Monday, October 16, 2006

A different feel this season?

Walking off Clint Frank Field in August after one of the first practices of the season, Yale captain Chandler Henley said he had a special feeling about this installment of the Bulldogs.

This team was different, he said.

This season was going to be different.

Common words entering a season, no matter the team, no matter the sport.

But almost two months later and halfway through the season, Henley might have been right.

There is something different about this team.

It is resilient. It has fortitude. It believes, when really no one else has.

Yale is 4-1 entering its final five games, all against Ivy League opponents.

Impressive, considering the Bulldogs were bulldozed 43-17 against San Diego in the opener.

What might be more impressive is that Yale could be 0-5.

Yale has had many chances to fold this season; many opportunities to say ‘here we go again.’

‰A missed field goal at the end of regulation against Lehigh. A fumble in the red zone, a touchdown called back because of holding,

‰Dartmouth scores 14 points in 2 minutes, 34 seconds to pull within five.

‰Lafayette storms back in the fourth quarter to pull within three after trailing by 16, only to have Mike McLeod scamper for a 45-yard touchdown run.

‰Leading Cornell just 7-6 in the fourth quarter before pulling away for a 21-9 win.

The Bulldogs have always found an answer.

"I’ve got a lot of confidence and a lot of confidence in the guys around me," quarterback Matt Polhemus said. "Everyone just wants to win. When it comes to a tight game like this, everyone just goes out and does what we do in practice everyday."

When asked if doubt crossed his mind after the missed field goal at the end of regulation, Polhemus didn’t hesitate.

"You can’t do that," Polhemus said. "You’ve got to go out and win."

The expectations weren’t so high entering this season for Yale. They were picked to finish fifth in the league.

And even now, after four straight wins, the doubters far outweigh the believers as to whether or not Yale has a viable chance to challenge for a league title.

That talk belongs to Harvard, Penn and even Princeton.

That might be a good thing.

This team seems to thrive on having to prove itself.

There have been high expectations for Yale over the past three seasons. There was talent (see countless career, season and single-game individual records).

Teams have been filled with competitors, guys that hated to lose. But as a team, from coaches to players, they never learned to win.

‰Score 44 points against Brown. Give up 55.

‰Put together an amazing comeback against Penn, but fall in overtime when a field goal is partially blocked.

‰Pull within two points of Holy Cross, then give up an 84-yard kickoff return.

‰Squander two-touchdown leads to Lehigh in back-to-back seasons.

‰Lose in triple overtime to Harvard in heartbreaking fashion after leading by 18 points in the third quarter.

They were 6-4 or 5-5 or 4-6, but it always felt as if they believed they could have easily been 8-
2 or 9-1 if not for play-calling, or a bad call, or someone else’s mistake.

Something went wrong and you could sense everything beginning to unravel.

"There was always an excuse," one player said.

There have been no excuses this year.

We will learn a lot more about this Yale team Saturday at Yale Bowl when it looks to beat Penn for the first time since 2000.

This is a crucial week for the Bulldogs.

Penn has done more than just beat Yale the past three seasons; In many ways, Penn has destroyed either Yale’s confidence or continuity, and at times, both.

This has been where many Yale players have stopped believing ... in themselves, in their teammates and in their coaches.

This team believes it’s different.

We’ll soon see.

Sean Barker can be reached at sbarker@nhregister.com

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