Nov. 10, 2007
PRINCETON, N.J. - The game was closer than the final score would indicate, but all that mattered on Saturday afternoon was that Yale found a way to win again -- this time 27-6 at Princeton. The Bulldogs are now 9-0 for the first time since 1960 and, at 6-0 in the Ivy League, will play Harvard (also 6-0 in the league) for the Ivy Championship in the 124th edition of The Game next Saturday.
"The stage is set for an amazing game," said sophomore cornerback Paul Rice, whose father, Louis, played for Harvard when the Crimson won back-to-back Ivy titles in 1974 and 1975. "Both teams are undefeated in the league. The outright title is on the line. This is why you play football. When you're a little kid and you think about playing college football, this is what you think of."
Rice's 55-yard fumble return was one of many big plays that helped the Bulldogs hold off an upset-minded Princeton squad Saturday. This was the fourth time in five games the Yale defense held its opponent to seven or fewer points, and the Bulldogs had to survive several early threats to do so. The Tigers drove down to the Yale two on their first drive, but a second-down run there was stuffed for a one-yard loss by senior defensive lineman Kirk Porter. On the next play the Tigers fumbled and junior defensive lineman Joe Hathaway pounced on the loose ball at the Eli 13.
The next Princeton drive ended at midfield when, operating out of the shotgun, quarterback Bill Foran got a low snap that left him a sitting duck for junior defensive end Brady Hart, unblocked for his third sack of the season.
Princeton made its second trip to the Yale two early in the second, and this one ended in similar fashion. As Foran headed for the end zone, Hart wrapped him up and senior strong safety Nick Solakian came over to deliver a pop that jarred the ball loose. It flew into the air, then into Rice's arms. The former running back raced all the way to the Princeton 43 before getting tackled.
"Our defense just played great," said Jack Siedlecki, Yale's Joel E. Smilow '54 Head Coach of Football. "Obviously the difference in the game was the turnovers. We didn't have any. The ones that they had absolutely killed them."
That set up a 43-yard field goal by senior placekicker Alan Kimball that gave Yale a 3-0 lead five minutes into the second quarter.
The Tigers once again got to the Yale two-yard line at the end of the first half, and once again the Bulldog defense made a stand. On second-and-goal from the two senior linebacker Lee Driftmier stopped tailback Jordan Culbreath for a one-yard loss, and on third down Foran's pass under heavy pressure was batted away by junior cornerback Casey Gerald -- the fifth Tiger play from inside the four-yard line that resulted in no points. On fourth down Princeton settled for a 20-yard field goal by Connor Louden that tied the score three seconds before halftime.
Two plays into the second half the Bulldogs got a game-changer. From the Yale 20, senior quarterback Matt Polhemus hit senior wide receiver Chris Denny-Brown twenty yards down field. Denny-Brown broke a tackle and was off to the races, finishing his run with a head-first dive into the end zone with a pack of would-be tacklers in pursuit. The 80-yard touchdown pass was the fourth-longest in school history.
"To be 3-3 at halftime, with the way we played offensively, we were in pretty good shape to be honest with you," Siedlecki said. "Then we made a couple big plays. It was a typical day for Matt [Polhemus]: 5-for-12, but two or three of them were absolutely huge."
The ensuing Princeton drive got to the Yale 29 for a fourth-and-two, where junior linebacker Bobby Abare tackled the elusive Foran (15 rushes for 72 yards on the day) short of the first down. Princeton's second drive of the half was knocked off schedule by back-to-back tackles for loss -- one started by Abare and finished off by junior defensive end Kyle Hawari, and one by senior defensive lineman Brandt Hollander.
While the Princeton punt at the end of that drive was downed at the Yale one, the Bulldogs quickly got out of their own end zone with a play-action pass from Polhemus to junior wide receiver Jarrett Drake for 27 yards. A pair of third-down conversions -- one a 10-yard run by Payton Award candidate junior tailback Mike McLeod and one a 14-yard pass from Polhemus to senior tight end Langston Johnson -- enabled the Elis to drive for a 40-yard field goal by Kimball that made it 13-3 with 14:51 remaining.
The Tigers drove 54 yards for a 31-yard field goal by Louden to get back within seven with 10:41 left on the clock. But Yale's next drive put the game out of reach in typical fashion: ball control. McLeod had 11 runs in the 13-play drive, including two third-down conversions. On the first one he appeared to be stopped behind the line by Tiger defensive back Dan Kopolovich, but he kept his legs churning and willed his way forward.
"I thought he was stopped," Polhemus said. "But he kept pushing his legs. That's just Mike McLeod right there. He's tough."
McLeod is now in his fourth game of playing through pain, having injured his foot at Penn. He's already set the school career rushing record, school single-season rushing record, school single-game rushing record and more, but he is clearly playing with a bigger prize in mind.
"He's a competitor," Polhemus said. "He's not going to sit out. He's a tough, tough kid ... It shows you his competitive spirit. He wants to win."
McLeod would end the day with 107 yards on 36 carries.
"Mike's the toughest kid I've ever coached," Siedlecki said. "The kid just keeps playing."
The Bulldogs had another third-down conversion on a play where Polhemus used play action to McLeod left to free up the right side of the field for a nine-yard scramble. A Princeton penalty negated the only third down where the Tigers stopped the Bulldogs, and two plays after that Polhemus rifled one to Denny-Brown in the end zone from 10 yards out. The drive killed more than eight minutes of clock and made it 20-6 Yale with 2:30 remaining.
The touchdowns were the first of the season for Denny-Brown.
"It's awesome having him on the team. He's a great leader," said Polhemus. "He doesn't complain about not getting the ball as far as touchdowns. It was great to get him two."
An interception by senior defensive back Matt Coombs that he returned 40 yards to the Tiger one enabled the Bulldogs to finish the scoring with a McLeod touchdown run that extended his Ivy League record for consecutive games with a touchdown to 18. Solakian put the exclamation point on the win by intercepting a deep pass at the Yale nine with 11 seconds to play.
The win avenged the only loss Yale has suffered in its last 18 games, a 34-31 defeat at the hands of the Tigers that ultimately forced the Bulldogs to share the 2006 Ivy title with their long-time rivals. Coupled with Harvard's 23-7 win over Penn, Yale's win also means that the two teams enter The Game next Saturday with identical 6-0 league records for the first time since 1968. Since every other team has at least three losses in league play, the winner of The Game will have sole possession of the 2007 Ivy League title.
report by Sam Rubin '95 (firstname.lastname@example.org), Yale Sports Publicity
- Kirk Porter with a tackle for loss on first-and-goal at the two
- Joe Hathaway recovers a fumble on the next play
- Brady Hart's sack on third down forces Princeton to punt on its second drive
- Nick Solakian forces a fumble at the goalline that Paul Rice returns 55 yards
- Alan Kimball hits a 43-yard field goal
- A goal-line stand at the end of the first half: Lee Driftmier with a tackle for loss on second down, Casey Gerald with a pass breakup on third down
- Chris Denny-Brown's 80-yard touchdown reception
- Bobby Abare and Kyle Hawari combine for a tackle for loss
- Brandt Hollander makes a tackle for loss on the next play
- Jarrett Drake makes a 27-yard catch to get Yale off its own one-yard line
- Mike McLeod converts a third down with a 10-yard rush
- Matt Polhemus with a nine-yard run for a first down
- Alan Kimball's 40-yard field goal
- Chris Denny-Brown's 10-yard touchdown catch
- Matt Coombs' interception sets up ...
- ... Mike McLeod's touchdown
- Nick Solakian's interception