For the fourth time this year, an explosive offense was the key to victory for the Yale football team. On Saturday, the Bulldogs rallied in the fourth quarter to win 45–31 over a Colgate team that had been riding a four-game win streak.
The dynamic duo of quarterback Morgan Roberts ’16 and running back Tyler Varga ’15 was at it again with another pair of historic performances. Roberts went off for a career-high 379 passing yards, while Varga’s five touchdowns — a feat that, before Varga did so twice this year, had not been accomplished at the Yale Bowl since 1931 — were more than the entire Colgate squad tallied.
Yale’s nation-leading offense put up these numbers, and 633 total offensive yards, despite beginning the game with its worst first half of the season. The score was tied at 10 after two quarters, but a jumpstart of the Bulldogs’ running game opened up several offensive opportunities in the second half.
But the Elis (4–1, 1–1 Ivy) pulled away from Colgate (4–3, 2–0 Patriot) with 35 second-half points and two long touchdowns in the fourth quarter, while two crucial defensive stops at the end of the game — including one pass breakup by cornerback Dale Harris ’17 on Yale’s five-yard line — sealed the Bulldogs’ second straight victory over the Raiders.
“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 being able to make some big plays.”
When asked about the predictability of his spread offense a week ago, Reno said that there was only one predictable aspect about Yale’s explosive attack: When the Bulldogs get into the red zone, they give the ball to Varga.
That is exactly what Yale did for 10 of its 14 red zone plays, but the predictability did not help the Raiders. Excluding one shortened drive at the end of the first half, the Bulldogs ended all four of their red zone chances with a Varga touchdown. He finished with a total of 184 rushing yards, 168 of which came in the second half.
Varga credited the offensive line for his success, while Roberts added that the Elis’ receiving corps has created a threat that opens up holes for Yale’s running game.
Colgate head coach Dan Hunt summed up the league-leading offense of a Yale team that was ranked fifth in the Ivy League preseason poll.
“We knew that they were probably the most talented team we’ve faced all year,” Hunt said.
The only other two Yale scores were long fourth quarter touchdowns that gave the Elis the lead they would eventually keep. One pass went for 68 yards to wide receiver Robert Clemons ’17, and the other was a 69-yard breakout rush by Varga.
Both of the plays could have been attributed to Colgate’s defense being tired from Yale’s hurry-up offense and 43 rushing attempts.
“When you pound any defense with the run enough, they start to get worn out. That’s just the way that works.” Varga said. “We’ve got a good stable of backs that can keep the pressure on in the run game, keep the defense on their heels.”
Roberts added that the training the Bulldogs put in during the offseason prepared them to wear out any defense late in the game. In its first five games, Yale has outscored its opponents 62–31 in the fourth quarter and overtime.
At the outset of the game, however, that level of offensive production was virtually nonexistent.
For the first time all season, the game was scoreless after the first quarter as Varga found inconsistent holes and Roberts was sacked twice. Colgate quarterback Bret Mooney, subbing in for an injured Jake Melville, brought his team past midfield three times but could not finish with better than a missed 39-yard field goal.
In the second quarter, the two teams then scored a field goal and rushing touchdown each, the first of multiple touchdowns for both Varga and Colgate running back John Wilkins.
Wilkins was one of four Raiders, including Mooney, who was effective on the ground. Throughout the game, Mooney’s threat as a rushing quarterback opened up holes for the Colgate running game, which took credit for all three of the Raiders’ offensive touchdowns.
Yale and Colgate closed out the first half locked in a 10–10 battle, but the Bulldogs made a statement as soon as they received the second half kickoff. Varga rushed for positive yardage five consecutive times to start the drive, and then he finished it off with two more, ending in a touchdown to push the score to 17–10.
“At the end of the first half, we thought we had some missed opportunities,” Reno said. “We got the ball to start the second half … and we got in a rhythm.”
Wilkins and Varga then traded touchdowns again as the two offenses continued to heat up, and midway through the third quarter a 24–17 Yale lead was erased when Colgate’s Chris Morgan returned the ensuing kickoff 93 yards to the end zone.
Varga scored for the fourth time in the fourth quarter, set up by a 53-yard pass to wide receiver Grant Wallace ’15. Though a Yale fumble later in the quarter allowed the Raiders to tie the game, Yale soon put the nail in the coffin with its pair of touchdowns over 60 yards.
In Colgate’s final opportunity to make a two-score comeback, the Raiders made it to the five-yard line and went to the end zone on fourth down, but Harris jumped in front of his man to break up the pass and snuff out the threat.
Now finished with all of its non-conference matchups, Yale will take on Penn at home on Saturday. Kickoff is at 1:30 p.m.