Much to the dismay of the rest of the Ivy League, the Yale football team proved once again this week why it is still the team to beat, racking up its seventh consecutive victory by defeating defending champion Brown. With the win, the Bulldogs maintain their solitary grip on the league’s top spot and inch closer to the most coveted prize in Ancient Eight football.
An unrelenting and tenacious Bulldog defense came up with five turnovers — including three interceptions by linebacker Bobby Abare ’09 — and the Yale offense found a way to come up with several key plays down the stretch to give the Elis their third three-point victory in the last six games, 27-24.
Whatever faults critics might point to on this year’s squad, even Yale’s most adamant naysayers must grant that this is a team with tremendous heart and impeccable late-game execution. Though the Elis have been trailing or tied during the fourth quarter in three of their last four games, they have repeatedly managed to maintain their poise and to rise to the occasion at every crucial juncture, sending opponent after opponent home empty-handed.
“That’s kind of the theme of the season,” captain and wide receiver Chandler Henley ’07 said. “Adversity happens in the second half, and this team just pulls through. I can’t say that I wasn’t worried or nervous because that happens. The team stuck together. We made plays when we needed to. Everybody believes this year — that’s the difference. They believe that we’re going to win, and it just keeps happening.”
Yale began this game the same way it ended the last one: On the second play of the afternoon, Brown quarterback Joe DiGiacomo sailed a pass over the head of his intended receiver and straight into the outstretched arms of cornerback Paul Rice ’10. The rookie used a quick jolt up the left side of the field to return the ball to Bear territory and to give the Elis the early momentum. Though the Bulldogs failed to convert this turnover into a score, their next possession would be more fruitful, culminating in a 35-yard Alan Kimball ’08 field goal.
Yale didn’t wait long to increase its lead, as on the very next play Abare leapt out of the secondary to snatch DiGiacomo’s attempted lob to the left side and dashed 19 yards untouched into the end zone for his second touchdown in as many games.
“The defensive line did a great job to get pressure on their quarterback the whole game, and I put myself in a good position to make some plays,” Abare said. “Luckily the ball just came my way, and I had the opportunity to make a play.”
With Yale seemingly comfortably ahead 10-0, the Bears showed that no lead is safe in the Ivy League and appeared to awaken from their slumber on the ensuing kickoff. Senior Brandon Markey recorded the seventh-longest kick return in Brown history, sprinting 95 yards to the goal-line to cut the Eli lead to three. Altogether, the teams combined for three scores in only one minute.
The crowd would have to wait until early in the second quarter to see the next points go up on the scoreboard, when the Bulldogs mounted a 13-play, 70-yard drive. Quarterback Matt Polhemus ’08 found Henley in the end zone, who made a spectacular diving catch in traffic to put the Elis back up by 10.
Once again, Brown responded immediately. Less than two minutes after Henley’s touchdown, the Bear offense produced its first points of the afternoon, with a 32-yard bomb from DiGiacomo to Lonnie Hill.
Despite another Abare interception later in the second quarter, Brown pulled ahead of the Elis with a 92-yard drive that led to their third touchdown and gave the Bears a 21-17 lead with less than three minutes left in the half.
Both defenses picked up the intensity in the second half, as the two teams managed only one field goal apiece until late in the fourth quarter. Down 24-21 with less than four minutes to play, the Bulldogs came up with yet another season-defining drive, going 80 yards in just four plays to set up the game-winning touchdown. After catching a short pass from Polhemus at the Yale 25, wide receiver Ashley Wright ’07 evaded several would-be tacklers himself, made use of a superb block from D.J. Shooter ’07 and simply outran the rest of the Bear defense on his way to a momentous 71-yard gain.
“We had ran that same play four or five times before,” Wright said. “I noticed they weren’t really attacking short routes and were starting to get a little nosy. I just made a move to the inside, D.J Shooter made a great block, and it was off to the races from there.”
Mike McLeod ’09, who finished the game with 104 yards and registered his seventh consecutive 100-yard rushing performance, found a gap and scored the go-ahead touchdown on the next play.
“Ed McCarthy sealed off the end and Craig Taylor make a great read,” McLeod said. “Everything was covered. I just walked into the end zone.”
McLeod has accumulated 1,096 rushing yards in the season, the seventh-highest total in school history.
This week the Bulldogs prepare for their most important H-Y-P series in years, as they take on second-place Princeton this Saturday. A Yale victory would ensure at least a share of the Ivy title and would put the Elis in the position to win their first outright championship since 1980 at Harvard Stadium on Nov. 18.
Team players said they look forward to the challenge and opportunity to prove they are a championship-caliber team.
“Now we’re where we want to be, playing against another team in a similar situation,” defensive tackle Kirk Porter ’08 said. “I think everyone is ready for this game: a rivalry game and a chance to get one step closer to our ultimate goal … that’s why we play.”