It’s been a difficult October for Yale (3-4. 3-1 Ivy). Aside from a Parent’s Weekend shutout of Dartmouth, the Bulldogs have fallen to Holy Cross, Lehigh and Penn, and have suffered an even greater loss with the recent passing of 960 AM WELI play-by-play man Dick Galiette.
Finally, a long-overdue dose of good karma arrived in the second quarter of Saturday’s 37-3 win at Columbia.
Trailing 3-0 with the ball near midfield, running back Mike McLeod ’09 received a handoff and burst off the right tackle for 11 yards. Three plays later, quarterback and captain Jeff Mroz ’06 found Todd Feiereisen ’06 on a 29-yard post pattern to set up a first and goal. McLeod turned in seven yards of magic on the next play, running left and shaking two defenders before hooking the ball inside the pylon while Keenan Shaw knocked him out of bounds.
As Columbia (2-5, 0-4) regained possession, the Lions began a string of interceptions. Three plays into the ensuing drive, linebacker Lee Driftmeier ’07, the early favorite for Ivy League Defensive Player of the Week, nipped a Craig Hormann pass with a diving catch.
Yale took advantage of the short field. A 19-yard deep out to Feiereisen was the big play on the drive. Three plays later, Mroz connected with Ashley Wright ’07, the League’s leading receiver, for an eight-yard touchdown.
“We knew it wasn’t their best defender out there on Ashley,” Mroz said. “We’d seen him for a couple snaps before. He was either going to play press [coverage] or going to bail, and he bailed so we just threw a back-shoulder fade.”
The play induced great cheers from the Yale sideline, but expletives from the enraged Columbia coaches upstairs. One defensive coach even pounded his fist against the Plexiglas that separates the coaches’ box from the adjacent press box.
Matt Handlon ’06 ended Columbia’s next drive when he intercepted Hormann at the Yale 32-yard line, the safety’s first of two picks Saturday. He fumbled on the return, but cornerback Andrew Butler ’06 recovered. The recovery was one of a number of fine plays Butler made on the day, including a team-high eight tackles and one sparkling pass breakup mistaken by the back judge as pass interference.
The Elis — Wright in particular — needed just one play to get their third score. Mroz threw his favorite target a screen pass, then watched him accelerate through two defenders and down the sideline for 68 yards.
“Right away we realized that they had to really respect Ashley’s speed,” Mroz said. “So they just bailed, which opened up a lot of wide-receiver screens.”
After the game, Wright was asked if he always had the “second gear” he displayed on that scamper.
“I’ve never really had so much open field to run with,” he said. “So I think that may have been the first time we ever saw it — if I do have it.”
Two Yale possessions later, the Bulldog offense was at it again. A 36-yard pass down the seam to Chris Denny-Brown ’07 brought Yale to the brink of the Columbia end zone, then two runs by McLeod chipped away the final three yards to make the score 28-3.
Alas, the Elis were not satisfied. Before the half could end, the incomparable Driftmeier — who has every reason to dress as Superman tonight — was intent on getting Yale another score.
With less than a minute remaining in the half, backup quarterback Joe Winters, who had entered the game “to provide a spark,” according to Columbia head coach Bob Shoop ’88, ended up faring worse than the man he replaced. When Winters lofted a pass near the right sideline, Driftmeier leapt up and corralled it with his right hand. Indeed, it was a bird, it was a plane, it was Lee Driftmeier.
“Both of his interceptions — I don’t know too many guys who can make those plays,” said Hormann, Driftmeier’s victim on interception No. 1. “On mine he was almost parallel to the ground when he made it.”
Mroz drew Yale within field-goal range with completions to Denny-Brown and D.J. Shooter ’07. From there Alan Kimball ’08, who has found his groove lately after some early-season growing pains, booted a career-long 41-yarder.
Thus ended the second quarter, a 31-0 explosion by the Elis, who outgained the Lions 259-66 during the period.
“That second quarter was horrifying in every facet of the game,” Shoop said.
Shoop’s anguish was Yale head coach Jack Siedlecki’s delight.
“I thought the biggest thing of the game was the turnovers,” he said. “Our defense created scoring situations for us and we took advantage of it and scored. That’s great team football, and that’s how you score a lot of points.”
Yale got another bit of good karma shortly after its game ended: Brown beat Penn 34-20, creating a four-way tie atop the Ancient Eight standings (Princeton is also 3-1 in conference play).
Although Brown did Yale a favor by unseating the Quakers, the Elis should be careful what they wish for — on Saturday they will face the team that beat Penn, which demolished them a week ago.
The looming challenge of Brown did little to temper the post-game optimism of Siedlecki.
“This was a really important game for us,” Siedlecki said. “We absolutely had to win this game. We have Brown next week and we’re 3-1 in the league. Stranger things have happened.”