I thought I'd be out for the game. They kept stretching it and putting heat on it."

Also out for the Bulldogs was junior cornerback Paul Rice, who did not return after leaving the game early in the first quarter, but Money stepped in and the defense did not miss a beat. Money wound up with a game-high nine tackles.

"Paul Rice and the other starters are like my big brothers," Money said. "You never like to see them get hurt. [I told myself] `You've got to get in the right mindset. It's my time now, time to step up and help my team.'"

Bobby Abare noted that the way Balsam and Money stepped up on Saturday reminded him of his own sophomore year, when his class played a major role in Yale's Ivy League Championship run.

"When I think about these guys, I think about our sophomore year when we had guys like Mike [McLeod] stepping up and really coming through," Abare said. "We don't say, `You guys are rookies and can make mistakes.' You need guys like that to step up."

The way Yale stepped up on Saturday makes the Ivy League title race extremely interesting with two weeks to go. At 4-1 in the league, Brown is now tied for first with Penn, which beat Princeton Friday night, and Harvard, which beat Columbia Saturday afternoon. Yale is still in contention for its 15th Ivy League title with a 3-2 league record.

The Bulldogs host Princeton next Saturday at Noon at the Yale Bowl, Class of 1954 Field. The game will be broadcast on Versus as the Ivy League Game of the Week Presented by TIAA-CREF.

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

Audio Highlights from 960 WELI AM with Ron Vaccaro '04 and Carm Cozza:

video by Steven Horn '10, Yale Sports Publicity

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