October 28, 2006

Bulldogs Alone in First After 21-3 Win Over Columbia

Oct. 28, 2006

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NEW HAVEN, Conn. - A 52-yard interception return for a touchdown by sophomore linebacker Bobby Abare broke open a 7-3 game in the third quarter, and a punishing 17-play drive that last 10:30 in the fourth quarter gave Yale its final touchdown for a 21-3 victory over Columbia Saturday afternoon. Yale's win, combined with Cornell's 14-7 triumph over Princeton, leaves the Bulldogs all alone atop the Ivy League with a 4-0 record.

"It doesn't mean anything until the end of the season," Abare quickly stated when asked how it felt to be in first place all alone.

"People are going to be looking to knock us off," senior left tackle Ed McCarthy added. "It's a big challenge for us."

A driving rain storm and a series of penalties made for some rough early going for the Bulldogs (6-1, 4-0 Ivy). Yale's first three drives each had a holding call, and with passing difficult thanks to the wind and Columbia's defense -- junior quarterback Matt Polhemus attempted just six passes on those first three drives, completing three -- the Elis got no closer than the Columbia 38.

The weather began to clear up as the second quarter began, and the Lions (3-4, 0-4 Ivy) took advantage of it to drive to the Yale 13. On third down from there, though, sophomore defensive lineman Joe Hathaway generated enough pressure up the middle to force Lions quarterback Craig Hormann to intentionally ground the ball. That left Columbia to settle for a 41-yard field goal by Jon Rocholl.

The weather, and the option of viewing the game on the YES network, left the crowd at the Yale Bowl, Class of 1954 Field significantly smaller than the previous week's 21,709 for Penn. The Yale fans in the stands finally had some reason to get excited when the Bulldogs began their fourth drive of the first half from their own three-yard line. Three runs by sophomore tailback Mike McLeod got a key first down and some breathing room. An athletic grab by senior wide receiver Chandler Henley got 14 yards later in the drive, and Henley also was on the receiving end of a late hit personal foul by cornerback JoJo Smith later in the drive that got Yale from its own 47 to the Columbia 38.

With under two minutes to go before the half, Yale acted quickly to get on the scoreboard. Senior tailback Matthew Murray ran for four yards, senior wide receiver Ashley Wright made an 11-yard reception and McLeod ran for three yards to get the ball to the 20. McLeod had a wide-open right side of the defense to race through on the play after that, though his decision to somersault into the end zone drew an unsportsmanlike conduct call - the eighth penalty of the half on the Bulldogs. Still, Yale went into the break ahead 7-3 after junior place-kicker Alan Kimball booted the extra point.

The Lions drove to the Yale 28 on the first drive of the second half, but Rocholl's 45-yard field-goal attempt from there was blocked by sophomore cornerback Casey Gerald.

The Bulldogs missed a 30-yard field goal on their next drive, but the defense took care of the scoring after that. On Hormann's first-down pass from the Lion 48, Abare grabbed the ball in the middle of the field and raced 52 yards down the left sideline into the end zone for a 14-3 lead with 4:56 left in the third quarter.

"I drifted out there and read the quarterback's eyes," Abare said. "You get lucky sometimes, being in the right spot at the right time. Once I secured the ball -- the whole thing with me is I always get my hands on the ball but I usually don't catch it -- once I got the ball I had green grass in front of me."

The Yale offense had a chance to run down the clock derailed by a false start penalty early in the fourth, but the Bulldog defense remained relentless. Columbia got to its own 45 before back-to-back plays by junior defensive lineman Jared Hamilton - a two-yard tackle for a loss and a nine-yard sack - brought the drive to an end. All told, no Columbia drive got any closer than the Yale 23 and five of the 10 ended in Lion territory.

A Columbia punt gave Yale the ball back at its own 16 with 10:35 to play and the Lions would not touch the ball again other than receiving a kickoff. The Bulldogs pounded away with McLeod (22 yards) and Murray (64 yards) to control the clock from there. Polhemus added a key 17-yard run on third-and-10 at the Columbia 25. Murray took the ball in from one yard out with five seconds left for his first career touchdown.

McLeod finished with 129 yards, becoming the first player in Yale history to register six straight 100-yard games.

"Defensively, they were really quick and they moved around a lot," McCarthy said. "That led to a lot of mistakes on our part and a lot of penalties as an offensive line, which was disappointing ... The last drive showed we are good when we figure out what they're doing and calm down a little bit."

With 3-1 Harvard and 3-1 Princeton sitting in second place, the Bulldogs have no chance to relax. Yale travels to Brown next weekend for a Noon kickoff.

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

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