October 17, 2009

Rice’s TD is All Yale Defense Needs; Elis Blank Lehigh 7-0

Yale First Team to Shut Out Lehigh in 23 Years

BETHLEHEM, Pa. -- He's now known as one of the top linebackers in the Ivy League, but back in high school Yale senior Paul Rice was a running back in addition to playing defense. Rice still knows what to do when he gets the ball in his hands, and he showed that with a 40-yard touchdown run on a fake punt early in the third quarter Saturday afternoon at Lehigh. That was enough for a 7-0 Bulldog win, as Yale became the first team since 1986 to shut Lehigh out.

"We wanted to give our players a chance to make a play," said Tom Williams, Yale's Joel E. Smilow '54 Head Coach of Football, of the decision to call the fake on fourth-and-11 at the Lehigh 50. "It wasn't the call that made the play. Paul made the play."

Rice looked right at home with the ball in his hands when he took the snap from senior defensive lineman Matt Kelleher while, several yards behind Rice, senior punter/place kicker Tom Mante leaped up as if the snap had gone over his head.

"It's kind of a blur," said Rice, who had a touchdown last year on a 24-yard interception return while playing cornerback. "I caught the snap and saw I had two blockers in front, so I let the blocks develop. At some point I cut it back, then I headed to the sideline and I saw daylight."

That turned out to be the only scoring on a cold and rainy day at Goodman Stadium. The two teams combined for seven turnovers, including three fumbles lost by Lehigh. The Mountain Hawks were 0-for-13 on third down conversions.

The Bulldog defense got the first turnover, as junior outside linebacker Sean Williams stripped the ball from quarterback Michael Colvin and senior outside linebacker Travis Henry grabbed the fumble to set the Yale offense up at the Lehigh 28. But penalties on three straight plays left Yale punting from its own side of the field.

That was one of eight punts in the first quarter alone, and Lehigh got no further than the Yale 41 as the Bulldogs controlled the field position battle. Lehigh quarterback Chris Lum started out 0-for-8 on pass attempts, a streak he finally broke on the third play of the second quarter.

Lehigh mounted its biggest threat right before halftime, driving 47 yards thanks mainly to a 43-yard scramble by Lum. But a 33-yard field goal attempt by Tom Randazza was blocked at the line of scrimmage by senior defensive lineman Tom McCarthy.

"We called an overload to one side," said McCarthy. "I was lined up next to [junior defensive lineman] Pat Moran. I had missed a sack that led to a long gain earlier in the drive, so I felt like I needed to get a hand on the field goal to keep the shutout. Pat got a good push, then I came underneath and got my right hand on it."

It didn't take long for the Yale defense to produce a big play in the second half. On Lehigh's second play from scrimmage Colvin lost the ball again, and it popped right to sophomore free safety Geoff Dunham, setting the Yale offense up at midfield. But when a third-and-six pass fell incomplete, Mante headed in to the game with the punting unit. It looked as if Yale then took a delay of game penalt y just to give Mante more room to work with in trying to pin Lehigh down with a punt. But instead the Bulldogs pulled the fake punt out of their playbook and worked it to perfection.

After that the shutout was sealed by some more big plays from the defense. Junior cornerback Adam Money picked off a pass at the Yale 39 and returned it 18 yards later in the third quarter. McCarthy and Moran had sacks on back-to-back plays early in the fourth, and McCarthy got another sack on the very next drive to help negate a Yale interception. It came with the ball on the Yale seven-yard line on third down; the Mountain Hawks then missed a 30-yard field goal attempt.

McCarthy has a team-high three sacks for the season, and his 4.5 tackles for loss trail only Rice (five, including two Saturday).

"We like to blitz, and we have an aggressive defense," McCarthy said. "When we bring the pressure, we have to get there. But sometimes we're not going to bring the pressure and it's just going to be one-on-one matchups, and you've got win those one-on-one matchups. I was able to do that."

The Yale offense turned to senior tailback Rodney Reynolds to help control the clock in the fourth quarter, and Reynolds delivered a career-high 45 yards on 11 carries.

The Bulldogs had seen their running back depth depleted with senior tailbacks Jordan Farrell and Brandon Scott out; Reynolds made the most of his opportunity to step up.

"Rodney, coming out of the spring, was our starting running back but he had an injury that set him back," said Williams. "To his credit he kept practicing and kept doing all the things that we asked. We said to our guys, ‘You never know when your opportunity is going to come through injury or attrition. Sometimes you just practice better to give yourself an opportunity.' Rodney did that. He had a great week of practice last week."

Lehigh (1-5, 1-0 Patriot League) still had a chance to tie, getting the ball back at its own 46 with 2:10 to play after blocking a Yale field goal attempt. On the very first play, however, split end De'Vaughn Gordon was hit by senior linebacker Tim Handlon as he attempted a hook-and-ladder toss. The ball bounced off the hand of its intended recipient and right to Williams, who fell on it at midfield. That enabled the Yale offense to come out for junior quarterback Brook Hart to take a knee three times and run out the clock.

This was the first time since a 41-0 rout by Navy in 1986 that Lehigh had been shut out, a span of 263 games.

The performance of the Yale defense was all the more impressive considering that the Bulldogs lost one of their starters and emotional leaders in senior strong safety Larry Abare, who was injured while covering a punt midway through the first quarter.

"Any time Larry Abare goes out, it's tough, because Larry is not only a phenomenal player but a great leader on this team," said Rice. "But I think it also gave an opportunity for [junior free safety] Marcus Wallace and [junior strong safety] John Pagliaro to step up, and they played well. The guys on special teams filling Larry's role played well too. Every week we've had different people step up. Last week it was [sophomore free safety] Geoff Dunham who stepped up and had a great game. This week Rodney, Pagliaro and Wallace all stepped up and made plays."

The Yale offense also had one of its top receivers, junior Jordan Forney, injured during the game as well. Thanks in part to other injuries and illness, the Bulldogs' travel squad of 62 for this game had a double-digit amount of freshmen. That included three starters on offense -- fullback Jordan Capellino, lineman Jeff Marrs and wide receiver Chris Smith. That, combined with the end result, left Williams optimistic as Yale (3-2, 1-1 Ivy League) passes the halfway point.

"We're a young football team," Williams said. "When you can win a game like this on the road, it says a lot about your character and fortitude."

Yale's final five games of the season are all Ivy League games, starting next Saturday at Penn (3:30 p.m.).

Audio Highlights from 960 AM WELI (Ron Vaccaro '04 play-by-play, Carm Cozza color, Alex Goldberger '08 sideline, Chandler Henley '06 guest commentator):

To listen to audio clips, right-click on them and select "Save as" to save them to your computer

Report by Sam Rubin '95 (sam.rubin@yale.edu), Yale Sports Publicity

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