September 22, 2007

Defending Champs Open Ivy Play with 51-12 Win Over Cornell

Sept. 22, 2007

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NEW HAVEN, Conn. - Yale looked every bit like a team intent on defending its Ivy League title Saturday afternoon, beating Cornell 51-12 at the Yale Bowl, Class of 1954 Field. The Bulldogs out gained the Big Red 293-39 on the ground, getting three touchdowns from junior tailback Mike McLeod and three interceptions from the defense.

"We knew we had to come with our best," said junior linebacker Bobby Abare, who had a team-high nine tackles and an interception. "Everyone had that frame of mind going into the game, that we had to be ready to play. Cornell had a good chance of coming out here and knocking us off. We had to be ready, and everybody did that."

This was the most points in a game for Yale since a 62-28 win over Towson in 2003. It was also the most points Cornell has allowed since 2002, the largest margin of victory for Yale in an Ivy League game since beating Columbia 41-0 in 2000, the most points Yale has scored in an Ivy League game since a 53-19 win over Brown in 1972 ... and the most points Yale has scored against the Big Red since 1889 (70-0).

"We got physically dominated in all aspects of the game -- offense, defense and special teams," said Cornell head coach Jim Knowles. "Yale played like a champion and the consensus pick to win the league."

Coming off a 6-1 Ivy co-championship season, Yale received 14 of 16 first-place votes in the league's preseason media poll. Saturday was the Bulldogs' first chance to show that those votes were well-deserved. Four of Yale's first five possessions ended in scores, including three field goals by senior place-kicker Alan Kimball. The Bulldogs also got a six-yard touchdown pass from senior quarterback Matt Polhemus to senior tight end Langston Johnson, Johnson's first TD. It came on Yale's second drive, after the pair just missed a scoring connection from two yards out on the first drive.

"Langston really needed that," Polhemus said. "He works so hard. He blocks, he doesn't get any of the glory. I overthrew him on that first touchdown, but came back and got that second touchdown. I was really happy to see that."

Polhemus was also happy to see the field position Yale got for the two drives that extended the lead in the second quarter. The first started at the Cornell 22 after a leaping interception by junior linebacker Jay Pilkerton. The next started at the Cornell 47 after the Big Red failed to convert a fourth-and-two. Both set up Kimball field goals, and a nine-yard sack by junior defensive end Brady Hart on third down at the Yale 23 helped keep Cornell off the scoreboard heading into halftime.

The Big Red made a momentary run at a comeback early in the third. After a trick play ended with running back Randy Barbour tossing a six-yard touchdown to wide receiver Bryan Walters, Cornell went for two. Sophomore cornerback Paul Rice tackled receiver Horatio Blackman immediately after he caught the ball well short of the goal-line, keeping the Bulldog lead at 10.

An attempt to catch the Bulldogs napping with an onside kick on the ensuing kickoff backfired on the Big Red, as the ball sailed out-of-bounds untouched and Yale wound up taking over at the Cornell 40. Four runs by McLeod took care of that yardage, including a 10-yarder for the score. That gave him his 11th consecutive game with a touchdown, tying Calvin Hill's school record in that category.

McLeod was right back in the end zone with a one-yard touchdown run less than three minutes later, capping a four-play, 71-yard drive that featured a 61-yard pass to Johnson.

Cornell crept closer with a 30-yard touchdown pass from Ben Ganter to Walters at 3:55 of the third, but the Yale defense ended the next threat in dramatic fashion. Senior linebacker Lee Driftmier stepped in front of a pass at the Cornell 22 and returned it all the way to the one. McLeod then tacked on his seventh rushing touchdown of the season and 32nd of his career.

Driftmier had some fun pointing out how he helped further McLeod's case for the Walter Payton Award as the FCS player of the year.

"I'm really trying to get that Payton Award," Driftmier said with a smile. "I know I'm not going to get it so I might as well give it to McLeod, so I stepped out of bounds at the one. The D-line was doing a great job of stopping the run, and all the passing that they wanted to do was underneath stuff -- nickel and dime. The backers were able to step in front of a few balls today."

That would be the last carry of the day for McLeod, who finished with 151 yards on 31 carries. The fourth quarter belonged to a number of unsung heroes. Sophomore tailback Ricardo Galvez burst through the line for a 35-yard touchdown run with 9:39 to play, and sophomore tailback Jordan Farrell had a 28-yarder with 2:00 left. Other highlights included the first career catches for senior wide receiver Chris Solga and freshman wide receiver Jordan Forney, plus a bruising sack of Ganter by sophomore defensive end Justin Oplinger and senior defensive lineman Kirk Porter. Sophomore punter Tom Mante also impressed with a 62-yard punt with a 4.9-second hang time.

Polhemus gave way to junior Ryan Fodor, but not before he threw for 128 yards and ran for 61.

"Guys were making plays all over the place," Polhemus said. "The O-line did a great job giving me time. Guys were making blocks down field when I was running."

McLeod also rattled off the names of the starting linemen -- junior tackle Darius Dale, junior center Ty Davis, junior tackle Bryan Kana, senior guard Jeff Monaco and senior guard Stephen Morse -- while explaining the fifth 150+ rushing yard day of his career.

"With the schemes that we're putting in, I feel that every time we get the ball we have an opportunity for a big play," McLeod said. "All I have to do is make one person miss, and we're off to the races."

The race for the 2007 Ivy League title began on Saturday. Yale was ready.

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

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