September 23, 2006

McLeod's Three TDs Back Tenacious Defensive Effort for 21-9 Win at Cornell

Sept. 23, 2006

Final Stats |  Photo Gallery

ITHACA, N.Y. - Yale opened Ivy League play with an inspired performance at Schoellkopf Field Saturday afternoon, beating Cornell 21-9. The Bulldogs got three touchdowns from sophomore tailback Mike McLeod and held the Big Red without a touchdown. Junior quarterback Matt Polhemus completed four of five passes in the fourth quarter -- including three for third-down conversions -- to lead the two touchdown drives that sealed the victory.

"That was a great team win," said Jack Siedlecki, Yale's Joel E. Smilow '54 Head Coach of Football. "We got off to a little bit of a slow start, but once we got into the speed of the game and the execution of their offense, our defense played tremendously. I thought our special teams were spectacular. ... It's nice to see a team rewarded for how much time and effort we put into it."

The impact of Yale's special teams came immediately, as sophomore defensive back Steven Santoro returned the opening kickoff 31 yards and set the Eli offense up at its own 40. Polhemus came through on a third-and-six by firing a 10-yard completion to senior wide receiver Ashley Wright, and two plays later a simple screen play became a huge play for Yale. Polhemus tossed the ball to sophomore running back Mike McLeod, and a series of blocks opened a huge hole for him on the right side of the field. Forty-one yards later the Bulldogs had their first touchdown of the game.

"The whole offense blocked that," McLeod said. "The offensive line had a great game. Ashley's last block was phenomenal. He held his guy and he buried him."

Cornell (0-2, 0-1 Ivy) appeared ready to answer on its next drive, getting down to the Yale five. But a false start penalty pushed the Big Red back five yards, and junior strong safety Matt Coombs came up to stop tailback Shane Kilcoyne six yards away from the end zone on a second-down screen pass. Cornell quarterback Nathan Ford tried a draw up the middle on the next play, but senior linebacker Michael Woodson knocked the ball loose and junior defensive lineman Jared Hamilton emerged from the pileup in the end zone triumphantly holding the ball up for all to see.

The Big Red got on the board early in the second quarter on a 26-yard field goal by Peter Zell, though it could have been worse for Yale. Sophomore cornerback Casey Gerald and sophomore strong safety Larry Abare came up to stop tailback Luke Siwula for no gain on a third-and-four from the Yale nine, forcing the Big Red to settle for three points.

Yale drove to the Cornell six late in the second quarter but missed a field goal attempt. That gave the Big Red one more drive, but Cornell got only as far as the Yale 35. There, Bobby Abare forced Cornell lineman Kevin Marchut into a holding penalty on third-and-three, and then stopped wide receiver Brian FitzPatrick seven yards shy of a first down after a short pass on the next play. Junior defensive lineman Brandt Hollander finished off the stand by stopping Ford after a four-yard gain on fourth down. Yale's offense took a knee and the Bulldogs went into halftime leading 7-3.

Back-to-back turnovers negated drives for both teams at the start of the third. After Santoro nabbed a pass at the Cornell 45, Big Red defensive back Max Grant picked off a Polhemus pass at the Cornell 15 and only a tackle by tight end Dave Miller kept the ball in Cornell territory at the Big Red 45.

The Eli defense made another stand to ensure that the interception did not do any further damage. The Big Red attempted to convert a fourth-and-two at the Yale 23 by sending Ford up the middle on a keeper. He tried to spin his way forward around a pile, but junior defensive lineman Kirk Porter nabbed him and the measurement showed the Big Red one yard shy.

Cornell crept closer with a 33-yard field goal by Zell on the third play of the fourth quarter, but the Yale offense marched right down the field after that. Polhemus delivered a crucial third-down conversion by finding senior wide receiver Chandler Henley for 22 yards to the Big Red 18. Two plays later, McLeod scampered 14 yards, bouncing off several attempted tackles, into the end zone for a 14-6 lead with 10:37 remaining in the game.

The Elis continued to bend but not break on the next Cornell drive. The Big Red got to the nine, but Ford's third-down laser into the end zone was batted away by freshman defensive back Paul Rice. Once again, a Zell field goal was all the scoring Cornell could come away with.

Utilizing a deceptive offense that was entirely run from the shotgun formation and featured several play-action fakes, the Big Red would finish the game with 385 yards of total offense to just 280 for Yale. The part of the stats that mattered, however, favored the Bulldogs.

"They're a hard offense to defend," Bobby Abare said. "You have to play all phases of the option. When we came down to the red zone, that's when we stepped up."

Another 31-yard Santoro return set Yale up for the clincher. Operating from the Eli 32, Polhemus picked up two crucial third-down conversions. On the first, senior wide receiver D.J. Shooter found a hole in the left side of Cornell's coverage to get nine yards when the Bulldogs needed seven. Three plays after that, Polhemus fired a dart to Henley that found its way past two Big Red defenders for a 10-yard completion.

"I saw both guys," Henley said. "The ball got in there and I got out of there before I got smashed."

A 26-yard run by Polhemus got the ball to the 12-yard line, and two plays later McLeod found the end zone once again - this time from nine yards out and through several attempted arm tackles.

"He's a good runner," said Cornell defensive end Jonathan Lucas. "He runs downhill and he runs hard."

McLeod would finish the game with 104 yards rushing and 41 yards receiving. After Yale's defense stopped Cornell one last time at the Cornell 41 with 42 seconds left, Polhemus and the offense came on the field for a victory kneel.

Yale travels to Lafayette next Saturday for a 1:00 kickoff. The game will be televised by CSTV.

Video Highlights:

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

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