After a demoralizing loss on the road, there is nothing like a homecoming, and as cliched as that may sound, free safety Barton Simmons ’05 could not have summed it up better.
“It’s really nice to be home and back on grass,” Simmons said. “All we’ve got to worry about is Colgate.”
This Saturday, the football team (1-1, 0-1 Ivy) opens its season at home in the Yale Bowl versus the Div. I-AA No. 11 Colgate Raiders (2-1). The Bulldogs lead the series overall 24-10-3 but have lost the last two under head coach Jack Siedlecki.
Last year, the 52-40 loss was the highest-scoring game in modern Yale football history, with quarterback Alvin Cowan ’05 breaking the Yale record for total offense with 466 yards. Cowan will need to harness some of that energy from last year if he is going to get the offense back on its feet and give the team and the fans a win.
On the other side of the ball, the Raiders will be utilizing tailback Jamaal Branch’s speed and strength. Branch set Div. I-AA records for most rushing attempts, most yards gained, most rushing touchdowns, and most 100-yard games. Last season, he took home the Walter Payton Award — given to the top player in Div. I-AA football every year.
Despite losing last weekend, Siedlecki said that by Monday, the Bulldogs had moved on to this weekend’s contest.
“The thing about losing a game is you’ve got to learn from it and move on,” Siedlecki said. “The biggest thing is us getting ready for Colgate. We are playing a good football team and we’ve got to give ourselves a chance to win.”
One of the things the Elis learned from the loss is that they did not make the adjustments to keep them in the game, Siedlecki said. Besides doing a better job of that this weekend, Siedlecki said they need to prepare for the Raider defense.
So far this season, opposing defenses have done a fairly good job of limiting the Eli offensive arsenal. The Bulldogs have scored a total of 31 points in the two games they have played, whereas last season, the team averaged 35.4 points a game. The Eli air game has been held to 322 yards and the rushing has been limited to 232 total yards. Guard Tony Bellino ’05 said it is time to do what they did so well last year.
“We’ve got to try to put together a full game of really good offensive football,” Bellino said. “I hope we are not a team that needs to be backed into a corner.”
Cowan will be looking to hook up with his receivers, including Chandler Henley ’05, Ralph Plumb ’05 and William Blodgett ’06. Plumb was named to the Ivy Honor Roll this week because of his 99-yard receiving and touchdown against Cornell. Last Saturday, Blodgett also had a personally successful outing with a career-best four catches.
The Bulldog offensive line will need to focus not only on giving Cowan the time to find his wideouts, but also on opening holes for tailback Rob Carr ’05. Carr has been held to an average 2.73 yards per carry this season, while last fall he tallied 4.71 yards per carry.
While Yale in general will be trying to settle into a successful rhythm, there have been some wrenches thrown into its machine. Starting linebacker Ken Estrera ’05 suffered a season-ending injury when he broke his leg in Ithaca. Estrera took last semester off in order to be able to finish out his football eligibility this semester. Even though Estrera has only played six quarters of football, he is ranked second for tackles in the Ivy League right now.
Defensive end Don Smith ’05 said the numerous tackles were not the only thing Estrera brought to the table.
“[Estrera] is such a great linebacker, but it’s also his mental aspect,” Smith said. “He’s seen a lot of stuff that others haven’t seen.”
Although Estrera will be missed, Cole Harris ’05 is stepping into the position, something that does not worry Siedlecki. Harris led the team in tackles at Cornell with 12.
“[Harris] is a quality football player,” Siedlecki said. “He’s played a lot of football; he’s played in the rotation. Obviously he played pretty well [last weekend].”
Another issue is the status of right tackle Brice Wilkinson ’06. Wilkinson has dislocated his shoulder twice recently and right now it is so loose that it does not hurt a great deal, Siedlecki said. Siedlecki also said that Wilkinson thinks he will play tomorrow, although they are taking things one day at a time.
The Raiders are coming into this game with a two-game winning streak. Despite this, Colgate head coach Dick Biddle said there are still some things they need to do better if they are going to beat Yale, a program he described as “very good,” with a physical defense.
“We have a ways to go offensively,” Biddle said. “Right now, we need to get momentum and bring in our A game. We know we are going to have a tough game against Yale.”
After a week of practice, the Bulldogs will walk out into the Bowl for the first time, see their fans there and listen to the band play the fight songs. But as inspiring as this can be, they still have to execute when it comes game time.
“It’s all of us,” Siedlecki said. “We’ve got to have confidence and have everyone believe in what we are doing.”