This fall has been a bumpy ride for the Yale football team, to say the least.
The Elis (4-4, 2-3 Ivy) have had their high points, including topping Div. I-AA No. 11 Colgate and the record-breaking offensive seasons of running back Robert Carr ’05, quarterback Alvin Cowan ’05 and wide receiver Ralph Plumb ’05. But an offense that ranked as one of the best in the Ivy League last year has sputtered against weak teams like Brown (5-3, 2-3) and Cornell (3-5, 3-2), and the Bulldogs have developed an inability to score second-half points. Here is a look at the 0roller-coaster ride that has been the 2004 season:
Week 1: Yale 24, Dayton 17
The Bulldogs won their first game on the strength of Carr’s ground game and a stingy defense. Carr rushed for 172 yards — nearly half of the Elis’ total offense — and added the game-winning touchdown with 10:45 left in the game. The Bulldog defense forced four fumbles and limited the Flyers to three second-half points. Linebacker Ken Estrera ’05 led the team with 13 tackles. Wide receiver Chandler Henley ’06 also added two touchdown catches to the Yale offensive cause.
While the Elis left Ohio with a win, Cowan threw a pair of interceptions, and the Bulldogs coughed up two fumbles, forboding the Elis’ future offensive woes.
Week 2: Cornell 19, Yale 7
For the second week in a row, the Eli defense came out to play. In five trips into the Yale red zone, the Big Red was held to four field goals and one touchdown. Linebacker Cole Harris ’05 led the Bulldogs with 12 tackles, and defensive end Brandon Dyches ’06 recorded his second sack of the season.
Unfortunately, the defensive performance came at the price of Estrera, who suffered a season-ending broken leg in the first half.
But the offense could not take advantage of the defense keeping the game close. Yale was held to 181 yards of total offense, and Carr’s 41-yard performance was less than a quarter of his running output against Dayton the week before. The Bulldogs produced eight first downs and only one scoring drive.
Week 3: Yale 31, Colgate 28
Despite a sluggish start, the Yale offense picked up the pace late in the game to clinch a dramatic come-from-behind victory over the Raiders.
The Elis managed to score three times in the game’s final five minutes — a seven-yard pass to tight end Ted Stem ’05, a 12-yard pass to Henley, and a go-ahead 37-yard field goal from placekicker Andrew Sullivan ’05 with less than 10 seconds on the clock.
The defense gave the offense chance after chance in the fourth quarter. Safety Matt Handlon ’06 intercepted Colgate quarterback Chris Brown to give the Elis the ball back with just under four minutes left in the game, and a combination of Bulldog defenders held 2003 Walter Payton Award-winner Jamaal Branch to miniscule gains.
Week 4: Yale 24, Dartmouth 14
In posting their first Ivy League win, the Elis put up what was arguably their best all-around game of the 2004 season.
On offense, the stars were the offensive trio of Carr, Plumb and Henley. Carr rushed for 164 yards, scored a touchdown and posted another 70 yards on kickoff returns for his most productive outing of the season. Plumb hauled in 10 passes, including a touchdown strike. Fellow receiver Henley only had four catches, but they were good for 102 yards and a score.
While the defense allowed 364 yards of total offense, the Elis made big plays when it counted. Defensive back Fred Jelks ’05 pulled in two interceptions, including a pick in the end zone during the second quarter. Defensive back Andrew Butler ’06 and defensive end Don Smith ’05 forced fumbles with big hits, and Butler added an interception to bring the Big Green turnover total to five.
Week 5: Lehigh 30, Yale 24
The Elis’ contest against the Mountain Hawks saw a powerful first-half offensive performance fade as Lehigh posted a 20-point second frame to come from behind and steal the victory.
Yale was able to dominate early on with a balanced attack of runs and passes. Cowan had a big game, passing for 287 yards and a touchdown to Plumb. Carr posted a respectable 89 yards on 27 carries.
The second half saw Lehigh control the ball and dominate play, resulting in three Mountain Hawk touchdowns. The game-winner came with only 2:07 left in the fourth quarter, a 5-yard quarterback keep from Mark Borda. The Bulldogs had several chances to tie the game in the closing minutes, but a Henley fumble ended one drive and a potentially game-tying Hail Mary as time expired found Plumb just out of bounds.
Week 6: Penn 17, Yale 7
Another week, another second-half Yale meltdown.
The Elis kept the contest close in the first half with literally record-breaking offense. Cowan’s 20-yard touchdown strike to Henley was the 36th of his career, breaking the record held by Joe Walland ’00. Carr rushed for 167 yards and passed Rashad Bartholomew ’01 with 3,047 total yards in his career.
The Bulldog defense played well — Harris nabbed his first career interception, and linebacker Ben Breunig ’05 made a career-high seven solo tackles. But the Elis could not contain Penn tailback Sam Mathews, who ran for 169 yards, and wideout Dan Castles, who gained 131 yards through the air. Cowan only completed four second-half passes, and the last completion was fumbled by Plumb with 1:55 left — the second time in two weeks the Elis fumbled the ball in the last two minutes of the game.
Week 7: Yale 21, Columbia 14
It was almost more of the same, as the Elis failed to put up any offense in the second half for the third straight week. But a stingy Bulldog defense preserved the seven-point lead for the entire second half.
Carr rushed for 97 yards and a score, and Cowan passed for 172 yards and a pair of touchdown strikes. But a lack of second-half production left the game in the hands of the defense.
The Lions’ first second-half drive was stopped when defensive lineman Tim Barrett ’05 made a big hit on Columbia running back Rashad Biggers one yard short of a first down. The last two Lion drives were both foiled by Handlon. The safety picked off a Biggers pass on a trick play attempt, and with less than a minute to play, Handlon knocked away a potentially game-tying touchdown pass.
Week 8: Brown 24, Yale 17
Same old, same old. The Bulldogs added no second-half points to their first frame total for the third straight week, and for the third time in four weeks the Elis lost the lead to take another in the loss column.
The Bears came back from a 17-14 deficit at halftime with two scores. A Steve Morgan field goal in the third quarter tied the game, and a drive featuring a 21-yard Nick Hartigan run and a 37-yard pass to Jarrett Schreck put Brown out in front for good.
The loss came despite another record-breaking day for the Yale offense. Cowan threw for 419 yards and passed Walland in both career total offense and passing yardage. Plumb caught 18 passes — second in Ivy history — for 258 yards, a school record and good for fourth in Ivy history. He also broke the career yards record previously held by Eric Johnson ’01.
The Elis have shown multiple times this season that they have the weapons to take down talented football teams. And Princeton is by no means unbeatable — the Tigers also lost to Cornell, 21-20, and while they beat Columbia, 27-26, they allowed the Lions to score 12 more points than the Bulldogs did. Saturday’s matchup is winnable, but if the Elis want to come out on top, two things must happen. The defense has to keep holding its ground, and the offense has to stay on the field and score some points — especially in the second half — so that the defense does not get worn down. If an offense that has gone largely unchanged since last season can produce some yards and capitalize on more opportunities, it may be a ball game next weekend.