In Saturday’s game against the Bulldogs, the Columbia football team came out of the locker room after halftime and did something a little different. Chanting and jumping around, the Lions rushed the field in front of a puzzled Eli squad as the captains of both teams met before the start of the second half. In a self-described attempt to show their “unity,” the Lions tried to rally the troops, but it didn’t pan out the way they had planned. Instead of the Lions coming out with extra drive, it was the Bulldogs who emerged motivated and determined.
Yale was able to capitalize on great field position and Columbia’s mistakes on the way to a convincing, and physical, 27-12 victory at The Bowl this weekend. The win marked the Elis’ seventh consecutive victory over the Lions and snapped a two-game Bulldog losing streak.
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After watching Columbia’s antics, Yale (4-3, 2-2 Ivy) seemed to come out in the second half with a chip on its shoulder that resulted in big hits and some extra jawing between the two squads.
“Yeah, it kind of upset us [when] they came out like that,” captain and linebacker Bobby Abare ’09 said. “Anytime a team comes out like that, I think it doesn’t show a lot of class, but we handled it well. We didn’t talk back to them, and we concentrated on the game in the second half.”
And with a 14-6 lead at halftime, the Bulldogs weren’t going to let the Lions (1-6, 1-3) get back into it.
Struggling with a sputtering offense over the last couple weeks, head coach Jack Siedlecki knew how important field position was going to be. Giving the Eli offense a short field to work with would make things easier, and force the Lions’ offense to start deep in its own territory. And the Bulldogs were able to do just that.
Punter and placekicker Tom Mante ’10 was able to pin the Columbia offense inside its own 20-yard line four different times. As a result, the average start to Columbia’s drives was at its own 19-yard line.
“Our defense and our kick game were absolutely phenomenal the whole game,” Siedlecki said. “I saw that Columbia’s average field position for the game was inside the 20-yard line — I don’t know if I’ve ever seen that before. They were more than 80 yards away [from a touchdown], on average, every time they got the football, which was a great advantage for our defense.”
Mante also converted his two field goal attempts, both from 37 yards out. The kicker is now six of nine for the season.
The special teams unit came through with its first punt block of the season as well.
With just under eight minutes remaining in the third quarter, Peter Balsam ’11 shot through the Columbia line untouched and blocked the punt with ease. The ball was recovered by Shane Bannon ’11, who brought it down to the Lions’ two-yard line. Three plays later, the Bulldogs extended their lead to 14-6 with a touchdown run from Mike McLeod ’09.
“That was big,” Balsam said. “Just to get the ball in good field position like that, have a short field to work with, and go up two scores was big.”
The nation’s top-ranked scoring defense also took part in the festivities with some big plays of its own.
The Elis forced three Columbia turnovers, including a Paul Rice ’10interception of Columbia’s M.A. Oluwale on the game’s very first play from scrimmage. In his first career start, Oluwale showed signs of brilliance with both his arm and legs, but later fumbled on a scramble and was pulled in favor of former starter Shane Kelly.
Kyle Hawari ’09 forced the fumble, which was recovered by fellow lineman Joe Hathaway ’09.
The forced fumble was Hawari’s third of the season. The Plano, Texas, native also recorded eight solo tackles and two sacks on Saturday, raising his team-leading total to six.
“All year long, they’ve been doing the job,” Abare said. “People talk about me a lot, and they don’t understand that Joe Hathaway and Kyle Hawari are some of the best defensive linemen in the league.”
Oluwale went 13-for-18 through the air for 109 yards and the one interception. He also rushed 12 times for 86 yards, including a 44-yard sprint to set up the game’s first points, a Columbia field goal.
However, Columbia head coach Norries Wilson was not happy with Oluwale after his fumble and a couple instances in which he had trouble managing the play clock. Thus, Kelly replaced him and put up some impressive numbers of his own, going 5-of-6 passing for 43 yards and rushing three times for 22 yards. He also registered the Lions’ only touchdown, scoring from 10 yards out to conclude a 10-play, 80-yard drive.
But a fumble of his own with 3:36 left on the clock sealed the deal for the Bulldogs’ win. The Eli offense was able to string together enough first downs to milk the clock and end the game without another Columbia possession.
After two losses in which the Bulldogs were dominated in the time of possession department, the two squads held the ball for about the same amount of time on Saturday. But when trying to preserve their lead in the fourth quarter, the Elis only allowed the Columbia offense onto the field for 2:45.
After the past two weeks, the defense was especially appreciative.
“Our offense did a tremendous job,” safety Larry Abare ’10 said. “It was great for our defense just to rest, especially in that fourth quarter. Our offense showed a lot of composure, heart and determination.”
The offense was able to control the clock with a solid running game that got better as the game went along. McLeod, who had just 28 yards at halftime, finished the game with 23 carries for 86 yards and three touchdowns. The three scores doubled the Payton Award candidate’s total for the season. He had three receptions for 25 yards as well.
McLeod’s first touchdown was set up by a 35-yard pass from quarterback Brook Hart ’11 to a wide-open Balsam. The score capped a three-play, 48-yard drive, and gave the Bulldogs a lead they would not relinquish.
After Columbia’s second field goal, McLeod found the end zone again after the punt block from Balsam, and he concluded his scoring with a two-yard touchdown run with 6:00 remaining in the third quarter.
Ricardo Galvez ’10 also contributed seven carries for 23 yards.
“This feels great,” McLeod said. “It felt reminiscent of the last two years that I’ve been here — we controlled the ball. Hopefully we can get back into that mentality [for] these last few games.”
In his second career start, Hart was efficient and led an offense that didn’t turn the ball over once. The southpaw went 14 of 24 for 162 yards and scrambled twice for 19 yards. It sure helped that he didn’t see the penetration he faced against Penn last weekend. Hart was sacked just once and didn’t find himself on his back quite as often.
Even with the solid victory, Siedlecki said his team hasn’t reached its full potential and will need to play even better next weekend against first-place Brown (5-2, 4-0).
“We’ve still got to get a lot better,” the coach emphasized. “We got to convert more third downs, and we had some opportunities we didn’t take advantage of.”
Next week’s visit to Providence against the Bears is a must-win for the Bulldogs in order to keep their Ivy League Championship hopes alive. With just three games remaining in the 2008 season, Yale finds itself two games behind Brown and one game behind both Penn and Harvard (6-1, 3-1) in the standings.
This Saturday’s contest, to be televised on the YES Network, is slated for a 12:30 kickoff at Brown Stadium.