There was a day not long ago when the summer sun still cast its rays over New Haven and shed light on the Yale football season. It was Sept. 3, when Princeton (6-2, 4-1 Ivy) visited the Yale Bowl for the annual preseason scrimmage. The Elis (3-5, 3-2) trounced the Tigers, 31-10.

That day is but a distant memory now. Princeton, seeming in September like an Ivy League bottom-feeder, is in a tie for first place, and Yale, off a crushing 38-21 loss to Brown last Saturday, is likely destined to play for nothing more than pride.

“Right after the game we were very disappointed, obviously,” quarterback and captain Jeff Mroz ’06 said. “But that’s behind us. All we can do is worry about Princeton.”

The Bulldogs are not mathematically eliminated from Ivy title contention. But even with Yale wins over Princeton and Harvard, Brown, which plays lowly Dartmouth and Columbia to close out the season, would likely claim the championship.

Safety Matt Handlon ’06, down to the final two games of his illustrious Yale career, is determined to focus on the positives.

“It’s obviously a very tough loss, having been in a position where we controlled our own destiny,” he said. “But Yale is kind of unique because we get to play two of the oldest rivalry games in college football two weeks in a row to end the season.”

This year’s game, to be played at Princeton tomorrow, will be Yale’s 128th meeting with the Tigers, making it the second most frequently played game in college football history (Lehigh and Lafayette have battled 140 times).

Yale leads the series 69-48-10, but win No. 70 will be hard to come by. The team that Yale will face tomorrow has been dramatically revamped in the last two months. Out are an antiquated pro-I offense and a losing mentality among the players. In their places are the spread-option attack in vogue around the country and a confident defense led by other-worldly cornerback Jay McCareins.

McCareins has six interceptions and three touchdowns (two interception returns, one kick return) already this season, and is the biggest reason why the Tigers lead the Ivy League in scoring defense (17.75 points per game).

McCareins, whose brother Justin is a receiver for the New York Jets, may plague Yale tomorrow with his return and cover skills. But he has already done the 2006 Elis a colossal favor.

“From playing each other and going against each other in the same league we were familiar with each other,” said receiver Chandler Henley ’06, who sustained a season-ending collarbone injury during preseason. “Naturally, being the competitor that he is, he was looking forward to playing me this year. When he heard I got hurt he sent me an e-mail. He’s a nice guy. It was definitely unexpected.”

In the e-mail and in subsequent conversations McCareins encouraged Henley to use 2005 as a medical redshirt year and come back for a fourth season next fall, which Henley said he is likely to do. McCareins took 2003 off due to injury, and the extra season he is now enjoying may lead to an NFL career.

Henley attributed Princeton’s turnaround in large part to his new friend.

“They have really good senior defenders who’ve done it before and are tired of losing,” he said. “Jay has been a big part of that.”

Mroz explained that the improved defense is largely a function of McCareins. With such confidence in his ability to cover man-to-man, Princeton defenders are free to blitz from a variety of positions.

“They’ve capitalized on every opportunity they’ve had,” he said. “And of course they also have a really good cornerback who’s made a big difference. He’s very athletic, aggressive, and understands football. He’s single-handedly won three of their games.”

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