When Yale and Lehigh took the field Saturday, both teams knew the game would leave only one record standing.
Either the Bulldogs would extend their non-league winning streak to 11 or the Mountain Hawks would increase their home unbeaten streak to 27. Just about three hours later, the 8,670 fans at Goodman Stadium knew why there is no place like home.
Both teams entered the game with high-powered offenses. Before this weekend, Yale and Lehigh were ranked sixth and seventh respectively in Division I-AA in scoring: Yale averaged 36 points per game and Lehigh 35. But in Yale’s 14-7 loss in Bethlehem, Pa., on Saturday, it was defense that ruled the day for both sides.
“We played hard, and our defense had its best game of the year,” Yale head coach Jack Siedlecki said. “We forced turnovers and gave ourselves some opportunities. They are an outstanding defensive team and stopped us in two fourth-down situations.”
The Yale defense forced and recovered four fumbles. The Bulldogs also sacked Lehigh quarterback Kyle Keating twice and picked off one Keating pass. And the Elis surrendered only one score in four red-zone situations.
The Yale defense came to life early. Just three minutes into the game, defensive end Stuart Satullo ’03 sacked Keating on the Mountain Hawks’ opening drive, forcing a fumble. Yale linebacker Ken Estrera ’04 recovered the ball on the Yale 46-yard line, giving the Eli offense its first possession of the game.
Just 2:12 later, after a bad snap sailed over the head of punter Chandler Henley ’05, Lehigh gained great field position, starting with the ball on the Yale 20. But the suffocating Yale defense did not let the Mountain Hawks gain a single yard, forcing Lehigh to settle for a field goal attempt from 37 yards out. Yale caught a big break when Lehigh place-kicker Brian Kelley’s kick flew left of the goal posts.
With little more than three minutes left in the first quarter, the Yale defense struck again. Yale free safety Barton Simmons ’04 recorded his first pick of the season when he intercepted Keating at the Lehigh 43-yard line and returned the ball four yards to set up the offense at the Lehigh 39.
Then, 2:15 into the second quarter, Simmons came up with another big play, forcing a fumble from Lehigh tailback David Wilson on Yale’s 13-yard line. Yale linebacker Ben Breunig ’05 recovered the ball just four yards from the Yale end zone, ending an 80-yard Mountain Hawk drive.
Just a week earlier against Dartmouth, Simmons fumbled twice on punt returns. Simmons’ second fumble with five minutes left and the Bulldogs trailing by three ended Yale’s hopes of a come-from-behind victory.
But Simmons said he felt no pressure against Lehigh to redeem himself.
“There are not many times when you can affect the loss that directly,” Simmons said, referring to the Dartmouth loss. “I had to put that loss behind me and go out and play defense, and that’s what I did yesterday. I wasn’t trying to redeem myself so much as play to the potential that I know I am capable of.”
Lehigh managed to sneak one score across the goal line in the first half. With 30 seconds remaining in the second quarter, Keating connected with Mike Kelleher for a 36-yard touchdown pass.
Yale’s defensive pressure continued in the second half. Keating fumbled again six minutes into the half, and Yale defensive end Mark Patterson ’03 recovered at the Lehigh 14.
But the defensive force was not enough. With 3:44 remaining in the third quarter, Keating found Eric Rath from 15 yards out to put the Mountain Hawks ahead 14-0.
Early in the fourth quarter, the Lehigh offense threatened from Yale’s 10. But the Eli defense again showed its resilience when corner back Greg Owens ’04 broke up a potential touchdown pass from Keating to Aaron Argenta, forcing the Mountain Hawks to attempt a 27-yard field goal that Kelley misfired to the left.
“I have very high expectations for our defense,” captain and defensive tackle Jason Lange ’03 said. “We played well, and I think this is the caliber of defense that we can play and that we have to play.”
While the defense had a great day, the Yale offense struggled to find the scoreboard. Yale entered the Lehigh red-zone thrice but was denied twice. Lehigh sacked quarterback Jeff Mroz ’05 four times for a total loss of 28 yards. And Yale completed only one of four fourth-down conversions and only six of 19 third-down conversions.
Even more importantly, Lehigh became the first team all season to hold running back Robert Carr ’05 to under 100 yards. Carr recorded only 65 yards on 22 carries. Coming into the game, Carr led Division I-AA in all-purpose yards per game and was second in rushing yards per game.
“Lehigh had great defense and [Carr] got the most out of what he could,” Mroz said. “It’s going to be tough for him because he had so much success early on, and now teams are really keying in on him. Hopefully, the passing game can really come together and open things up for him.”
The offense did not put any points on the board until the end of the third quarter when Carr leaped over a scrum from the Lehigh 1-yard line to record Yale’s only score.
Yale’s second best opportunity fizzled in the third quarter when Mroz’s pass from the Lehigh 19 was picked off by Lehigh’s Karrie Ford. But Ford fumbled the ball at the Yale 49 while returning the interception in a botched lateral. Wide receiver P.J. Collins ’04 recovered the ball. But the Elis lost their field position and momentum, and they failed to score.
“Our defense played a great game,” Mroz said. “[The offense] played well and moved the ball well, but we just couldn’t put the ball in the end zone and get the points we needed.”
Despite throwing his first interception of the season, Mroz still tallied 223 yards on 24 of 47 passing attempts. After the game, Mroz said he hoped the offense learned from Saturday’s shortcomings.
“I hate losing, and I know everyone on the team hates losing,” Mroz said. “The only good thing that can come from a loss is that you learn from it, and hopefully we can learn from it and play better next week against Penn.”