Harvard sucks and Princeton doesn’t matter? Maybe so, but both schools have already defeated Lehigh this season, a task that Yale has failed to accomplish in its last five meetings with the Mountain Hawks.
But this Saturday, the red-hot Elis (3-1, 2-0 Ivy) return to the Yale Bowl for the first time in a month to try to join their Ancient Eight rivals in closing out their non-league season with a victory over Lehigh (2-3). The challenge of downing the Mountain Hawks will not be an easy one, as they, too, complete non-conference play this weekend and want nothing more than to enter Patriot League action on a positive note.
If the Bulldogs are going to rack up their fourth-straight win, they must do everything in their power to avoid last year’s late-game collapse against Lehigh. After leading 21-6, Yale allowed the Mountain Hawks to run off 22 straight points en route to an exciting overtime victory. Then-backup quarterback Sedale Threatt took over behind the center late in the game for Lehigh, completed all five of his passes and calmly handed the Elis a painful last-minute loss. Threatt, the son of a former NBA player, will be looking to do more of the same this time around.
“Their quarterback basically won the game for them last year,” defensive lineman Brandt Hollander ’08 said. “He’s obviously a threat, but I think we’re going to be able to deal with him. We’ve faced a number of mobile quarterbacks already this season and have had success against them.”
The Bulldogs have reason to believe that this game will be different from 2005’s debacle. Yale’s inability to finish off opponents last year led to a number of unfortunate rallies and heartbreaking losses, including the triple-overtime defeat at the hands of archrival Harvard. The Elis have continued to allow teams to mount comebacks in lopsided games, but there is one essential difference: This season, Yale steps up in crucial situations and finds a way to come out on top.
“This team has a much different feel than last year’s team,” cornerback Casey Gerald ’09 said. “We’re extremely focused on what we have to do and excited about competing every week with the goal of winning.”
Yale has many reasons to be excited going into Saturday’s game, namely the outstanding play of running back Mike McLeod ’09 and the offensive line. McLeod scored two touchdowns and ran for a career-high 198 yards against Dartmouth last week to earn his second-straight Ivy League Player of the Week honors. He has increased his total rushing output in each game this season and has scored eight touchdowns in the past three games.
Quarterback Matt Polhemus ’08 also seems to be improving with each game. Last week, Polhemus connected with five different receivers on 12-for-18 passing and avoided throwing an interception for the first time this season. But the Bulldogs offense will have its hands full when the miserly Lehigh defense comes to town.
“Our offense will face its biggest challenge of the year up front this week,” Yale head coach Jack Siedlecki said. “Lehigh is an excellent defensive team with eight seniors starting and will be a tremendous challenge.”
Though this is the final non-conference game for the Elis, in many ways it will be a reflection of how the Bulldogs stack up in the Ivy League. This weekend, Yale has an opportunity to demonstrate the vast improvements it has made this fall to Lehigh, to the league and to its home fans.