It’s good to be a Yale football fan these days.
Between record-breaking individual performances and outstanding all-around team efforts, 2007’s Elis (3-0, 1-0 Ivy) have shown critics and supporters alike why they were picked as overwhelming favorites to repeat as Ivy League champions. Far from being overconfident after laying a 39-point spanking on Cornell last week — their largest margin of victory over the Big Red in more than a century — the Bulldogs entered this week’s game against Holy Cross (2-2) with an undiminished appetite to dominate and an unadulterated sense of purpose. The Yale run offense posted an impressive 412-yard effort, while the defense limited Holy Cross to only 45 yards on the ground. The Bulldog defense added three interceptions as they downed the Crusaders 38-17, remaining undefeated for the year.
Players said they do not feel the added pressure of high expectations surrounding this year’s squad and look to fellow teammates for support.
“This team expects a lot out of itself,” captain Brandt Hollander ’08 said. “We are very internally motivated so external expectations haven’t fazed us. We have lofty goals this year and we’re still working hard to achieve them. It would certainly be easy to get caught up in our recent success, but our goals are much higher and we haven’t lost focus.”
The most notable individual performance of the afternoon undoubtedly belonged to tailback Mike McLeod ’09. After being honored as Ivy League Co-Offensive Player of the Week for his 151-yard, three-touchdown effort against Cornell, McLeod shattered his impressive numbers from last week, eclipsing or equaling three school records in the process. Coming into the game, the junior standout needed three touchdowns to pass John Pagliaro’s 30-year-old career rushing-touchdown mark. McLeod made quick work of his task, accumulating three touchdowns in just the first one-and-a-half quarters, then added two more for good measure before the game’s end to make a record-tying five touchdowns. He finished the day with 256 yards — the most ever by a Yale running back in one game.
“Mike is the best back I have ever coached,” head coach Jack Siedlecki said. “And I have been blessed with some great tailbacks since I’ve been here.”
As well as McLeod has played in recent games, he has had ample help from a dominant offensive line that entered the season with only one returning starter. Despite graduating All-Ivy offensive tackle Ed McCarthy ’07 and losing Nick Wachtler ’08 to injury earlier this season, the O-line has posted a series of determined efforts in the first three games, as the Elis have rushed for an average of 303 yards per game — a figure that says as much about the line as it does about McLeod.
“The offensive line has really seemed to come along,” linebacker Bobby Abare ’09 said. “Mike will be the first to tell you that the line has been blocking extremely well. As an individual, I’m just glad I never have to be on the opposing side of the ball.”
While the offense had no problem putting points on the board, it was the Yale defense that set the tone early. On the Crusaders’ second offensive possession, defensive end Kyle Hawari ’09 tipped an attempted pass by quarterback Dominic Randolph. Quick to act, linebacker Jay Pilkerton was able to scoop up the deflected pass for his first of two interceptions and set up an early Bulldog field goal.
The Holy Cross defense did not have any answers for Yale’s high-power offense, and the Bulldogs punched in four McLeod touchdowns before the end of the half for a 31-10 lead. McLeod’s record-breaking touchdown came on a fourth-and-two situation with three minutes remaining in the second quarter. He spotted a hole on the left side of the field and darted 23-yards to the goal-line.
Armed with the momentum of the past three games, the Bulldogs are now getting into the meat of the Ivy League season. Team members said they know they cannot take any game for granted and must perform week in and week out.
“This team has played at a very high intensity level and we need to continue to do that game after game,” Siedlecki said. “If you don’t come emotionally ready to play every week, any team can get knocked off.”
The Big Green are coming to New Haven fresh off their first win of the season, looking to match their Ivy win total from last year.
“We have a tough Ivy League opponent coming up in Dartmouth,” Abare said. “They are a great team who just came off a big win against Penn. We know we have to bring our A game.”