The football team halted a three-game losing streak and saved themselves from falling into the Ivy League cellar with a 35-7 win over Columbia Saturday at the Yale Bowl.
“For the first time all year, we played a complete game — offensively, defensively, and on special teams,” head coach Jack Siedlecki said. “Our offense started making the big plays that we’ve been talking about.”
Quarterback Jeff Mroz ’05 led the Elis’ (4-3, 2-2 Ivy) offensive output against Columbia (1-6, 0-4 Ivy) completing 20 of 26 passes for 306 yards and four touchdowns. Downfield, wide receiver Ralph Plumb ’05 caught 10 of Mroz’s passes for a career-high 128 yards while wide receiver Ron Benigno ’04 made four catches for 133 yards and two touchdowns. Tight end Nate Lawrie ’04 had 26 yards receiving and two touchdowns.
The Elis’ performance on offense represented a significant improvement from their last three games, where they had averaged just under 15 points per contest.
“Ralph, Ronnie and Nate all made big plays and that was the difference in the game,” Siedlecki said. “We made the big plays and they did not. It was a role reversal of the week before.”
Mroz’s passing performance was one of many key Bulldog performances Saturday.
“Jeff’s really maturing,” Benigno said. “You can tell in the huddle, he’s really taking control. He knows this is his football team and with every game he plays, he gets more confident.”
But Yale’s success on offense was not just the result of a strong air attack. The running game recaptured its early season form as the Bulldogs finished with 163 yards on the ground. Yale running back Robert Carr ’05, rushing for 93 yards on 21 carries including a seven-yard touchdown run.
“[Yale] came out with a lot of balance,” Columbia head coach Ray Tellier said. “They’ve got a real good back and their quarterback proved he can throw the ball today. They’re a solid team that can make some noise in the league the rest of the way.”
On the other side of the ball, Yale’s defense was equally strong. The Bulldogs sacked Columbia quarterbacks Steve Hunsberger and Jeff Otis six times for a total loss of 33 yards. The Bulldog defense also held the Lions to just five of 16 third down conversions and 58 yards rushing.
The Bulldog defense made several big stops with the Lions threatening to score. Late in the first quarter, Columbia had the ball at the Yale seven-yard line on second-and-goal. Captain Jason Lange ’03 sacked Hunsberger for a nine-yard loss. An incomplete pass on the next play forced the Lions to attempt a 33-yard field goal which sailed wide left.
Columbia got into the Yale red zone again in the second quarter. But Yale linebacker Ken Estrera ’05 kept the Lions scoreless when he stopped Columbia running back Rashad Biggers on a fourth-and-one from the Yale 17.
Columbia had another scoring chance in the third quarter when the Lions had a third-and-four situation five yards from the Yale end zone. On the next play, a Yale defender barreled through the Columbia line and almost sacked Hunsberger. Hunsberger, who did not have enough time to get rid of the ball, threw the ball into the ground and was called for intentional grounding. The 15-yard penalty forced Columbia into a 37-yard field goal attempt which sailed wide left again.
“The defense kept [Columbia] in front of us and made them earn it,” Siedlecki said. “We didn’t let up the big plays and didn’t them get big chunks at a time. I can guarantee you that their [quarterback] got hit at least ten times and that must have been scary for them.”
While the Bulldogs offense pummeled the Lions and the defense repeatedly stopped Columbia in the red zone, the Elis’ special teams had their best game to date. Yale did not have a single fumble from kickoff or punt returns Saturday while punter Chandler Henley ’06, had four punts for 106 total yards.
Just as the Elis found their offensive rhythm this weekend, the Bulldogs received more bad news about their offensive line. The Bulldogs will most probably have to play the rest of the season without offensive linemen Walter Badgett ’04, who dislocated his right ankle, and Michael McDaniel ’06, who sprained the MCL in his right knee.
Siedlecki hopes that yesterday’s win will inject fresh confidence back into the Yale squad.
“Winning always helps a team’s confidence level,” Siedlecki said. “Making the big plays on both sides of the ball, two fourth down stops on defense and the big pass plays on offense should really bolster our confidence level for the final three games down the stretch.”