Football starts fall with Toreros

The Yale football team has a lot to prove in its season opener against San Diego this weekend. The Elis, who opened their 2005 campaign on a sour note with a heartbreaking loss to the Toreros, will have their hands full trying to prevent a similar outcome this year when the red-hot Toreros visit the Yale Bowl.

After defeating the Bulldogs (0-0) last year and becoming the first Pioneer Football League team to ever register a victory against an Ivy League opponent, San Diego (2-0) has gone 10-1 and is currently the top-ranked I-AA team in the nation. Already this season, the Toreros have recorded two impressive victories over Azusa Pacific and Dixie State. After completing 20 of 31 passes for four touchdowns and 293 yards last week, San Diego quarterback Josh Johnson was named co-PFL Offensive Player of the Week. The Toreros are led by head coach Jim Harbaugh, a former NFL quarterback and 1995 AFC player of the year.

But despite San Diego’s impressive resume, the Bulldogs have their own agenda in mind for this weekend. History is on the side of the Elis, who have won more than 85 percent of their season openers over the years. Last year’s Ivy League Rookie of the Year, Mike McLeod ’09, and first-team All-Ivy wideout Ashley Wright ’07 will lead the offensive charge for the Bulldogs. Having finally settled on Matt Polhemus ’08 as the team’s starting quarterback, Yale hopes to develop some continuity and cohesiveness early in the season.

The Bulldogs said they are eager to get out on the field.

“It’s been a long offseason, and we’re definitely ready to go,” Polhemus said. “We just want to come out and show what we can do.”

Last year’s loss to the Toreros set the tone for a disappointing season, so the 2006 opener is especially important, with every Bulldog out for a taste of redemption. The Elis, who jumped out to a 14-0 lead last season, were scoreless in the second half, registering only 46 yards of total offense. Josh Johnson threw a 2-yard touchdown pass midway through the fourth quarter, and then converted a two-point try that put San Diego on top, 17-14, for the rest of the game.

“Last year the problem was, we didn’t have any idea what the defense was going to do,” McCleod said. “We’ve studied a lot of film since then. We know we have the talent — all we need to do is execute.”

Team members said they are confident they can turn things around this year.

“I think it was pretty embarrassing for all of us when we lost that game,” Brandt Hollander ’08 said. “I wouldn’t anticipate us losing again this year, though.”

The Bulldogs follow their home opener with three consecutive road games, beginning with a trip to Ithaca next weekend to take on Cornell. Last season, then-quarterback Jeff Mroz ’06 tied a 39-year-old school record, throwing five touchdown passes to lead Yale to a 37-17 victory over the Big Red.

The Elis said they have high aspirations for this season after working very hard in the offseason.

“We’re itching to get out there,” Polhemus said. “We’re very prepared, physically and mentally, and I think this is going to be a great year for us.”

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