Nov. 15, 2008
NEW HAVEN, Conn. - The weather conditions were far from ideal, but everything else went just according to plan for the Yale football team Saturday at the Yale Bowl, Class of 1954 Field: the offense scored early and the defense delivered another dominant effort. The 14-0 blanking of Princeton, Yale's first shutout of the Tigers in 71 years, was the perfect way to send the Class of 2009 out in its final home game. It also kept Yale in the running for the Ivy League title, which will be decided in The Game next Saturday at Harvard.
"There's no better way to go out than with a win over Princeton, our rival, and a shutout," said senior defensive end Brady Hart, one of eight senior starters on a Yale defense that leads the country in scoring defense. "It feels good that our class was able to put a stamp on a game like today."
Torrential rain that started shortly before the game made footing treacherous, and the strong wind also affected any ball thrown or kicked in the air. The wet conditions were a factor immediately, as Princeton tried an option pitch on its second play from scrimmage and quarterback Brian Anderson's toss squirted away from its intended target. Senior strong safety Larry Abare fell on the loose ball to set the Yale offense up at the Princeton 24.
The Bulldogs had a setback when sophomore quarterback Brook Hart, Brady's brother, lost his footing while dropping back to pass on first and goal from the six, resulting in a sack for Princeton defensive end Matt Boyer. But senior tailback Mike McLeod made up for that lost yardage with a 12-yard run that got the ball to the five. Hart's swing pass found sophomore wide receiver Jordan Forney wide open on the right side of the field, and Forney dashed into the end zone. Junior placekicker/punter Tom Mante booted the extra point to make it 7-0 at 11:25.
"We wanted to set the tone early and never give them a chance," Forney said. "I was able to out-flank the defense. When I caught it [junior wide receiver] Reid Lathan had a good block and I was able to basically walk into the end zone."
More than 30,000 tickets were distributed for the game, the 131st meeting between these two rivals, but the weather conditions kept many fans away. The rain abated as the game wore on, and conditions didn't cause the next Princeton turnover. Rather, it was just another case of senior linebacker Bobby Abare showing his uncanny knack for the ball once again. Anderson found all of his receivers covered on third-and-four from the Princeton 28, so he scrambled to his right to buy time. He stopped and fired a pass into the middle of the field, but Abare was right there for the 10th interception of his career -- a record for Yale linebackers -- and he returned it to the Tiger 17.
Three plays after Abare's pick Hart fired the ball to Forney in the end zone from 12 yards out to make it 14-0 at 7:00 of the third. The Bulldogs took that lead into halftime shortly after stopping a Princeton drive at the Yale 34 on downs. The biggest play on that possession wasn't the final play, when backup quarterback Tommy Wornham overthrew his receiver on fourth down. On the second play of the drive running back Jordan Culbreath, the Ivy League's leading rusher, took a toss from the Princeton 31 and broke off an 18-yard gain that would have been much more had sophomore cornerback Adam Money not been able to dive and trip up Culbreath at the Tiger 49.
A scoreless third quarter saw Yale continue to pound away with its running game, as McLeod was on his way to a season-high 138 yards. Yale's all-time leading rusher had been held under 100 yards in the four previous games, but on Saturday he was a key reason why Yale dominated time of possession by more than 13 minutes.
"We came together," McLeod said. "It was always there, it was just a case of holding a block for one more second or one better cut from me and we'd be able to break it. We knew what we had to do."
The Tigers knew that with the way the Yale defense was playing time was running out on them even as the fourth quarter had just begun, so they opted to go for it on fourth-and-one at midfield. The play was doomed from the start, as a high snap left Anderson with no room to run as he tried the middle of the field. Junior defensive end Justin Oplinger made the tackle amidst a swarm of Yale defenders.
Princeton had another chance at putting points on the board when an acrobatic interception by Brady Hart was ruled an incomplete pass, but two incompletions after that forced another Tiger punt.
The Tigers' last two drives ended with turnovers. Just a week after getting his first career interception, senior cornerback Casey Gerald helped one of his teammates accomplish the same feat. Gerald popped receiver Trey Peacock just as the ball arrived, and the ball bounced to junior linebacker Tim Handlon at the Yale 39.
The final interception came from Larry Abare, who picked off a pass at the Yale 43 with 44 seconds to play. The Abare brothers thus finished with three turnovers on the day, a fitting way for two of the leaders of Yale's defense to go out.
"This was a great way to end things, being a senior and playing the last game here," Bobby Abare said. "I'm more proud of the fact it was a team effort. The offense did a good job keeping us off the field in the second half."
Yale's win means that next week's game at Harvard, the 125th edition of The Game, has Ivy League title implications. The Crimson beat Penn 24-21 Saturday, keeping pace atop the Ivy League with Brown, which beat Dartmouth 45-16. Harvard and Brown are 5-1 in the league, while Yale and Penn are 4-2. The Bulldogs must beat the Crimson and have Columbia beat Brown next Saturday in order to claim a share of what would be their 15th Ivy League crown.
Prior to the game the Bulldogs recognized all 35 seniors on the roster, including the Abares, Gerald, Brady Hart, McLeod, defensive lineman Uthman Arogundade, offensive lineman Peter Boisi, offensive lineman Darius Dale, offensive lineman Ty Davis, wide receiver/snapper Joe Dennison, wide receiver Jarrett Drake, wide receiver Ken Ebeling, quarterback Ryan Fodor, offensive lineman Landon Hairgrove, defensive lineman Joe Hathaway, defensive lineman Kyle Hawari, quarterback/punter Josh Helmrich, defensive lineman Shane Jones, offensive lineman Bryan Kana, wide receiver Grant MacQueen, wide receiver Sam Matias, offensive lineman Stephen Morse, linebacker Jason Palumbo, linebacker Jay Pilkerton, linebacker Matt Plummer, defensive end Jay Richmond, free safety Steven Santoro, offensive lineman Adam Sato, wide receiver Patrick Sedden, wide receiver Jarren Simmons, defensive back Rylan Spence, defensive back Brian Stephenson, fullback Shebby Swett, defensive lineman Eric Vidal and kicker/punter Chris Yergan.
The senior class has been a part of 27 wins. One more would give the Bulldogs the H-Y-P Championship and, perhaps, a share of the 2008 Ivy League title.
report by Sam Rubin '95 (email@example.com), Yale Sports Publicity
video by Neil Horowitz '09, Yale Sports Publicity