Oct. 21, 2006
NEW HAVEN, Conn. - Junior place-kicker Alan Kimball's 35-yard field goal in overtime lifted Yale to a thrilling 17-14 win over Penn in a clash of first-place teams at the Yale Bowl, Class of 1954 Field Saturday afternoon. Kimball's kick came after the Yale defense stopped Penn at the Bulldog 19 on the Quakers' opening possession in overtime, forcing Penn to try a 37-yard field goal that sailed wide right.
The win was Yale's fifth in a row and ended a string of five straight Penn wins in the series.
"It was an incredible win for our program," Kimball said. "I can't even say how much it means for our team to beat them."
Yale (5-1, 3-0 Ivy) is now 3-0 in the Ivy League for the first time since 1989. The Bulldogs and the Princeton Tigers, who beat Harvard 31-28, emerged from Saturday's two games involving the league's four undefeated teams on top of the heap.
Kimball's kick provided a dramatic end to a back-and-forth affair that saw each team score twice in the first half, then post zeroes in the second half.
The Bulldogs opened with an impressive drive that showcased their ability to convert on third down. Facing third-and-10 at the Eli 40, junior quarterback Matt Polhemus found senior wide receiver Chandler Henley over the middle. Henley broke free from an attempted tackle and raced all the way to the Penn 20.
Three plays later Yale faced a third-and-seven at the 17 and converted this one with a run. Sophomore tailback Mike McLeod appeared to be surrounded just past the line of scrimmage, but he cut to his left and found just enough yards to move the chains. On the next play Polhemus rolled left and connected with Henley in the end zone for the captain's first touchdown of the year. Kimball added the extra point for a 7-0 lead.
The next big play for Yale was a perfect example of the defensive front and the defensive secondary working together to produce a turnover. Sophomore defensive end Kyle Hawari generated heavy pressure on Quakers quarterback Rob Irvin at the Penn 32, so Irvin launched one down the field toward the left sideline. Sophomore free safety Steven Santoro had time to race over and grab it for his third interception of the season - and fifth straight game with a turnover.
Santoro was just one of several young Yale defenders who rose to the occasion in the game.
"I was looking at our defense today and we had six sophomores out there," Polhemus said. "Guys just stepped up and made some huge plays when they had to. It's such a tight team, and it shows out there."
The Bulldogs missed a field goal attempt after the interception, and Penn took advantage of its chance to tie the game. A 57-yard completion from Irvin to wide receiver Matt Carre set up a six-yard scoring toss from Irvin to tight end Chris Mizell with 5:13 left in the first quarter.
Yale came up short on a fourth-and-inches play at the Penn 37, and the Quakers drove down for a six-yard touchdown run by tailback Joe Sandberg on the second play of the second quarter. Penn then reached into its bag of tricks on the ensuing kickoff, as Derek Zoch chipped one down the right side that landed in between several Bulldogs and bounced away before a pile of players converged on it. The Quakers wound up with possession and started their drive at the Yale 30.
Penn (4-2, 2-1 Ivy) got to the Yale 10 for a third-and-nine. From there Irvin began rolling to his right and looking to pass before quickly handing the ball to Sandberg up the middle. Hawari was not fooled by the deception and was there to bring Sandberg down four yards short of the first. The Quakers missed the 23-yard field goal attempt and the Bulldogs dodged the bullet.
The Yale offense took advantage of the chance to tie things up. Polhemus' 14-yard toss to senior wide receiver D.J. Shooter converted a third-and-12, and a 14-yarder to senior wide receiver Ashley Wright got the ball to the eight. On the next play Polhemus' pass under heavy pressure wound up momentarily in the hands of Quaker defensive back Greg Ambrogi, but he was unable to control it because junior tight end Langston Johnson was there to break up the play. Wright dove forward to grab the ball before it hit the ground at the four, and on the next play McLeod took the ball in for his 10th rushing touchdown of the year. He would finish with 122 yards, his fifth straight game with more than 100 yards.
Jack Siedlecki, Yale's Joel E. Smilow '54 Head Coach of Football, noted how Wright and Johnson's play was typical of the approach his team has taken all year long.
"You just never know which play is going to be the deciding play in the game," Siedlecki said.
The Quakers drove down to the Yale 27 with time running out in the first half, but a bad snap cost them 13 yards of field position and they were forced to punt. The Bulldogs took a knee and the teams went into halftime tied at 14.
