Fortunately for the football team, style points have no effect on a game’s outcome.
It may have been ugly, but for the second consecutive week the Bulldogs defeated an Ivy League foe in a defensive struggle. After knocking off first-place Brown last week, the Bulldogs on Saturday held Princeton scoreless in sloppy conditions, 14-0.
The shutout was Yale’s first against Princeton in 71 years and a perfect way for the class of 2009 to finish their careers at the Yale Bowl.
“There’s no better way to go out than with a win over Princeton, our rival, and a shutout,” defensive end Brady Hart ’09 said. “It feels good that our class was able to put a stamp on a game like today.”
The win was the team’s third straight and also keeps the Elis (6-3, 4-2 Ivy) in the Ivy League title race. A win at Harvard next week (8-1, 5-1) and a Brown (6-3, 5-1) loss against Columbia (1-8, 1-5) gives Yale a share of the championship.
On Saturday, with periodic rain falling throughout the contest, the nation’s top-ranked scoring defense was quick to strike and the Bulldogs jumped out to an early 7-0 lead over the Tigers (3-6, 2-4) and never looked back.
In the game’s second play from scrimmage, Princeton tailback Jordan Culbreath could not handle the option pitch from quarterback Brian Anderson and had the ball go through his hands. Safety Larry Abare ’10 was able to pounce on the pigskin and give the Bulldogs excellent field position at the Tiger 24-yard line.
Five plays later quarterback Brook Hart ’11 found receiver Jordan Forney ’11 wide open on a screen for a five-yard score.
That was all the Bulldogs needed.
The Elis were able to force three Tiger turnovers, committed none of their own and won the field position battle from the get-go.
“I think for the second week in a row, the game went the way we wanted it to go,” 10th-year head coach Jack Siedlecki said. “We didn’t have any turnovers, they had two that we converted into touchdowns. … I just thought we played a complete game.”
The second Bulldog score was much like the first. An interception and return of 11 yards from captain Bobby Abare ’09 gave the offense great field position once again.
The interception was Abare’s fourth of the season and 10th of his career, the most by a linebacker in Yale history.
The Bulldogs then commenced the series on the Princeton 17-yard line and needed just three plays to make it 14-0 with seven minutes remaining in the third quarter.
On third and five Hart found Forney again, this time a 12-yard strike from the southpaw quarterback.
Hart finished the game 14-of-22 for 108 yards and the two touchdowns. Forney had the two scores and five catches for 35 yards. Fellow receiver Peter Balsam ’11 hauled in three catches for 35 yards.
The passing game was aided significantly by Mike McLeod’s ’09 best performance of the season. The standout tailback rushed 31 times for 138 yards, a 4.5 yards per carry average, and looked as explosive as he has all season.
With the sloppy conditions, a heavy dose of McLeod was the game plan for the Bulldogs even though the standout tailback would rather not play in the ugly conditions.
“I absolutely hate rain games,” McLeod emphasized. “I don’t like playing slow. I want to be able to make that one, hard cut and get up field. But I like it if [the coaching staff] is going to put more pressure on me and give me the ball however many times, that’s great too. You just got to adjust to the weather.”
The ability to move the chains on the ground allowed the Bulldogs to control the clock. Yale dominated possession, holding the ball for over 13 minutes longer than Princeton.
Not that it would have mattered much if Princeton had the ball more often. Even without injured standout cornerback Paul Rice ’10, the Bulldog defense simply overwhelmed the Tiger offense and showed once again why it is one of the nation’s best.
The unit, whose points allowed per game is down to just 10.6, surrendered just 153 yards of total offense. The Princeton offense never got into the red zone and turned the ball over on downs when it got deepest into Yale territory — the Bulldog 34-yard line — with 1:25 to play in the first half.
The Elis held Anderson to just 9-of-21 and 52 yards and didn’t complete a pass longer than eight yards. It got so bad for the Tigers that Princeton head coach Roger Hughes yanked Anderson in the second quarter in favor of freshman Tommy Wornham. The freshman, making his debut, stuck around for only one drive and completed just one of six passes for five yards.
The Bulldog defense also stifled the league’s top running game. Culbreath, who came into the game averaging over 107 yards per contest, rushed for just 73.
“We just took it one play at a time,” Bobby Abare said. “I don’t think one particular play stood out; it was just a constant effort to come after them every play.”
Kyle Hawari ’09 led the squad with six tackles, including one of the team’s two sacks. Brady Hart added five tackles and an interception that was incorrectly overruled by an official. Although one official ruled it an interception, another believed the ball hit the ground, intervened and changed the ruling to an incomplete pass.
“I don’t know, I guess I’ve heard from a couple different people that replays showed it was an interception,” Hart said half-jokingly.
Backup linebacker Tim Handlon ’10 and Larry Abare both picked off Anderson. Abare’s interception put the icing on the cake for Yale with 44 seconds to play.
The big win against a rival in the seniors’ last home game was an emotional one for those who won’t be suiting up at the Yale Bowl again — and next week’s in Cambridge will be another one.
“I’m a pretty emotional guy,” Bobby Abare said. “I knew if I had gotten a little too emotional, maybe that’ll affect my play. So it was really kind of go back, just like every other game we’ve played here. Just play hard, play to the best of your capabilities, and that’s what we did today. That’s the attitude I’m going to have next week too because that’ll be emotional too.”
Next weekend, another chapter in one of the biggest rivalries in college athletics will be added when the Bulldogs travel to Cambridge to face first-place Harvard for the 125th meeting between the two schools. A Harvard win clinches at least a share of the Ivy League title for the Crimson for the third time in five seasons. A Yale victory combined with a Brown loss against Columbia ensures the Elis of a piece of the Ancient Eight crown.
For the second consecutive week Yale will be a part of the VERSUS Ivy League Game of the Week and be featured on national television. Kickoff is slated for noon.