This article has been updated to reflect the version that ran in print on Oct. 19.
On Saturday the Yale football team returned to the ground game and earned its fourth win of the season, overpowering non-conference opponent Maine 21–10. An excellent showing by the defense bookended a two-touchdown, 139-yard performance by running back Deshawn Salter ’18 as the Bulldogs held the Black Bears to just 10 points and 308 total yards, both season-bests for the Elis.
With the win, Yale (4–1, 1–1 Ivy) finishes a perfect 3–0 outside of Ivy League play for the second consecutive year. Maine (2–4, 2–1 Colonial) falls further beneath 0.500 as both teams look ahead to five weeks of conference matchups.
“We came up here and thought we had to play the best football we could possibly play,” head coach Tony Reno said. “Our kids responded to the challenge in all three phases, especially early on defensively, making some stands in really tough field position. They played physical in what I thought were key situations.”
After a scoreless first quarter, Maine scored a touchdown midway through the second frame, but Yale responded with a quick field goal before halftime, sending the Bulldogs into the locker room down 7–3. Much like they have all season, the Elis came out looking stronger in the second half, adding three touchdowns in the final 22 minutes to seal the 11-point win.
In total, Yale amassed 177 yards on the ground, while the Eli passing game picked up 182 — the second game this season in which Yale’s offense has been so balanced. Part of that balance was due to a stagnant passing attack, as quarterback Morgan Roberts ’16 finished the day 14-for-33 — his only touchdown being a 26-yard run that put the game away with 4:07 remaining on the clock.
“At the end of the day, we play our hardest and really enjoy playing the game,” Roberts said.
Much of the contest took place under cold and wet conditions, as the sun set around the time rain began to fall in Orono. As a result, both teams relied on the ground game in the latter part of the contest.
Salter carried the ball 37 times for 139 yards and two touchdowns. Though he averaged just 3.8 yards per carry, Yale’s commitment to the run game paid off, as the Bulldogs scored two fourth-quarter touchdowns on the ground. One of those was a 17-yard run by Salter, while the other, the 26-yard read-option run by Roberts, was aided by Salter’s ability to threaten the defense and draw Black Bear defenders to his part of the field.
But Yale did not just control the line of scrimmage when on offense. On the defensive side, the Eli front seven made the day very difficult for Maine quarterback Dan Collins and running back Nigel Beckford. The Bulldogs bottled up Maine’s ground game, holding Beckford — who entered the game averaging 4.2 yards per carry — to 78 yards on 25 attempts, an average of 3.1 yards. The secondary also had a strong performance, tallying 10 defensed passes and picking off Collins twice.
“We were outplayed, we were outcoached,” Maine head coach Jack Cosgrove said. “When they made the big plays, they certainly got a lot of energy out of their plays. As the game wore on, they just got more and more confidence and executed better.”
Captain and safety Cole Champion ’16 got his hand on four passes, including two back-to-back balls in the end zone. Cornerback Spencer Rymiszewski ’17 came away with an interception in the first quarter and defensive back Roger Kilgore ’16 notched the second late in the fourth quarter to put the game away.
When the Bulldogs themselves took to the air, they came away with some impressive plays. Wide receiver Michael Siragusa Jr. ’18, the game’s leading receiver, and tight end Leo Haenni ’17 each made an acrobatic sideline catch in a key situation.
“I just thought those [catches] were inspiration plays for them, momentum plays for them, and big plays for them,” Maine head coach Jack Cosgrove said. “Watching them was just spectacular and it just spoke to their performance today.”
Siragusa’s 27-yard reception came on a vital first-and-25 situation during Yale’s three-minute drill before halftime. Following two penalties against Yale, Roberts lofted a ball down the right sideline. Although it originally hit the hands of a Maine cornerback, the defenseman failed to corral the ball. Siragusa snagged the ball as he fell out of bounds, barely getting his toes in-bounds before hitting the turf. His catch brought Yale into field-goal range, allowing the team to put points on the board before halftime.
Haenni’s catch was, if possible, even more athletic. On first-and-10 from Maine’s 38-yard line at the beginning of the fourth quarter, the tight end leapt backwards to collect a rainbow from Roberts. Haenni got his right hand on the ball and managed to pull it in as he fell backwards. The 21-yard pass put Yale on Maine’s 17-yard line — the exact same spot where Siragusa’s catch left the team — and set up Salter’s final touchdown.
Calling it an ESPN Top 10 candidate, Reno said Haenni’s catch demonstrated the passion and persistence he encourages in Yale players.
“We knew Maine had a very physical secondary and linebacking corps, so we knew there weren’t going to be a ton of clean releases,” Reno said. “Catches were going to be contested, and we worked on it all week in practice. Guys were able to finish plays off where we weren’t able to finish them off last week.”
Cosgrove noted after the game that Yale entered the matchup “humbled” but played hard. Many of the areas in which the Elis struggled last week — opening holes in the line of scrimmage, protecting Roberts and penetrating the line — were less of an issue against Maine. Halftime adjustments in the pass protection game and blitz schemes, Reno said, paid off.
Additionally, the Yale special teams unit blocked its fifth kick of the season and first in three weeks. Defensive end Copache Tyler ’17 timed his jump perfectly to prevent Maine from scoring a field goal in the third quarter.
“It was huge,” Reno said. “That was a nice drive Maine put together and they could’ve put some points on the board, which would distance them a little more from us. For us to get penetration in the A-gap and block that kick, it was a momentum play.”
While the effort was complete, there are still areas of concern for the Bulldogs. Three more names potentially joined the already long list of injured Elis, as Siragusa, Rymiszewski and right guard Jon Bezney ’18 all left the game with no information currently available on their timelines of return.
Roberts pointed out the offense’s third-down conversion rate as a weak spot, as the Bulldogs managed a mediocre 38 percent against Maine. Though this figure is up 24 percent from last week’s loss to Dartmouth, the Bulldogs remain second-to-last in the Ivy League with a 36 percent clip this season.
Finally, kicker Bryan Holmes ’17 missed two extra-point attempts, though the two missed points, plus a failed two-point conversion attempt, did not ultimately cost the Elis in the 11-point contest.
Yale enters five weeks of Ivy play beginning this Friday, when the team travels to take on Penn. The game kicks off at 7:30 p.m. under lights, the first time the Bulldogs have ever played an Ancient Eight opponent on a Friday night.