Penn's first possession of the second quarter got set back by a holding call and the Yale defense then kept the Quakers heading backward. Sophomore linebacker Bobby Abare brought down Sandberg for a three-yard loss on a swing pass, and Hawari then fought off his blocker to drag down Irvin for a nine-yard loss on third down. The Quakers were forced to punt.
Penn's next drive ended even more quickly. On the first play, Irvin's pass over the middle was tipped high in the air and senior defensive end Brendan Sponheimer dove forward to intercept it at the Eli 45.
The Quakers pinned the Elis back at their own two with a punt late in the third quarter, but McLeod converted a third-and-six with a seven-yard run to start turning around the field position. Four plays later freshman Tom Mante sent the Quakers back to their own 25 thanks to a 58-yard punt with 13:51 left in the game.
The Yale defense forced a three-and-out, but the Bulldogs lost a fumble two plays in to their next drive. With the home fans in the crowd of 21,709 getting more and more into the game, Penn quarterback Bryan Walker's third-down pass from the 28 fell incomplete. The Quakers once again had to punt.
A Mante punt with 7:38 left pinned Penn back at its own seven with 7:38 to play, but Walker (six completions for 53 yards) and Sandberg (32 rushing yards) pieced together a methodical drive that got close to field goal territory. But Walker's two attempts to connect with Carre from the Yale 25 fell incomplete, the last one on fourth down, and the Bulldogs took over with 49 seconds remaining.
An interception by Ambrogi with 10 seconds left gave the Quakers one last chance and snapped a string of 64 attempts without an interception for Polhemus. Shooter saved the game by tackling Ambrogi at the Eli 37 after a 17-yard return. Two incompletions by Walker from there sent the game into overtime, the third time in the last four games at the Yale Bowl that an extra session has been needed to settle things.
Penn's overtime progress stopped at the Yale 19 when Sandberg slipped on a third-and-five run. Zoch's attempt from there hit the right upright and bounced out, leaving Yale in full control of its fate.
Facing third-and-11 at the Penn 26, Polhemus got a key eight-yard completion to Shooter. That got the ball to the 18 for Kimball's chance to win it.
The Quakers called timeout in an attempt to ice the kicker, but Kimball stuck to his routine.
"I just said the same thing that I say to myself before every kick," Kimball said. "Just keep my head down and come through."
Senior holder Jimmy Lewis grabbed junior snapper Dan Sica's snap and placed it down for Kimball. He launched it high and deep, leaving no doubt that it was headed between the uprights. The kick touched off a wild celebration, as the Bulldogs stormed the field.
"I actually didn't even get to see it go through the uprights," Kimball said. "I saw it heading on a trajectory where it was going through the uprights, then Jimmy tackled me."
The first such game-winner of Kimball's Yale career, the kick leaves Yale with one less obstacle in Ivy play.
"This is a great win, but we still have four more football games to play," Siedlecki said. "This is a football team that continues to get better."
Yale hosts Columbia next Saturday at Noon.
report by Sam Rubin '95 (firstname.lastname@example.org), Yale Sports Publicity
Audio Highlights from 960 AM WELI:
- Henley's 40-yard catch on the opening drive
- Henley's touchdown catch
- Santoro's interception
- Wright's catch for a first down to set up Yale's second score
- McLeod's touchdown
- Sponheimer's interception
- Kimball's game-winner
- Henley makes a 40-yard catch on Yale's opening drive, then finishes it with a nine-yard touchdown
- Santoro gets his third interception of the year
- A 19-yard run by McLeod
- A 20-yard run by Polhemus after McLeod's 19 yarder
- Polhemus finds Shooter for 14 yards to convert a third-and-12
- McLeod's four-yard touchdown run ties the score
- Hawari records a nine-yard sack
- B. Abare tips a pass and Sponheimer intercepts it
- Craig grabs an 8-yard reception from a scrambling Polhemus
- Mante pins Penn deep in its own territory with a punt
- With Gerald in one-on-one coverage in the end zone, the Yale defense comes up with the stop on 4th down at the 25 yard line with under a minute left in regulation
- Kimball kicks the game-winner
- Henley discusses the win with Yale play-by-play announcer Ron Vaccaro '04 of WELI 960 AM