Statistically, the football team was dominated in virtually every aspect by Fordham on Saturday in its non-conference finale. Yet Yale still managed to nearly pull off the victory.
Outgained by 253 yards, the Bulldogs (3-2, 1-1 Ivy) forced four turnovers and held a lead until the very end. But with only 14 seconds remaining, the Rams (3-3) converted a 20-yard field goal to seal the deal and beat the Elis, 12-10.
The Bulldogs kept the Fordham offense at bay for the entire game, but being on the field for over 38 minutes eventually caught up to them. The Rams were able to sustain time-consuming drives with 12 third down conversions, while the Bulldog offense was just one of nine on third downs.
“The biggest thing our defense needs to work on is getting off the field,” cornerback Paul Rice ’10 said. “We let them go 12 of 20 on third down conversions. That cannot happen anymore. We need to get more three and outs, and let our offense get more chances with the ball.”
But long drives didn’t equate to many Ram points, due to timely plays by the Eli defense.
After putting six on the board in its second drive on a 20-yard touchdown pass from quarterback John Skelton to Jason Caldwell, Fordham had its next two drives end with turnovers in Yale territory.
The first was a fumble forced by Kyle Hawari ’09 and recovered by Tom McCarthy ’10 that halted the host’s drive on the Yale 28-yard line.
On Fordham’s following series, the Rams marched 55 yards down to the Bulldog 3-yard line before a déjà vu occurred for the Elis. For the third consecutive week, Yale intercepted an opposing quarterback’s pass in their own end zone. The Rams attempted a trick play with backup quarterback Clayton Bush lined up under center and starting quarterback John Skelton lined up in the slot as a wide receiver. Bush tried throwing it to Skelton in the end zone, but safety Steven Santoro ’09 was able to deflect the pass to Rice for the clutch takeaway.
However, the biggest turnover took place in Fordham’s first possession of the second half. The Rams marched down to the Bulldog four-yard line and handed the ball off to fullback Quasand Lewis on first and goal when the Yale defense struck again.
Lineman Eric Vidal ’09 got to Lewis and tore the ball out of the ballcarrier’s arms. The ball bounced into the open field when captain and linebacker Bobby Abare ’09 snatched it on the 14-yard line and took it the other way for an 86-yard touchdown return.
The touchdown gave the Bulldogs a 10-7 lead and was just another entry on the long list of huge plays from Abare this season. Abare has accumulated 48 total tackles, two sacks and three interceptions to go with the fumble recovery this season. Two of his interceptions were in Yale’s own end zone, and the third was returned for a touchdown against Holy Cross.
On Saturday alone, Abare accounted for 15 tackles (10 solo), two sacks and the fumble recovery.
“Bobby Abare plays the game with tremendous passion and effort,” head coach Jack Siedlecki said. “His knack for the big play in crucial situations has been a key to our defense the entire season.”
The final Ram turnover found another familiar Bulldog in the mix. On the 11th play of a Fordham drive, Skelton threw an interception to Santoro with 1:40 on the clock. The free safety returned the ball 35 yards to the Yale 47-yard line.
For Santoro, who also had eight tackles (five solo) on the day, it was his 11th career interception, which ties him for third on Yale’s all-time list with Arnie Pinkston ’80.
But the turnovers were for naught.
The Yale offense, which came into the game averaging an Ivy League-best 31.4 points per game, was on the field for just 21 minutes and couldn’t generate much during that brief time.
The offense relies on its running game — read Mike McLeod ’09 — to score points, but the Fordham defense proved too much for the Elis.
After just 26 yards on 14 carries in the first half, McLeod finished the game with 65 yards on 21 carries. For the school record holder with 21 games over 100 rushing yards, it was his third sub-100 yard game of the season. The 3.1 yards-per-carry average, well below what McLeod has been able to do in the past, is an indicator of the ground game’s struggles.
“Fordham’s front did an outstanding job getting off blocks and running to the ball,” Siedlecki said. “We allowed too much penetration on several run plays. When we were on time, we were efficient, but we had too many zero or minus plays that put us off time.”
In the absence of a typical Eli run game, quarterback Ryan Fodor ’09 was efficient — 10 of 16 for 120 yards — but couldn’t sustain a scoring drive after Tom Mante ’10 converted a 22-yard field goal to conclude the team’s second drive.
The offense didn’t help its cause as the Fordham defense smothered McLeod in the end zone for a safety to cut the Yale lead to 10-9 in the fourth quarter.
After the play, McLeod was slow to get up — a worrisome sign for the Bulldogs — but didn’t miss a snap. Dating back to a broken toe he sustained in the midst of last season’s record-breaking campaign, McLeod has dealt with nagging injuries, including a sprained ankle that sidelined him against Holy Cross. Yale, already depleted in the backfield with injuries to Jordan Farrell ’10 and Ricardo Galvez ’10, cannot afford to lose McLeod to injury. An unhealthy McLeod could be devastating for the offense — as witnessed in The Game last November.
Despite the lack of offensive rhythm, the Elis held the lead late into the fourth quarter. With just over four minutes left, the Yale offense wasn’t able to stay on the field and milk the clock. The Bulldogs were forced to punt with 4:40 left, which gave way to an impressive game-winning drive from the Rams.
Fordham was able to advance 85 yards on 13 plays in 4:26 to set up a 20-yard chip shot for Adam Danko, who hit the field goal to give the Rams the 12-10 lead. Yale only had time for one play, and Fodor’s Hail Mary attempt from the Eli 29-yard line was batted down to end the game.
Although it wasn’t a good day for the offense, Abare believes his unit could have helped out more than it did, particularly with field position.
“We played OK defense in my mind,” he said. “Not giving up too many points is always key, but we really need to give the offense a better chance and not give up so many third down conversions. Our defense is giving our offense an extremely long field to work with, which we’ll have to improve if we wish to have any success.”