It is safe to say Saturday’s loss only leaves room for improvement.
The football team got more than it bargained for this weekend when the San Diego Toreros visited the Yale Bowl, losing 43-17. The Bulldogs (0-1) had no answer for San Diego’s (3-0) potent offensive charge, led by junior quarterback Josh Johnson, who completed 28 of 35 passes, tallying 345 yards and four touchdowns. Johnson’s impressive blend of pinpoint passing and explosive running led to the Elis’ second straight season-opening loss at the hands of the Toreros.
San Diego took control of the game early. The Toreros capitalized on Yale’s opening drive fumble and mounted an efficient nine-play, 60-yard drive, ending with Johnson threading a 20-yard touchdown pass between two Bulldog defenders to wideout Wes Doyle.
Yale quarterback Matt Polhemus ’08 had a decent showing in his first start, throwing for 162 yards and completing 11 of his 28 attempts. Though most of the Bulldogs’ early offense relied on tailback Mike McLeod ’09, Polhemus displayed his mobility on a number of plays and was actually the Elis’ top rusher in the first half, with 36 yards.
The most exciting play of the first stanza belonged to Johnson and the Toreros. Johnson’s speed and agility was never more apparent than on his 46-yard touchdown run, as he evaded defender after defender, twisting and spinning his way to the goal-line and putting his team ahead, 13-0.
“There’s no question that he’s a pretty special player,” Yale head coach Jack Siedlecki said. “The most frustrating thing for the defense was when we had everything covered and he made plays with his feet.”
Kick returner and defensive back Steve Santoro ’09 was one of the few bright spots for the Bulldogs in the first half. Early in the game, Santoro sent a message to a Torero punt returner, delivering a memorable and punishing hit to energize the Bulldogs. Later, Santoro, on his first ever kickoff return, answered Johnson’s long run with a spectacular 94-yard effort through a throng of Toreros to put the Elis on the board. Santoro’s run was the longest Yale return since 2002.
“The guys up front did a great job on that run,” Santoro said. “I just tried to do what I could with it.”
Unfortunately for the Bulldogs, San Diego would not allow them to gain any momentum after the score. The Toreros came back with a two-yard touchdown run from tailback JT Rogan midway through the second quarter, followed by a 27-yard field goal with less than a minute left in the half.
Yale was able to mount an impressive drive in the remaining time, marching down the field into Torero territory. Alan Kimball ’08 booted a field goal from 48 yards out as time expired to cut the deficit to 23-10. The field goal was the fourth longest in Yale history and the longest in more than a decade.
But yet again, the Elis were unable to develop momentum. The relatively inexperienced Bulldogs defense could not contain Johnson, who completed a 57-yard bomb to Doyle less than two minutes into the third quarter. It was the second of three touchdown catches for Doyle on the day.
The Bulldogs’ only passing touchdown came shortly thereafter, with Polhemus completing a beautiful 43-yard pass to wide receiver Ashley Wright ’07 and pulling the Elis within 12. But that was as close as Yale would get, with Johnson making good on two more touchdown passes before the day was out.
Despite the disappointing loss, there is no cause for alarm just yet. The non-conference loss leaves the Ivy League title still within reach, and the young Eli defense will only improve as the season progresses.
“This was the first time we’ve all been out there together,” said captain Chandler Henley ’06, who caught a team-high six passes for 69 yards in his first action since 2004. “As the experienced guys on offense, we have to be the ones to step up. We know we can turn it around.”
The Bulldogs travel to Ithaca next weekend to take on Cornell in their first Ancient Eight contest of the year.