Bouncing back from a heartbreaking seven-point loss to Dartmouth, the Yale football team (4–1, 1–1 Ivy) defeated the Colgate Raiders (4–3, 2–0 Patriot) 45–31 Saturday afternoon.
For the first three quarters, the Raiders kept the Bulldogs locked in a tight game. But toward the end of the fourth, the Elis pulled away on the strength of two big plays by quarterback Morgan Roberts ’16 and running back Tyler Varga ’15.
“Both teams, when you look at them, were pretty evenly matched,” head coach Tony Reno said. “But it came down to the fourth quarter and our guys made plays. We had a big stop in the fourth quarter. We were able to control the game.”
Varga led the day for Yale’s offense, rushing for 184 yards and scoring five total touchdowns, including a 69-yard scamper up the middle to put the game away late in the fourth quarter.
Meanwhile, Roberts put on an aerial clinic. The first-year starter went 22-33 for 379 yards — a career high — and two touchdowns.
“I think we’re a dynamic offense that can hurt you in many ways,” Varga said. “I think our guys are confident in their abilities, and if we do go through a little adversity, I think we bounce back.”
In an unpredictable twist given Yale’s recent scoring averages, the clash against Colgate started off slow, with a scoreless first quarter. Colgate threatened to score in all three of its first quarter drives, with the Raiders’ best attempt at getting on the board coming through a 10-play drive that ended in a missed field goal.
Yale’s offense, though anemic in the first quarter, looked red hot at the beginning of the second, as Roberts led a nine-play, 86-yard drive culminating in a go-ahead one yard touchdown run from Varga. The drive was sparked by a 53-yard catch from captain Deon Randall ’15 that set Yale up in the red zone.
Colgate quickly responded with a scoring drive of its own. Buoyed by a strong running game, the Raiders moved 42 yards in 12 plays. Colgate’s offensive groove continued until its drive was halted at Yale’s seven-yard line when defensive tackle Jack Rushin ’17 sacked quarterback Bret Mooney for a seven-yard loss on third and one. Colgate was forced to settle for a 31-yard field goal.
Though Yale failed to score on the ensuing drive, a deep boot from punter Bryan Holmes ’17 pinned the Raiders down inside their own twenty-yard line. However, Mooney coolly completed a 38-yard pass to Brian Lalli on the drive’s first play to push Colgate into Yale territory.
Mooney’s threat as a rusher allowed Colgate to move into the red zone, as the Raiders capitalized on a number of read-option keeps by the quarterback. Finally, Mooney completed a 10-yard strike to running back Demetrius Russell that set up a nine-yard touchdown run by John Wilkins to give Colgate a 10–7 lead following the extra point.
With 59 seconds left in the first half, Roberts gave Yale yet another offensive spark by completing a 14-yard pass on third-and-10 to Robert Clemons ’17 that allowed Yale’s drive to continue.
The Elis drove into Colgate territory with a series of passes from Roberts and the aid of a pass interference call that put the Elis just outside of the Colgate 20-yard line. With three seconds left, kicker Kyle Cazzetta ’15 nailed a 24-yard field goal to tie the game at 10 apiece.
Yale began the second half looking to make a statement on the ground. Varga carried the Elis on the first five plays of their drive until Roberts took over with his arm, completing three straight passes that moved Yale inside the Colgate 20-yard line. Varga ended the drive with a strong 7-yard rushing touchdown, his 10th of the season. The Bulldogs failed their two-point conversion attempt and led 16–10.
On the next drive, Colgate took over at its own 27 and Mooney fired back with an impressive passing display of his own, going 3-4 for 60 yards. A 38-yard Mooney pass to John Maddaluna set up a John Wilkins 2-yard touchdown run.
Not to be denied another scoring opportunity, Roberts continued the quarterback shootout during Yale’s next drive when he completed a 16-yard pass to Randall on third-and-four. A nine-yard Roberts scramble set up first and goal from the 10-yard line, and Roberts then finished the drive off with a quick eight-yard touchdown strike to Varga on third-and-goal. The Elis converted the two-point conversion to take a 24–17 lead after a 14-play, 74-yard drive.
“I think any time Tyler [Varga] gets going, it’s big for our team,” Roberts said. “If they take away one option we have another.”
However, the Bulldog lead did not last long. After Colgate’s Chris Morgan returned the ensuing kickoff 93 yards for the game-tying score, it seemed as though Yale might have lost its momentum.
But a minute and a half into the fourth quarter, Roberts came alive once more, completing a deep 53-yard pass to wideout Grant Wallace ’15 that set up two straight Varga runs for 17 yards and a touchdown. The score — Varga’s 3rd rushing touchdown and fourth overall — gave Yale a 31–24 lead with 12:51 remaining in the fourth quarter.
Following a Colgate punt, a fumble by running back Kahlil Keys ’15 deep in Eli territory allowed the Raiders to drive 18 yards for a tying touchdown by James Travelin, which put the score at 31-31.
But despite the offensive miscue on their previous drive, the Elis responded with a quick score of their own. Roberts launched a 68-yard touchdown pass to Clemons on the third play of the drive to take back the lead.
After a strong defensive series, Yale regained possession and quickly made the Raiders pay, as Varga took the first play from scrimmage and rumbled 69 yards down the field for his fifth total touchdown. Following the extra point, Yale held a 14-point lead with 4:42 remaining in the fourth quarter.
Colgate responded by quickly driving down the field, aided by a 37 yard Kevin O’Connell catch.
However, the Bulldogs, through stiff coverage by Dale Harris ’17, came up with a big stop on fourth and goal to force a turnover on downs. Taking over at their own six-yard line, the Elis ran out the clock for the 45–31 win.
The Bulldogs play Penn on Saturday at the Yale Bowl. Kickoff is at 1:30 p.m.