The Yale football team finds itself entering the second half of the season undefeated in the Ivies for the first time since 1989. But for all the hype, there are still miles to go.
However impressive the team has been thus far, the Elis will have to match the perseverance, intensity and resolve they displayed in the first seven games of the season if they want to be successful in their last three games — undeniably the most difficult and important match-ups of the 2006 season.
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The Bulldogs (6-1, 4-0 Ivy) begin their three-game foray against the most notorious Ancient Eight powerhouses Saturday when they travel to Providence, R.I., to take on Brown (3-4, 2-2 Ivy), the defending Ivy League champions. The Bears have defeated Yale in six of the teams’ previous seven meetings, including last year’s lopsided 38-21 victory at the Yale Bowl and appear hungry for a repeat performance.
As has been the case all season, team players said they are not bothered by what happened in years past and have clearly proved as much on the field.
“Close the scrapbook,” defensive lineman Brandt Hollander ’08 said.
“It doesn’t matter what happened last year or the year before that,” quarterback Matt Polhemus ’08 added. “We’re just looking at what they’ve done this season and what we’ve got to do to win.”
After last week’s dominating performance against Columbia, which delivered the Elis into sole possession of the top spot in the Ancient Eight, the team has good reason to believe it has both the physical tools and the mental toughness to register its first victory over the Bears since 2002. But Brown enters the game with a similar mixture of confidence and momentum, following its spectacular 30-27 overtime victory against Penn last weekend. The win marked Brown’s first victory in Philadelphia since the 1999 season, and kept its title-repeat aspirations alive.
“Brown is a team that knows how to win,” defensive end Brendan Sponheimer ’07 said. “Their record doesn’t reflect how tough they are. Defensively they have a couple game-breakers, and their offense has the potential to be electric at times.”
Brown’s potent offensive assault, led by senior quarterback Joe DiGiacoma, was indeed a sight to see last week. Down 10 points in the fourth quarter, the Bears used a field goal followed by a 14-play, 80-yard drive to force the game into overtime. DiGiacoma threw for two touchdowns and 340 yards on 27-for-49 passing, earning Ivy League Offensive Player of the Week and New England Player of the Week for his efforts.
“Brown has a quarterback and receivers who can really make plays,” defensive tackle Kirk Porter ’08 said. “They throw the ball a lot every game. The biggest thing for our defense is to disrupt their QB. Getting pressure on him will be the most effective way to stop their offense.”
But DiGiacoma wasn’t the only Bear who played a crucial role in Brown’s last minute triumph. Place-kicker Steve Morgan, who holds the Ivy League record for kick scoring in a season, connected on all three of his field-goal attempts — including the game-winning score — and was named Ivy League Special Teams Player of the Week.
Though the Brown game certainly presents a significant challenge, it is also in a sense a must-win game for the Bulldogs if they hope to distance themselves from the rest of the pack. With Harvard and Princeton nipping at the Elis’ heals, both in second place with identical 3-1 records, it is crucial that Yale builds as much of a cushion as possible entering this most critical H-Y-P series.