By James Schulte
There have been some sad losses for the Yale football team this season because of disapointing second halfs, but with the 31 Eli seniors’ last home game on the horizon against an old and bitter rival, there is only one thing to do — play.
“Thinking about not being a second-half team, we’ve got to let that go and have some fun,” kicker Andrew Sullivan ’05 said. “Especially in rivalry games, you can’t play tight.”
This weekend the Bulldogs (4-4, 2-3 Ivy) will face the Princeton Tigers (4-4, 2-3 Ivy) for the 127th time, in a match-up where more than pride is on the line, as both teams fight to claw their way back into the top three of the Ivy League. With both the Elis and the Tigers coming off frustratingly close losses, there will be two teams in New Haven ready to do what it takes for a win and one part of the H-Y-P championship.
“We are both 2-3 in the league and we are both coming off very tough losses,” Yale head coach Jack Siedlecki said. “Both teams will be excited to play. We need a great week of preparation and our seniors will lead the way.”
The Tigers enter this contest licking their wounds after a field goal with less than three minutes left in the game took away the lead that they had held all game against the University of Pennsylvania last weekend. Like the Bulldogs against Brown, more offensive yardage did not equal more points as turnovers and unconverted third downs kept a win just out of reach.
That might be motivation enough, but the Tigers will also head north with all their weapons ready to go because of the loss the Elis handed them last year in New Jersey. Wide receiver Chandler Henley ’06 caught a touchdown pass as the clock expired to put the game into overtime and the Bulldogs pulled out a win in the second overtime.
Both teams have incentives to come out on top, though, so this one is going to come down to which team can execute its game plan better. With two pretty evenly matched teams going head to head, it is going to be a challenge for either side.
Each team has slight advantages in various statistical categories. The Tigers average 4.6 points per game more than the Elis, but the Bulldogs allow 3 points fewer per game. The Elis throw for 192.4 yards per game compared to the Tigers’ 181.6, but Princeton has allowed 179.4 yards per game in the air compared to Yale’s 221.3. Rushing is similar, with the Tigers putting up slightly more yards per game while the Elis allow less. The two teams also have comparable first downs, total offense and total defense.
One facet of the Bulldogs’ game plan will be working to tighten up an already strong defense by allowing fewer third down conversions. With six senior starters on defense, it will be up to them to lead the defensive stands that force three-and-outs.
“One of the keys for our defense is performing well on third down,” defensive tackle Bryant Dieffenbacher ’05 said. “When we have the situation of third and five, we have to stop [the Tigers] and get the ball back to our offense. The more possessions they have the more the [Eli] offense is going to be able to get going. Forcing turnovers is also important.”
Despite being sidelined by a season-ending injury, Dieffenbacher said he will continue telling his teammates what he sees and give advice especially to the defensive linemen, including freshman starter Brandt Hollander ’08.
On offense, what Dieffenbacher said about possession is true. The Bulldogs need more than the 25:49 possession time they have been averaging per game if they hope to utilize their talent and put points on the score board. While passing worked well against Brown until the Elis got within the 30-yard line, the Bulldogs will be working toward more of a balanced attack. If quarterback Alvin Cowan ’05 can connect with Henley and Ivy League Offensive Player of the Week Ralph Plumb ’05 like he did last week, the Tigers’ defense may be spread out enough to allow tailback Rob Carr ’05 to find holes and create successful run plays to help control the clock. However, if it is a close game and the Elis need big gains quickly, they will again turn to their four receiver set.
“Last year we were winging the ball and good things happened,” Henley said. “It’s on us [receivers] to make the plays, they are putting it in our hands.”
Henley said helping the seniors win at home is more motivating than beating Princeton.
“A lot of seniors only have two games left and that’s enough right there to get guys like me to play a little bit harder,” Henley said. “To have them lose, I’d feel bad. I’d feel like I’m letting them down. We should play for each other, which is what we’ve got to do.”