The Bulldogs may be undefeated, but they are no match for Mother Nature.
An ugly downpour at Robert K. Kraft Field contributed to five Bulldog turnovers in the first half and kept the Elis scoreless heading into halftime for the first time this season. Fortunately, the rain died away after halftime and the Bulldog (7-0, 4-0 Ivy) offense responded with four touchdowns on its first four drives of the second half en route to a 28-7 victory over Columbia (1-6, 0-4 Ivy).
The Lions kept trying to give the game away in the first half, but the Bulldogs didn’t seem to want it. Strong safety Nick Solakian ’08 picked off Columbia quarterback Craig Hormann on the Lions’ second drive of the game, but quarterback Matt Polhemus ’08 returned the favor by throwing an interception on the next play.
Not to be outdone, the Lions responded with a fumble on the Yale 19-yard line after putting together their second-longest drive of the day. Neither team seemed able to take advantage of the other’s mistakes.
“It was a crazy game,” captain Brandt Hollander ’08 said. “We just tried to hold in there and keep everything on an open keel. We weren’t too worried when we saw those turnovers.”
The teams traded punts until the beginning of the second quarter, when the Bulldogs marched to the Columbia 26-yard line before Mike McLeod ’09 lost the first of his two fumbles. Although McLeod finished the day with 135 yards and three touchdowns, he averaged an uncharacteristically low 3.9 yards per carry and still seemed to be feeling the lingering effects of a foot injury he had sustained the week before against Penn.
The Columbia offense responded to McLeod’s fumble with a turnover of its own. Defensive back Matt Coombs ’08 recovered running back Ray Rangel’s fumble at the Columbia 30-yard line — one of five Columbia turnovers on the day. Coombs turned in his second solid performance filling in for injured safety Steve Santoro ’09 and finished the day with seven tackles, a forced fumble and a fumble recovery.
“Matt’s played huge for us,” Hollander said. “He’s had a number of huge hits that really get us fired up, and he generated a couple of turnovers. It’s really indicative of our team that when we lose starters we can replace them with quality guys. We like to think our backups would start anywhere else in the Ivy League, and I think Matt’s play was indicative of that.”
In a strange case of déjà vu, Polhemus failed to take advantage of a golden opportunity on the Columbia 25-yard line and threw his second interception of the day.
“When something like that happens, you’re more determined to make plays the next drive and come back and redeem yourself,” Polhemus said. “A little anger can help you to come back and prove yourself and make plays.”
Although Polhemus ended the game 9 for 21 for only 139 yards passing, he consistently exploited the Lions’ weak edge defense. The senior quarterback picked up 52 yards rushing in the third quarter, as the Elis scored on their first two drives to pull away from the Lions.
Polhemus finished with 92 yards rushing on 11 carries, outrushing the entire Columbia offense by 27 yards. As a whole, the Bulldogs picked up 300 yards on the ground, as strong performances by Polhemus and backup running back Jordan Farrell ’10 balanced out McLeod’s slow start.
“We needed to try to make this as much of an off week as we could,” Hollander said. “We didn’t want to play [McLeod] too much anyway. Columbia came at a good time for us and we really used it to our advantage.”
After not scoring for the game’s first 30 minutes, the Bulldogs quickly made up for lost time. The Elis scored on their first four possessions of the second half and held the ball for over 20 minutes.
The Bulldogs benefited from a strong defensive performance that resulted in an average field position at the Yale 45-yard line in the second half. McLeod took advantage of the short field and found the end zone on three straight drives to give the Elis a 21-0 lead and put the game out of reach. A one-yard touchdown run by Farrell and a late Columbia touchdown pass provided the final 28-7 margin.
On a day marked by sloppy offensive performances on both sides, the Bulldog defense was clearly the dominant unit. On the Lions’ four second-half possessions, the Elis forced a three and out and two turnovers before giving up a garbage-time touchdown. With the offense taking its time to get going, the Eli defense did everything it could to keep the game manageable.
“We played 60 great minutes of defense and 30 great minutes of offense,” head coach Jack Siedlecki said. “We just did not take care of the football in the first half, but we’re a resilient team.”
The Elis’ resilience will be tested again this Saturday when the Bulldogs face off against Brown, which has the Ivy League’s number one passing offense.