The Game isn’t until next week, but for all intents and purposes, it might as well be tomorrow when second-place Princeton rolls into town.
In perhaps the biggest game the Yale Bowl has seen in years, the Bulldogs (7-1, 5-0 Ivy) play this weekend for a chance to clinch at least a share of their first Ivy League title since 1999 and to liberate the school’s football program from the relative mediocrity of the past decade.
Though almost every matchup in this 129-year-old Yale-Princeton rivalry brings with it palpable excitement and insuppressible anticipation, this particular game is especially noteworthy given the immense implications and consequences that may follow. A Yale victory and a Harvard loss this Saturday gives the Elis their first outright Ancient Eight championship since 1980.
“It’s what I came to Yale for,” captain and wide-receiver Chandler Henley ’07 said. “The chance to play for an Ivy League championship, especially when it comes to the Princeton and Harvard games, is what makes a place like Yale so special.”
To further add to the magnitude of the afternoon, Yale has an opportunity to go undefeated in the Ivy League for the first time since 1968. But the tremendous importance of this game will also most likely make it one of the most difficult and hard-fought battles in recent memory. Players and fans should keep in mind that much work remains to be done, since for the first time in history, Yale, Harvard and Princeton (7-1, 4-1) are the only three schools in contention for the league title with two games left.
“I think the team feels very fortunate to be in the position we are in right now,” defensive back Larry Abare ’09 said. “The Yale-Princeton game brings a huge amount of tradition and is a great rivalry, so I think it’s an honor to play in it. Obviously because the game has Ivy League championship implications it means that much more.”
Princeton comes into New Haven knowing that Yale ended the Tigers’ 2005 title run and has the opportunity to crush the Tigers’ prospects for a second-straight year. Last fall, the Bulldogs pulled off a stunning come-from-behind victory, scoring two touchdowns in the game’s final two minutes to down the Tigers 21-14 and to dash their championship hopes. Add that to the fact that no player on Princeton’s current roster has ever beaten Yale, and the Tigers appear ravenous for a win on Saturday.
Princeton is coming off a spectacular 31-30 double-overtime victory over Penn, the final play of which earned the Tigers national attention and the No. 1 play on ESPN SportsCenter. But the Tigers have been getting the job done all season, led by senior quarterback Jeff Terrell, who has thrown for 3,464 career yards, sixth-most in school history. Terrell leads the Ancient Eight in total yards, averaging 244.8 yards per game, and he accounts for 69 percent of Princeton’s total offense. He participated in all four Tiger touchdowns last week, passing for three and rushing for the fourth.
“Their quarterback is having an outstanding year,” Yale head coach Jack Siedlecki said. “We really need to work hard at limiting his effectiveness this week.”
But Yale’s fine play last weekend against Brown gives the team some well-deserved momentum entering the Princeton game and earned several Bulldogs notable accolades as well. Linebacker Bobby Abare ’09, who snagged three interceptions and made seven tackles last weekend, earned Ivy League and 1-AA.org Defensive Player of the Week honors for his efforts. He now has four interceptions on the season and is just one shy of the school record for linebackers.
On offense, Yale will once again turn to tailback Mike McLeod ’09, who has powered the Eli charge for much of the season. McLeod is currently ranked fourth amongst 1-AA running backs with a 137-yard per game rushing average and has registered 13 touchdowns in the last seven games.
With so much at stake for both teams, one thing seems certain: Win or lose, this is a game that will be remembered for a long time.
“I hope to see a big crowd, and I hope the student body can understand the importance of a game like this,” Henley said. “The more students we have, the more excited we’ll be, and hopefully we can bring the championship back to Yale.”