November 17, 2007

Bid for Perfection Denied by Harvard; Crimson Beats Bulldogs for Ivy Title

Nov. 17, 2007

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NEW HAVEN, Conn. - Behind a stifling defensive effort that limited Yale to its lowest rushing total in the last 24 games, No. 25 Harvard claimed sole possession of the Ivy League title with a 37-6 win over No. 11 Yale in The Game Saturday afternoon at the Yale Bowl, Class of 1954 Field. The Crimson also denied Yale's chance at a perfect season, as the Bulldogs finish 9-1 with the loss.

"We didn't have a lot of success doing anything today," said Yale captain senior nose guard Brandt Hollander. "It was just not our day."

The Crimson struck 1:08 into the game on a broken play, as quarterback Chris Pizzotti scrambled to his right and then pulled back, lofting one towards an open Matt Luft in the end zone from 40 yards out.

"They did the scramble drill, where some guys go long and some guys come back," said Jack Siedlecki, Yale's Joel E. Smilow '54 Head Coach of Football. "We lost one of [the receivers]."

That marked the first time all year a Yale opponent has done anything other than punt (eight times) or fumble (once) to end its first drive against the Bulldogs. It was one of many uncharacteristic stumbles that would cost the Elis their perfect season.

The Crimson also got the first turnover of the game, an interception by linebacker Glenn Dorris at the Eli 44, but got nowhere against the Yale defense. Senior defensive lineman Kirk Porter wrapped up tailback Cheng Ho in the backfield right after the handoff on second down, and senior defensive end Brady Hart pressured Pizzotti into settling for a short completion on third down that forced a Crimson punt.

Harvard increased its lead with a 58-yard drive at the end of the first quarter. The key play was a third-down conversion at the Harvard 47 where Hart just missed intercepting Pizzottti's pass; instead it wound up in the hands of receiver Mike Cook for a seven-yard gain. Six plays later, Pizzotti hit an open Luft over the middle and he raced into the end zone for a 33-yard touchdown. Patrick Long's extra point went wide left.

Attempting to come back from their largest deficit of the year, the Bulldogs tried relying on the Ivy League's leading rushing attack. They went for a first down on fourth-and-two at the Harvard 40 on the second play of the second quarter, but Payton Award finalist junior tailback Mike McLeod fell short.

"It was a simple iso play," McLeod said. "Everything got clogged up right in the gap. I tried to cut it outside, but the field was still pretty muddy from all the rain. I tried to cut and I slipped."

That set up the Crimson offense for a 60-yard touchdown drive that ended with Ho diving into the end zone from one yard out.

Less than two minutes later the Crimson took advantage of a rare Eli special teams error when a high snap forced sophomore punter Tom Mante to scramble with the ball; he was brought down at the Eli 15. On the very next play Pizzotti rifled one to wide receiver Mike Cook for a 27-0 lead at 7:51 of the second.

A 47-yard kickoff return by freshman defensive back Gio Christodoulou followed by a 20-yard completion from senior quarterback Matt Polhemus to senior wide receiver Chris Denny-Brown got Yale to the Harvard 32, but after that the Bulldogs got only four more yards before Polhemus was forced into an incompletion on fourth-and-six.

Yale's next drive started at the Eli 10 and went backwards, so the Bulldogs had to punt from their own four. That set Harvard up 25 yards from the end zone for the final drive of the half. A miraculous grab on the ground by wide receiver Corey Mazza of a ball that was almost intercepted by Yale converted a third-and-eight and put the ball at the Eli six.

Two plays later a penalty on the Bulldogs gave the Crimson first and goal at the two. But tailback Gino Gordon was stopped just shy of the goal line on first down by senior strong safety Nick Solakian and Pizzotti's sneak was denied by junior linebacker Bobby Abare on second down. With the clock down to three seconds and the Crimson having used all their timeouts, Pizzotti spiked the ball on third down.

The Crimson offense checked with the sideline, then came back on the field and huddled up to go for the statement on fourth down instead of the field goal. But the Bulldog defense rose up to stop Gordon short, with Hollander making the tackle in the pile.

The Bulldogs thus seemed to enter the third quarter with some measure of momentum, enhanced by a 24-yard kickoff return by junior free safety Steven Santoro. But the Crimson defense forced a three-and-out, and Harvard's offense drove 60 yards for a 19-yard field goal by Long to make it 30-0 with 10:07 left in the third.

"We felt good at the half, since we had a little success going into the second half with the goal line stand," Hollander said. "But we didn't get much momentum going and didn't make the plays we needed to make."

Adding to Yale's frustration was the fact that McLeod, who had been playing with a broken toe since the Penn game, was clearly not himself. After a five-yard pass to tight end Jason Miller in the end zone made it 37-0 with 13:32 remaining, McLeod spent the rest of the game on the side line.

"I guess now that the season's over I don't have to hide anything," McLeod said. "It hurts. It limits me. I'd say I was 60-70 percent. We tried some new stuff to have me play and it didn't work. I want to be out there, but it's difficult. I know my limits. I could not run. I wasn't effective."

The Bulldogs did get one more highlight out of Christodoulou, who returned a punt 87 yards for a touchdown with 4:15 left. Yale missed the extra point, making the final 37-6.

McLeod finished with 50 yards on 20 carries, and Yale's 66 total rushing yards represented the team's lowest total since the 2005 Penn game (50). Abare finished with a game-high 14 tackles. Pizzotti had 316 yards passing and Luft had 160 yards receiving.

Harvard (8-2, 7-0 Ivy) finishes with its 12th Ivy League title, while the Bulldogs were denied their 15th. Yale (9-1, 6-1 Ivy) finishes with nine wins in a season for just the third time since the 1960 team, which remains the last perfect Yale squad with its 9-0 record.

In addition to recognizing the donors behind the restoration of the Yale Bowl, Class of 1954 Field at halftime, the Bulldogs honored their 28 seniors prior to The Game. That group helped Yale to a 17-3 record over the past two seasons, including an Ivy championship last year.

"I told the seniors that I'm really proud of them," said Siedlecki. "It was a rough day for all of us ... for the young guys, this season is something to build off for next year."

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

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Postgame Press Conference:

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