If the football team’s goal this past weekend was to do anything possible to reverse the recent history of the Yale-Penn matchup, this Saturday’s aim will be to do everything in its power to maintain its dominance over Columbia.
Yale (5-1, 3-0 Ivy) will attempt to defend its untarnished Ivy League record when it takes on Columbia (3-3, 0-3 Ivy) — a team that has fallen to the Elis four consecutive times and has not registered a win at the Yale Bowl since 1996. Last year, tailback Mike McLeod ’09 and wide-receiver Ashley Wright ’07 recorded two scores apiece, leading the Bulldogs to a commanding 37-3 victory.
But if there were no upsets in sports, they wouldn’t be nearly as fun to watch. The Red Sox wouldn’t have defeated the Yankees, and Yale probably wouldn’t be in the position it is today, auspiciously atop the Ancient Eight.
With the Bulldogs set to take on defending champion Brown, along with Ivy juggernauts Harvard and Princeton in coming weeks, it may be tempting to look past the struggling Lions to the more daunting tasks that lay ahead. But team members said they are fully aware that nothing in the Ivy League can be taken for granted and that they will have to be in top form this Saturday.
“Our focus is 100 percent on Columbia right now,” defensive end Kyle Hawari ’09 said. “We know what we have to do, and we’re looking forward to being in the Bowl on Saturday and coming out of it 6-1.”
If the Elis hope to preserve and to prolong the momentum they have accumulated thus far this fall, the Columbia game seems an ideal opportunity to do so. But the Bulldogs must not fall victim to the false assumption that these are the Lions of years past. Columbia boasts its first plus-.500 record entering the Yale game in nearly 10 years and is undefeated in non-league play this season.
Their stingy defense leads the league in points allowed, holding opponents to a miserly 13.8 points per outing. In their last four games, the Lions have held opponents to fewer than 47 points combined — a feat they have not accomplished since 1996.
Freshman linebacker Andy Shalbrack is tied for the top mark in Division I after recording his third interception of the season against Dartmouth last Saturday, and he is en route to being named Ivy League Rookie of the Week for the second time. The ferocious Lions lead all of 1-AA football with a 1.50 turnover margin.
“Columbia is definitely a different team from last year, and I think that they play with a nothing-to-lose mentality,” defensive tackle Kirk Porter ’08 said. “Our big boys up front and all of our offensive weapons just need to make plays like they’ve been doing all year long.”
Despite some of the intimidating defensive numbers Columbia has posted this season, Yale ought to be confident in its ability to penetrate any defense after its impressive all-around offensive attack in the last few games. During Yale’s current win streak, McLeod has rushed for 800 yards and 10 touchdowns and has recently joined an elite group of only three other Bulldogs to rush for more than 100 yards in five consecutive games.
Captain wideout Chandler Henley’s ’07 leadership has been prominent on the field in recent play, coming up with big play after big play when it counts. In fact, 25 of his 30 catches this season have resulted in either a first down or a touchdown.
With fine play across the board, Yale has good reason to be enthusiastic about the remainder of the season.
“We have a fun and exciting team that I am proud to be a part of,” linebacker Chris Barry ’07 said. “We grow into a more cohesive unit as the weeks progress and are gaining confidence in one another with every practice. This is a great group of guys, focused on one goal, and we need to continue to remain focused on this week’s game.”