A triple overtime game is not easily forgotten. The Bulldogs’ muscles remember every play — all 162 of them.
Although the banged-up Elis defeated Penn on Saturday for their first victory at Franklin Field since 1990, they barely had enough energy to celebrate. Before the game was over, the Yale defense had lost starters Jay Pilkerton ’09 and Steve Santoro ’09 to injury, and star tailback Mike McLeod ’09 was nursing an overextended toe.
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“As soon as that ball hit the ground [on the last play] and I didn’t see a flag go up, I started running around and celebrating,” defensive back Paul Rice ’10 said. “But I remember sitting down in the team huddle and feeling like falling over.”
The Bulldog defense was on the field for 89 plays, and the offense ran 73. In comparison, during the last Ivy League game, against Dartmouth, the Eli defense only took the field 53 times.
Despite the heavy action, the opportunistic Bulldog defense continued its season-long trend of stepping up at the most crucial times. The Elis stopped the Quakers on the Yale 1-yard line on four consecutive plays in the third overtime — the textbook definition of a goal line stand.
“The goal line stand was kind of a microcosm of what this defense is all about,” Rice said. “We don’t give up easy yards. Every yard you get, you’re going to have to earn.”
Because the Bulldogs were already missing All-Ivy defensive end Larry Abare ’09, who underwent season-ending knee surgery, the injuries to Santoro and Pilkerton are particularly significant. Santoro was sidelined after diving to the ground hard to come up with the Elis’ second interception of the first quarter.
Fortunately for the Bulldogs, special teams ace Matt Coombs ’08 turned in one of the most impressive defensive performances of the season in Santoro’s place, recording an interception and two key tackles on the Elis’ final goal line stand. Coombs picked off Quaker quarterback Bryan Walker right after an Alan Kimball ’08 field goal erased the Bulldogs’ first second-half deficit of the season.
“That [game] was the first time we have really faced some serious adversity,” Darius Dale ’09 said.
Given that the Elis’ next three opponents are a combined 5-13 and rank sixth, eighth and fifth in total defense in the Ivy League, the nail-biter against Penn will most likely be the last real challenge the team faces before its showdown against Harvard.
Heading into this Saturday’s game against Columbia, head coach Jack Siedlecki said the Bulldogs will run lighter practices in an effort to speed up the recovery process.
“Paul [Rice] played over 100 plays Saturday on defense and special teams — that’s two games for some people,” Siedlecki said. “While we’re going to do the same meetings and the same preparation and all that, there might be a few less reps and a few less full-speed pass routes down the field.”
The Elis will also be spending a lot of the time in the dining halls in the next few days. Siedlecki emphasized the importance of proper nutrition in recuperating from a grueling four hours of hard-fought football.
“I’ll guarantee you that there were guys that lost 10-12 pounds that game,” Siedlecki said. “I’ll guarantee you there were linemen who lost at least that. You’ve got to get that back.”