In a 31-10 scrimmage win over Princeton Saturday, the football team, hit hard by graduation and even harder by preseason injuries, reached far up its sleeve and drew two surprise aces, both largely absent in 2004.
The first was speed. It manifested itself in a number of ways — both on offense and defense — but usually it wore No. 28, namely running back Mike McLeod ’09.
The second was luck. It, too, assumed many forms, from wayward Princeton passes to fortuitous Yale bounces, most notably a fourth-quarter Ryan Fodor ’09 throw to tight end Mike Duvall ’08 which turned into a 65-yard touchdown catch for running back Tyler Wells ’06.
After fullback Joe Fuccillo ’08 picked up a heavy Princeton blitz, Fodor lofted a pass into double coverage. The pass glanced off a Tigers defensive back and into of the hands of Wells, who raced 40 yards untouched to the end zone.
“That’s what it’s all about,” Wells said. “I just go out there to have a good time every day. For something like that to happen, it’s just making my season right now. It’s incredible. It’s one of the most fun times I’ve ever had on a football field, and the sideline made it all that much more fun.”
Wells led the Elis with two touchdowns — the first coming on a one-yard run — while McLeod paced all rushers with 38 yards. The freshman’s highlight came on Yale’s first drive, when he dashed 20 yards off of a sweep to the left sideline and then capped the drive with a four-yard touchdown.
Quarterback Jeff Mroz ’06 was completed 12 of 18 passes for 158 yards and a 30-yard touchdown screen pass to receiver Todd Feiereisen, who slipped three Tigers tacklers before finding paydirt.
The reserves took over in the second half, and though Wells, the third running back on the depth chart behind McLeod and Jordan Spence ’07, was the main attraction, other Bulldogs made strong impressions.
Offensively, the fleet-footed Matt Polhemus ’08 laid to rest any fears that Mroz is lacking an able backup. Rolling out of the pocket most of the time, Polhemus threw for 32 yards on five-for-eight passing and showcased his change-of-pace speed on a 15-yard scramble. His understudy, third-stringer Fodor, was two-for-three for 99 yards and a touchdown.
“I was really pleased offensively,” Yale head coach Jack Siedlecki said. “Overall, we made some mistakes, but it’s better to learn today than against San Diego or Cornell. As far as the offense goes, we got what we wanted out of them today.”
Even Rob Carr ’05, the class of 2005’s most irreplaceable cog and Yale’s all-time leading rusher, was singing the offense’s praises.
“They looked good,” he said. “They’ve got some young players who are going to be able to step it up. McLeod looked pretty good today, too. Of course, Jeff [Mroz], he didn’t play last year but he’s a veteran. He has a lot of knowledge of the game and that should be key.”
Safety Nick Solokian ’07 was Yale’s star on defense, making several stops early in the game and punctuating his day with the game’s only interception — which he followed with a sterling 19-yard return to set up an Alan Kimball ’08 field goal. The defensive line also sparkled, making such frequent trips to the Princeton backfield that it sometimes seemed as though the Tigers running backs were wearing blue jerseys and numbers in the nineties.
“The defense was sluggish at the start, but in the second quarter we shut ‘em down,” Siedlecki said. “We were more aggressive and we made big plays.”
Siedlecki tempered his enthusiasm when he remembered the big picture: the 10-game regular season beginning Sept. 17.
“The big thing about today is that we came out of this healthy,” he said.