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Friday, November 16, 2007
It's winner take all for 124th Harvard-Yale meeting

Associated Press

NEW HAVEN, Conn. -- The current Yale and Harvard players have heard all about the tradition of the venerable rivalry and are preparing to make some history of their own.

Meeting No. 124 is Saturday and the stakes are as high as they get with the Ivy League title up for grabs.

Both teams enter with 6-0 conference records. The last time that happened was 1968 and Harvard famously rallied from 16 points down in the final 42 seconds to tie Yale, spoiling Yale's perfect season.

They had to share the crown that year. But since overtime has been added to the college game, that scenario has gone the way of the flying wedge, which coincidentally was introduced during the Harvard-Yale game in the early days of rivalry.

The Bulldogs (9-0, 6-0) are looking for their first perfect season since 1960 and it's been 26 years since they've had sole possession of the title. Harvard (7-2, 6-0) has had two perfect seasons since 2001 and is looking for its 12th Ivy title. Yale has 14 championships since the league began in 1956 and leads the series 65-50-8, but Harvard has won the five of the last six.

A near capacity crowd of about 60,000 is expected to fill the Yale Bowl. The game draws alumni from around the country and those who can't make it will certainly keep an eye on the score.

"People definitely make plans to go there," said Eric Johnson, a tight end for the New Orleans Saints and member of Yale's 1999 title team. "I think on the team there's definitely an electric vibe. That's our Super Bowl every year, so we take that seriously no matter whether you're having a good season or bad season. You're psyched up for this week."

Distractions abound. Players have to juggle myriad ticket requests, visits from friends and family and a week's worth of media interviews.

"The biggest challenge is just dealing with all the distractions, dealing with the hype," Yale defensive tackle and captain Brandt Hollander said. "We're pretty confident in what we do, confident in our schemes. I don't think we have to adjust too much."

Hollander anchors the top-ranked defense in the league. Yale is allowing an average of 11 points. The Crimson are plenty stingy against the run. They give up just under 80 yards on the ground.

"We're the two top defenses in the league," Yale coach Jack Siedlecki said. "Both teams have really disrupted people's offense."

The Crimson will be trying to disrupt the most potent ground game in the league. Led by junior Mike McLeod, the Bulldogs put up an average of 287 yards rushing.

The junior tailback from New Britain averages 174.3 yards a game. His 23 touchdowns this season are one shy of the Ivy League single-season record set by Cornell's Ed Marinaro in 1971. McLeod holds the conference record with 18 straight games with a TD. Siedlecki said the 200-pound McLeod is one of the best short yardage runners he's ever coached.

"He's a once-in-a-lifetime kid that you get in coaching and we're really trying to ride him," Siedlecki said. "He's one of the most competitive kids I've ever met."

Harvard coach Tim Murphy knows his defense will have its hands full with the hard-running McLeod.

"He has great vision, great balance and he's a tremendously physical player," Murphy said. "As great a team as they have, when you have a kid like that, he makes them stand a little bit taller."

The Bulldogs have to contend with the league's top-rated passer in the Crimson's Chris Pizzotti. The 6-foot-5 senior is 10-1 as a starter and has thrown for 10 touchdowns this season. He's coming off a 232-yard, two TD performance in last week's 23-7 win over Penn to help set up Saturday's showdown.

Yale's senior quarterback Matt Polhemus has four touchdown passes for the season, including two second-half strikes in last week's 27-6 win over Princeton. He and McLeod helped spark an offense that mustered just a field goal in the first half. The rally kept the Elis perfect and in position for another shot at perfection.

"To be able to play your last game in the Bowl is a unique experience and I feel very fortunate to do that," Polhemus said. "Harvard's a great program, year in and year out. It doesn't matter if this is a rivalry game or not. It's always a great game."

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AP Sports Writer Brett Martel in New Orleans contributed.