Follow along with a liveblog below of the season-opening game against the Lehigh Mountain Hawks of the Patriot League.
After falling behind 21–0 just eight minutes into the game, the Yale football team roared back against Lehigh in front of its home crowd to a 54–43 victory in the Elis’ season opener.
Quarterback Morgan Roberts ’16 began his second year at Yale with a career game, completing 30 of 39 attempts for 356 yards and three touchdowns, in addition to rushing for a touchdown.
Three other players finished with 100 total yards or more — running backs Tyler Varga ’15 and Chandler Rich ’17, as well as captain and wide receiver Deon Randall ’15.
“I can’t say enough about the effort of this team,” head coach Tony Reno said. “These guys showed what they’re made of. The ability to worry about the process not the outcome — that’s what we’re built on.”
Yale (1–0, 0–0 Ivy) used a combination of big plays and long, marching offensive drives to rack up 683 yards of total offense and 54 points, the most points the Bulldogs have had in a game since 2003. Yale was able to take advantage of a tired out Lehigh (0–3, 0–0 Patriot) defense that had already given up more than 600 yards of offense to each of its previous two opponents.
After a 2013 season in which Yale was plagued by injuries, the Elis had all of their weapons out on the field in the game. Roberts spread the ball around to five different receivers, and seven players recorded rushing yards.
“Our goal this season is to spread the ball both horizontally and vertically, and I think we did that today,” Roberts said. “We have so many weapons on offense this year.”
Though Lehigh’s wide receivers were able to beat Yale’s young secondary deep a few times throughout the game, defensive highlights by that same Yale secondary were a key to the victory, as defensive backs Spencer Rymiszewski ’17, Robert Ries ’17 and Foyesade Oluokun ’17 all had interceptions that heavily impacted the score.
Rymiszewski’s pick allowed Yale to cut Lehigh’s lead to five points with a field goal in the first quarter, while Ries’ set up a rushing touchdown for Roberts in the fourth quarter to give the Bulldogs a two-score lead that they would eventually keep. Oluokun, a 2013 second-team all-Ivy safety, picked off Lehigh quarterback Nick Shafnisky late in the fourth quarter to end a threatening comeback attempt for the Mountain Hawks.
“This game was going to come down to who had the ball last,” Reno said. “[Oluokun’s] interception was a huge play, and then our offense was able to run the clock out. Those two things were really the difference in the game.”
Before the Eli comeback, though, fans were seeing signs of a completely different Yale team. The beginning of the first quarter seemed eerily similar to the other most recent Yale contest, the Bulldogs’ 34–7 loss to Harvard on Nov. 23, 2013.
Yale went three-and-out on two consecutive drives, while Lehigh scored quickly on its first two possessions and then returned an interception for its third score just two plays into Yale’s third offensive drive.
But there were still three-and-a-half quarters to play, and on its fourth offensive drive Yale finally got the wheels turning. Randall caught a long pass from Roberts to open the drive — the first time Yale moved the chains in the game — and later capped off the drive with a highlight reel run, spinning to dodge one Lehigh defender, cutting past another and then sprinting to the end zone for Yale’s first score.
Following another score for Lehigh that brought the Mountain Hawks’ lead back to 21, Yale began its charge back near the beginning of the second quarter. Rich and Randall each took a turn in the spotlight, as Rich broke off for a 51-yard touchdown run, and on Yale’s next drive Randall hauled in a pass from Roberts, catching the ball straight over his head and sprinting to the end zone for a 68-yard score.
Rich, who ran for 101 yards against Columbia last year, topped his career best in the season opener, utilizing his speed to put up multiple big rushes and finishing with 104 yards on just 11 carries. He credited the offensive line, which allowed the Elis to rush for 327 yards while allowing just one sack, for his success.
“First and foremost it starts with the whole offense, especially the offensive line,” Rich said. “We really have a really powerful run game, and it also always helps to play along like Tyler Varga and [running back] Kahlil Keys ’15.”
Lehigh responded with a big play of its own, but a 41-yard field goal by kicker Kyle Cazzetta ’15 at the end of the second quarter brought the Bulldogs to within nine points going into halftime.
By the second half of the game, Yale had transitioned into a more slow and steady offense, as Roberts led the Bulldogs down the field for four consecutive scoring drives of nine or more plays.
Yale took its first lead of the season in the third quarter with a 17-yard touchdown rush by Varga. Varga took the end-around to the right side, but then cut to the left to run nearly horizontally, eventually scoring on the other side of the field.
The lead then changed hands twice more. But before Lehigh could go on top yet again, Ries got the ball back for Yale with another interception and lead to a quarterback keeper for Roberts that put Yale up two scores for the first time.
Lehigh got close to the Yale end zone in its next two attempts to respond, but the Elis stopped them just short on both, first with a turnover on downs and then with Oluokon’s interception.
Yale will next host Army on Saturday, Sept. 27, at 1 p.m.
Ashton Wackym contributed to the liveblog.