PROVIDENCE, R.I. — There’s no need to worry about keeping up with a high-powered offense if you boast one of the nation’s best defenses — and Yale’s crucial victory over Brown on Saturday proved yet again that defense is the name of the game on the gridiron.
The Bulldogs (5-3, 3-2 Ivy) were able to hold an explosive Brown (5-3, 4-1) offense to just a field goal and generated just enough offense of their own to leave this city with a hard-fought 13-3 victory. The win over the first-place Bears kept the Bulldogs’ Ivy League Championship hopes alive with two games remaining.
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“It was the kind of game we wanted it to be,” head coach Jack Siedlecki said. “They had to go a long way to score and our defense made play after play after play.”
Despite hurting themselves with two turnovers and five penalties in the first half, the Bulldogs seemed to dominate the opening 30 minutes of play, though they only had a 3-3 tie to show for it.
But the defense and the special teams unit forced the Bears to continually start their drives deep in their own territory, making it all the more difficult to score on the vaunted Eli defense.
The nation’s top-ranked scoring defense — without injured starting cornerback Paul Rice ’10 — was able to hold a one-dimensional Brown offense to just three points, despite allowing 333 yards of offense.
Bear quarterback Michael Doughtery was out of his element all game long, completing just 28 of his 54 pass attempts for 275 yards and no touchdowns. The senior also threw two interceptions to increase his season total to 10.
The first turnover came after a muffed punt by Eli returner Gio Christodoulou ’11 that the Bears recovered on the Yale 18-yard line five minutes into the contest. But just when it looked like Brown was going to score the game’s first points, linebacker Jay Pilkerton ’09 came through for the Bulldogs with an interception on what looked to be a miscommunication between Doughtery and the intended receiver.
Doughtery’s second interception came in a desperation toss with under a minute to play to cornerback Casey Gerald ’09. As contradictory as it may sound, it was the shutdown corner’s first pick of the season — most teams tend to avoid throwing the ball in the Dallas native’s direction.
After being at the receiving end of jokes from his teammates all season, Gerald was happy to get the monkey off his back and get his first interception.
“It felt great,” Gerald said. “I had been telling the guys, good things come to those who wait.”
Having thrown the football 54 times, Doughtery didn’t have much of a running game to lean on. The Bears mustered just 55 rushing yards and seemed to give up on running the ball as the game went on.
While the typical veterans performed for the Elis, a few sophomores also shined on the gloomy afternoon.
On offense, quarterback Brook Hart ’11 went 22 of 32 for 292 yards and a touchdown. His touchdown was a 78-yard bomb to wide receiver Peter Balsam ’11 on a beautifully executed play-action pass to seal the contest with 3:49 remaining.
“I just didn’t want to overthrow him,” Hart said of his pass to the wide-open Balsam. “I just put some extra air under it and make sure he can handle it pretty easily.”
Balsam cut back as a Brown defender closed in on him and received a downfield block from tight end A.J. Hasse ’10 before finally diving into the endzone.
After breaking through last weekend against Columbia (1-7, 1-4) with 35 receiving yards and a punt block, Balsam finished Saturday’s game with five catches for 181 yards.
The duo led an offense that gained 368 yards — the team’s most since Yale’s opening game victory over Georgetown.
Defensively, cornerback Adam Money ’11 stepped in for the injured Rice to record a game-high nine tackles.
“We’re expecting [Balsam, Money and Hart] to go out and make plays like that,” captain and linebacker Bobby Abare ’09 said. “We know they’re capable of it. They’re great athletes and they did a great job today. I can’t say enough about these guys. You need guys like that to step and they’re doing a great job.”
Tailback Mike McLeod ’09 may not have had the most impressive numbers (24 carries for 63 yards) but when given room to maneuver, the standout was able to burst through holes to keep the chains moving.
His ability to convert first downs when needed helped the Bulldogs control the football against the Bears and keep the Brown offense off the field. The Elis won the time of possession battle by six minutes.
The Bulldogs now have their minds set on another must-win game. Yale will host Princeton (3-5, 2-3) next Saturday in a game that will be televised by VERSUS as the Ivy League Game of the Week. Kickoff is scheduled for noon.
In order to have any chance of taking home a second Ivy League Championship in three seasons, the Bulldogs need to win out and get some help in the season’s final two weeks. Each of the three first-place teams — Harvard, Brown, and Penn — have just one loss in the league and will need to lose at least one of their remaining two games to give the Elis a shot.