Coming off its fifth straight defeat at the hands of Harvard and the loss of several key players this offseason, the Yale football team has absorbed a heavy dose of criticism. But with a strong showing during Thursday’s scrimmage at Princeton, the Elis alleviated some of their doubters’ concerns — at least for the time being.

The afternoon began with a series of positional drills that gave both teams a chance to work on specifics and feel out the opposition before play began. Though the Elis performed effectively on both sides of the ball, the Yale defense really showed promise with an impressive goal-line stand, halting repeated Princeton attempts to score.

The beginning of the game marked the end of months of speculation about the team’s open starting quarterback slot: Matt Polhemus ’08 led the first Eli charge against the Tigers. Though his first drive ended with an interception, Polhemus played a solid half and established himself on the field. But Princeton was the first team to score, capitalizing on the Bulldog turnover and registering the game’s first score.

Unshaken by the early setback, the Elis answered quickly with a score of their own. Linebacker Jay Pilkerton ’08 recovered a fumbled punt return by Princeton, deep in Tiger territory, setting up the first of two exciting touchdown runs by running back Mike McLeod ’09.

Early in the second quarter, the special teams squad for the Tigers showed they too were capable of doing some damage. A blocked punt set Princeton up on the Yale 1-yard line, and because the Eli defense was not able to repeat the outstanding goal-line stand from the pre-game drills, Princeton scored its second touchdown of the day.

In this game of back and forth, the tenacious Bulldogs didn’t wait long to strike back. Four plays later, McLeod showed off the skills that made him Ivy League Rookie of the Year in 2005, scoring on a 59-yard touchdown run.

For his part, McCleod credited his teammates’ ability to keep those 59 yards Tiger-free.

“We had some great blocking on offense,” McLeod said. “It really opened up the running game and play action.”

Beginning in the third quarter, starters for both teams took a seat and reserve players were given an opportunity to play. Backup QB Ryan Fodor ’09 showcased some of his talent, completing seven of eight passes in one series and throwing the game’s only touchdown pass to tight end Jordan Stevens ’07 in the fourth quarter.

Team members said they were pleased with their level of play and look forward to more of the same.

“We really dominated them physically,” Polhemus said. “Our line did a great job, on both sides of the ball.”

The Elis open up their season playing host to San Diego Sept. 16. The Bulldogs hope to reverse last year’s outcome, in which they fell to the Toreros 17-14 after mustering only 46 yards of offense in the second half.

“We really died off in the second half against these guys last year,” Ashley Wright ’07 said. “I think we’re much better conditioned this year and will make sure that doesn’t happen again.”

With last season’s disappointing finale in mind, the Bulldogs say this season will be different.

“I think we have a chip on our shoulder and a lot to prove this year,” McLeod said. “But I know the team is very confident and is going to work very hard.”