Something old, something new, nothing borrowed and both teams blue.
On Saturday, the Bulldogs beat the Georgetown Hoyas, 28-14, on the strength of superstar tailback Mike McLeod’s ’09 four rushing touchdowns. Much like last season, McLeod carried the Elis when they needed him the most, putting the game out of reach during an impressive fourth-quarter drive. The Elis also received some unexpected help from H-back John Sheffield ’10, who turned in an outstanding performance and finished with eight catches for 115 yards.
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The Bulldogs started the game off in a dominant fashion. On their first drive, Georgetown went three and out thanks to a false start penalty and a sack by defensive end Jared Hamilton ’08 and linebacker Jay Pilkerton ’09. The Elis marched down the field on their first possession. Sheffield and McLeod accounted for all 60 yards on the six-play drive that culminated in the first of McLeod’s four rushing touchdowns. The Sheffield-McLeod combo was the story of the game for the Bulldogs, as the two players combined for over 70 percent of the Elis’ total offensive output — 288 total combined yards on the day. On the Bulldogs’ next scoring drive, Sheffield caught three passes for 62 yards and almost recorded his first career touchdown before being dragged down at the 1-yard line.
“We think John is going to be a really good player even though he didn’t play any varsity football as a freshman,” head coach Jack Siedlecki said. “People were making comparisons to [New Orleans Saints tight end] Eric Johnson ’01 and we think that’s exactly what he’s going to be. Even though Eric wasn’t really fast — they said the same thing about him here that they do in the NFL — he’s a hell of a football player.”
Sheffield, who was buried on the depth chart last year and entered this game listed as the backup fullback, seemed almost as surprised by his performance as everyone else in the stands.
“You can’t ever really expect anything like that,” he said. “I’m not going to compare myself to someone like [Eric Johnson]. I’m just going to try to do the best that I can.”
At the end of the first quarter, the Bulldogs led the Hoyas, 14-0, and had only given up three first downs and 70 total yards. Thirty of the Hoyas’ 70 yards came on a single play on their second drive when the Bulldogs bit on a fake option handoff to tailback Kyle Van Fleet. Other than that one play, the Elis had completely outclassed their opponents and looked like they were on their way to an easy victory.
The second quarter, however, belonged to the Hoyas. The impact of injuries to captain Brandt Hollander ’08 and defensive end Kyle Hawari ’09 became apparent as the Bulldogs struggled to stop the Hoyas’ option offense. Georgetown strung together an impressive 12-play, 68-yard drive that ended with a 10-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Mychal Harrison. Georgetown’s second-year head coach Kevin Kelly was aggressive in trying to keep his team competitive, evidenced by his decision to pass up the points on fourth and 2 from the Yale 14-yard line. Although the Hoyas converted on that fourth down, the gambling would come back to haunt them later in the game.
Following a missed 31-yard field goal by Alan Kimball ’08, Georgetown regained possession at their 20-yard line with 2:35 left to play in the half. The Hoyas ran an efficient two-minute offense that saw them at the Yale 3-yard line with 6 seconds left. Despite having no timeouts, Georgetown elected to try for the end zone instead of kicking the field goal. Although quarterback Matt Bassuener seemed to throw the ball away with seven-tenths of a second left on the clock, the officials ruled that time had expired after a lengthy conference, inciting a chorus of boos from the sparse home crowd.
“Anything under six seconds is playing with fire,” Siedlecki said. “Six seconds isn’t much time, especially with a quarterback that likes to run and likes to make plays.”
The stalled drive at the end of the half was one of two impressive goal-line stands by the Bulldog defense. In the third quarter, with the Elis nursing a 21-7 lead after a one-yard touchdown run by McLeod, the Hoya offense was again threatening inside the Yale 5-yard line. On second and goal, the Bulldogs held Van Fleet to a three-yard gain, setting up a third and goal from the one-yard line. Although the Hoyas had incredible success running the ball earlier in the drive, two consecutive Hoya rushes were stopped for no gain as the Bulldogs refused to yield.
Second-team All-Ivy selection Larry Abare ’09 and Brady Hart ’09 wrapped up Van Fleet on third down, and Abare brought down former Patriot League rookie of the year Chris Houghton on fourth down. Despite giving up 191 yards on the ground over the course of the game, the Eli defense demonstrated an ability to hold firm when it mattered the most.
“It was great overall defense,” Abare said. “The last play on fourth down, we forced [Houghton] back inside. The whole defense held together and we had two good plays there. Georgetown did a great job, you have to give them a lot of credit. They were moving the ball a lot on us the whole game. I think [the end of the half] was a big momentum turner for us.”
The Hoyas made things interesting in the fourth quarter as they took advantage of favorable field position. On a drive that started on the Georgetown 39-yard line, Bassuener completed five of six passes — the longest being seven yards — and Houghton took advantage of a tired Bulldog defensive line with four carries for 30 yards. The drive culminated with a 7-yard touchdown pass to a wide-open Anthony Homsey, cutting the Eli lead to 21-14 with 6:08 left in the game.
With the Bulldogs in danger of losing control, McLeod showed why he is one of the Football Championship Subdivision’s (formerly Division I-AA) best football players. Up until that point, McLeod had only 96 yards on 23 carries for an uncharacteristic 4.2 yards per carry average. The next series, McLeod had five consecutive carries for 43 yards and iced the game with a 14-yard scamper that provided the final margin of victory, 28-14.
“It was a long game. We were able to finish the game and able to finish strong,” McLeod said. “They were 0-2 and we knew we were going to have to play our hardest. … [At the end] we were still fresh and the [Georgetown] defense was tired.”
On the ensuing possession, Steven Santoro ’09 picked off Bassuener with 1:41 left to play, allowing the Bulldogs to run the clock and win their first season opener in three years.
Throughout the entire game, the Hoyas declined to attack the Bulldogs vertically and instead focused on exploiting the Elis’ makeshift defensive line through short passes, screens and a heavy reliance on the rushing game. The Hoyas averaged 4.9 yards per pass attempt while the Bulldogs averaged nearly 8.8 yards, demonstrating a marked difference in offensive philosophy. Bassuener finished the game 27 of 37 for 181 yards with two touchdowns and one interception.
“Their pass offense is very different,” Siedlecki said. “They throw so many balls behind the line of scrimmage. The interception was one of the few balls they threw past the line. I don’t think you can gauge our pass defense from their numbers.”
Although the Elis graduated All-American Ed McCarthy ’07 and guard Brett Crandall ’07 and lost honorable mention All-Ivy Nick Wachtler ’08 to injury early in the game, the Bulldog offensive line held strong for all sixty minutes and did not give up a single sack. Backup center Ty Davis ’09 performed admirably in Wachtler’s place despite two fumbled snaps late in the game.
“I’m coming in as a backup and I don’t have the chemistry that the starter had, but [Polhemus and I] worked it out,” Davis said. “As the game went on, the chemistry of the O-Line got a lot better.”
The Bulldogs begin Ivy League play against Cornell next Saturday at the Yale Bowl.