Like a Broken Record: McLeod Sets Rushing Mark Again with 276 Yards as No. 16 Yale Beats Lehigh 23-7

Oct. 13, 2007

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NEW HAVEN, Conn. - Junior tailback Mike McLeod broke the school record for rushing yards in a game for the second time in three games, racking up 276 and two touchdowns to help No. 16 Yale to a 23-7 win over Lehigh at the Yale Bowl, Class of 1954 Field Saturday afternoon. With the win Yale is off to its first 5-0 start since 1981, when the Bulldogs won their first eight.

McLeod's record-setting day began inauspiciously. The Bulldogs moved down the field easily on their first drive, including a nifty 30-yard run by senior quarterback Matt Polhemus in which he rolled right, faked going out of bounds, and took off down the sideline past a stunned Lehigh defender. But the drive ended at the Mountain Hawk four-yard line when McLeod lost a fumble, ending a streak of 353 straight carries without losing one by the Bulldog star.

"Every time you fumble, at first you're down on yourself," McLeod said. "But everybody on the team does a great job to help you forget about it."

The Yale defense ensured no further harm came from that turnover, as a second-down stop by junior defensive end Brady Hart was followed by a short third-down completion under heavy pressure from senior defensive lineman Stephen Schmalhofer. Facing fourth-and-three, the Mountain Hawks were forced to punt.

Later in the quarter Lehigh (3-3) took advantage of good field position, starting at its own 42, to drive for a one-yard touchdown run by quarterback Sedale Threatt. That marked the first time all season an opponent had scored on Yale in the first quarter -- the Bulldogs held a 46-0 edge in the first entering the game.

That also left Yale trailing in a game for the first time all season, but the Bulldogs were unfazed.

"You've just got to keep a level head about yourself," said junior linebacker Bobby Abare, who would finish with a team-high seven tackles. "Our defense needed that. We needed to face adversity. You never want to be down, but it's good to get that sense of urgency."

The Eli offense responded with a drive that spanned the end of the first quarter and the start of the second. The big play was a 23-yard run by McLeod, keyed by a downfield block from sophomore wide receiver Reid Lathan. Polhemus converted a third-and-five by firing a six-yard pass to sophomore fullback John Sheffield, but two plays later a Polhemus touchdown run was waved off due to holding. The Bulldogs came away with a 20-yard field goal by senior place kicker Alan Kimball.

The Crusader lead lasted until 6:38 of the second. Polhemus converted three third downs, each with passes: an 11-yarder to senior wide receiver Chris Denny-Brown on third-and-nine, a five-yarder to senior fullback Joe Fuccillo on third-and-two, and a 16-yarder to Denny-Brown on third-and-10. With the ball at the Lehigh 16 and Yale facing a third-and-inches, McLeod took the ball right and had wide open space to race down the sideline for his 14th touchdown of the season. That extended his school-record streak of consecutive games with a touchdown to 14.

The Yale defense then forced a Lehigh punt thanks in large part to a loss of 10 yards on a sack where senior defensive lineman Brandt Hollander started Threatt stumbling toward the ground and senior defensive lineman Jared Hamilton came in to finish him off. The Elis dodged a bullet when sophomore defensive back Travis Henry recovered a Yale fumble on the punt.

As the defensive struggle continued, the Mountain Hawks appeared to have a drive going right at the end of the half. Threatt completed five straight passes to get the ball to the Yale 16. The last one was a 37-yarder to split end Pete Donchez, and junior free safety Steven Santoro saved a touchdown by making the tackle. That paid off on the very next play, when Threatt's pass hit off one of his own receivers and went right to Santoro at the Yale four. The Elis took a 10-7 lead into halftime.

"That was big time," Abare said of Santoro's pick. "They were driving the ball and things seemed to be going their way. Those are the plays that change the course of a game."

The second half reached an early turning point when, during a Mountain Hawk sack that would have cost the Bulldogs six yards, a face mask penalty instead gave Yale 15 yards and a first down at the Eli 45. McLeod then immediately made the Mountain Hawks pay, bursting through a hole in the line and racing untouched for the 55-yard touchdown. It was the longest run of his career.

"When you have 55-yard runs, those add up fast," said Jack Siedlecki, Yale's Joel E. Smilow '54 Head Coach of Football. "The big ones give you the big totals."

McLeod now has 40 career rushing touchdowns, extending his school record in that category.

The Bulldog defense then kept the pressure on, as Hollander nearly caught Threatt for a 20-yard sack but the Lehigh signal caller was able to get off a desperation incomplete heave. Two plays later the Mountain Hawks punted and Yale took over at its own 19.

A 40-yard run by McLeod on that drive helped the Bulldogs tack on a 26-yard field goal by Kimball to extend the lead to 20-7. The next Lehigh drive ended with junior linebacker Jay Pilkerton stepping in front of a pass to the right sideline at the Lehigh 48 for his fourth interception of the season.

When the Mountain Hawks drove into Yale territory early in the fourth they were in desperation mode, so they went for it on fourth-and-seven at the Yale 32. Threatt's pass was picked off by Hart, and the Yale offense took over at its own 27.

That gave McLeod the chance to break his own record (256 yards, set in a 38-17 win at Holy Cross), and he did so with a 12-yard scamper midway through a fourth-quarter drive that ended with a 38-yard field goal by Kimball with 7:39 to play.

Lehigh's last drive ended with junior defensive lineman Joe Hathaway tackling split end Mike Fitzgerald four yards short of a first down on a fourth-and-five at the Eli 24. Sophomore tailback Jordan Farrell then came on in relief of McLeod and ran for 40 yards on nine carries.

McLeod's total was the fifth-best in Ivy League history.

Yale (5-0, 2-0 Ivy) now plays five Ivy League games to finish out its season, starting with a trip to Penn next Saturday. The Bulldogs and Harvard are the only 2-0 teams in the league.

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

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