Princeton turned the ball over four times, including twice at the Yale 2-yard-line, and gave up an 80-yard touchdown pass in a 27-6 loss to the unbeaten Bulldogs Saturday afternoon on Powers Field at Princeton Stadium. Princeton outgained Yale 361-272, but its inability to convert in the red zone thwarted the upset attempt.
"We had opportunities in the first half, but we just didn't execute," head coach Roger Hughes said. "We moved the ball, but we didn't get into the end zone. That's what the offense is measured by. I was pleased with the overall effort of the team, and you have to give Yale credit. That's a good football team, and when they needed a big play, they made it."
Princeton spread the ball around well, using seven different runners and receivers to attack the perimeter against a solid Yale defense. Senior quarterback Bill Foran led the team in rushing with 72 yards on 15 carries, while senior running back Rob Toresco added 52 yards on 10 carries. Will Thanheiser had five catches for 60 yards, while Adam Berry added five catches for 38 yards.
The Princeton defense did a good job containing national rushing leader Mike McLeod until the fourth quarter, when both McLeod and the Yale offensive line took over. Senior Kevin Kelleher recorded a career high 13 tackles, while classmate Tim Boardman recorded nine. McLeod, who had only 36 yards rushing in the first half, ended the game with 107 yards and a touchdown. Yale quarterback Matt Polhemus completed only five passes, but he made them count. He hooked up with Chris Denny-Brown for a pair of scores, including an 80-yarder less than a minute into the second half.
Princeton opened the game with a 13-play, 61-yard drive that took the ball to the Yale 2-yard-line. An attempted end around to Berry resulted in a fumbled handoff, and Joe Hathaway pounced on it to end Princeton's first good scoring opportunity. The second one came two drives later, when Princeton again moved to the 2-yard-line. Foran tried to score on a keeper, but Nick Solakian drilled him from the side and jarred the ball loose. Paul Rice caught it in midair and returned it 55 yards before Adam Berry ran him down from behind to save a touchdown. Yale kicker Alan Kimball hit a 43-yard field goal six plays later to give the Bulldogs an improbable lead.
Princeton tied it up with three seconds left in the half, as Connor Louden hit a 20-yard field goal to complete an 11-play, 51-yard drive. An 11-yard catch by Thanheiser and a 15-yard run by Foran were key plays on the drive, but the Bulldog defense kept Princeton out of the end zone.
Two plays into the second half, Yale found itself in the end zone. Polhemus hit Denny-Brown on a crossing pattern, and he found open field along the Bulldog sidelines to score an 80-yard touchdown. It was the longest touchdown pass against Princeton in 21 years, dating back to an 88-yard scoring pass by Lehigh. A 40-yard field goal early in the fourth quarter opened a 10-point lead for Yale and forced the Princeton offense to get in gear.
Toresco ignited a 10-play, 54-yard drive that led Princeton to a 31-yard field goal. He ran the ball five straight times, breaking countless tackles during the stretch, for a total of 38 yards.
Down one possession, Princeton needed one stop to have a chance at evening the score. That was when McLeod took over; he led Yale on a 13-play, 60-yard drive that ate up more than eight minutes of the final quarter. He ran the ball on 11 of the 13 plays and converted on a trio of third downs. An offsides penalty gave Yale a fourth third-down conversion, and a touchdown pass from Polhemus to Denny-Brown opened a 20-6 lead.
Needing to move exclusively through the air with less than three minutes left, Foran was intercepted by Matt Coombs, who returned it to the 1-yard-line. McLeod scored two plays later, and the Yale sideline turned its attention to next weekend's championship showdown with Harvard. Both teams, who will meet at the Yale Bowl Nov. 17 at noon, enter the game with matching 6-0 league records.
Princeton will travel to Dartmouth for its own season finale next weekend and will try to send its senior class out on a positive note.