There was only one turnover during the whole contest, but it happened to be one that took the game away from the Yale football team.
With less than three minutes left, receiver Chandler Henley ’06 caught a long pass from quarterback Alvin Cowan ’05. But Henley was soon hit by Lehigh’s Andrew Nelson, causing him to fumble the ball and stop a drive that could have given the Bulldogs the touchdown they needed. Instead, the Elis (3-2, 1-1 Ivy) lost to the Mountain Hawks (5-1) by a score of 30-24.
“We had a chance [to win]; we had two chances, especially with the blocked kicks,” Yale head coach Jack Siedlecki said. “It was tough to go the distance we had to go. The last four minutes we played very, very well. The second half, though, [Lehigh] made some adjustments and did some good things.”
Besides the end of the game though, the Bulldogs did not do much on either side of the ball in the Lehigh-dominated second half. Lehigh’s signal caller Mark Borda said that halftime allowed them to refocus on doing what they had practiced.
“It was pretty easy to be nervous, but the coaches calmed us down,” Borda said. “All we had to do was execute.”
And execute they did, as Borda threw for 151 yards and rushed for 49 yards in the second half. The Mountain Hawks put up 143 rushing yards after the break, compared to 30 in the first two quarters of play. Tailback Eric Rath, who rushed for only 19 yards in the first half, played a major part in Lehigh’s comeback on the ground. Rath’s 62 yards and one touchdown helped the Mountain Hawks control 20:04 of the second half, more than double the Elis’ time of possession.
“We knew it was going to be a 60-minute game going in and it was every second of that,” Lehigh head coach Pete Lembo said. “We have a very tight group that believes in what we are doing.”
The first half, however, was dominated by the Bulldogs. The Elis came out with a blazing, balanced offensive attack. Cowan was 14 of 18 for 176 yards and one touchdown, to wide receiver Ralph Plumb ’05. The two-year starter helped keep the Mountain Hawk linebackers off-balance by often motioning to either side of the field before throwing, keeping himself mobile and preventing sacks. Tailback Rob Carr ’05 ran for 71 yards and two touchdowns, one of which was a 16-yard scramble up the left side to put the Bulldogs up 21-7 with 1:11 left in the half. The Mountain Hawks kicked a field goal as the half ended to pull within 11.
The Elis also utilized some of their other weapons, including tight end Alex Faherty ’05 and tailback Jordan Spence ’07. Faherty caught three passes from Cowan, finishing the day with 67 receiving yards, all of which came in the first half.
Spence caught the Lehigh defense off-guard by catching quick screen passes and running counters. Spence had 32 receiving yards and 20 rushing yards for the day.
After halftime, the Mountain Hawks shut down many Eli attempts on offense. While Cowan managed to get 111 yards in the air in the second half for a total of 287 yards, it was not enough. On one of a few drives that were more than three and out, the Bulldogs were held to a field goal because of a controversial incomplete pass on third down. Despite the Elis’ complaints to the officials that there was pass interference on the play, no flag was thrown and three points was all the Bulldogs got on the drive. For the Eli receivers, Henley finished with 99 yards, Plumb with 71.
The Mountain Hawks had the Bulldogs’ number on the run, holding Carr to only 22 yards. As a result, the Eli offense was unbalanced and Lehigh defenders like safety Kaloma Cardwell were able to read the Bulldog offense more easily. The Yale defense also faced a tough Lehigh offense that spread out the Elis and exploited their weaknesses. On a couple of big passes, Borda found his receivers in the hole between the Eli safeties in the middle of the field. Matt Handlon ’06, who had a good performance with seven tackles, said that he and the rest of the defense was put in a bind.
“Their quarterback did a good job of putting it in the spot that we weren’t,” Handlon said. “It’s tough, but you’ve got to realize that Lehigh was the best offensive team we played.”
The special teams were a bright spot for the Bulldogs and helped keep them within striking distance. On one drive, the defense held the Mountain Hawks to a field-goal attempt, which was blocked by Andrew Ralph ’06. Later, when Lehigh scored a touchdown, the extra-point attempt was deflected by Cole Harris ’05.
Even these plays could not help the Bulldogs when playing a team notorious for forcing turnovers. Lembo said he has his team practice stripping the ball from receivers, like what the Mountain Hawks did to Henley. Henley’s fumble kept the Bulldogs from getting the seven points that they needed to win.
The Elis also had a last-ditch attempt at a drive with less than a minute left but no time outs remaining. But as the clock ran out, Cowan’s Hail Mary pass to Ashley Wright ’07 was caught out of bounds and the Mountain Hawks held on.