The record books had already been rewritten by halftime in the Yale football team’s Saturday matchup against Lehigh. Through just two quarters, the teams’ 70 combined first-half points were the most seen in any half ever played at the Yale Bowl.
But the Bulldogs finished the game on the wrong side of history. Lehigh’s 63 points tied the most ever scored against the Yale in its 144-year history, sending the Bulldogs spiraling to their first 0–3 start since 1993.
Although the Elis’ (0–3, 0–1 Ivy) running game finally lived up to expectations, earning them 243 yards and three touchdowns on the ground, Team 144 had its share of struggles elsewhere on the field. Quarterback Tre Moore ’19 threw for just 140 yards while heaving up two interceptions in his first career start, while the defensive unit gave up a whopping 651 yards of total offense to Lehigh (3–2, 0–0 Patriot) in the 63–35 defeat. The Mountain Hawks’ top two receivers combined for 382 yards and five touchdowns as the Elis failed yet again to register their first win.
“[Lehigh] had some good players on the outside and they came out and made plays,” captain and linebacker Darius Manora ’17 said. “We came out and fought hard, but there were a lot of things we should’ve corrected mentally that we didn’t execute as well as they did. Each week we’ve been growing, and once we put it together — all 11 guys on the field — I feel we’ll have a better outcome.”
Offensively, Yale put together its best performance of the season. After scoring a combined 26 points in their first two games, the Bulldogs tallied 35 against the Mountain Hawks, 28 of which came in the historic first half. Running back Deshawn Salter ’18, starting in place of Dale Harris ’17, rushed for 151 yards on just 15 carries, including a 70-yard scamper to set up Yale’s first touchdown, a jet sweep to wide receiver Christopher Williams-Lopez ’18, on the following play.
Williams-Lopez continued to be one of Yale’s key offensive weapons this season. The veteran receiver picked up 71 receiving yards, including a 63–yard touchdown, to go along with 31 rushing yards and an additional rushing score on Saturday. Head coach Tony Reno noted that jet sweeps to Williams-Lopez were a new component of the Yale offense that he could utilize with a more mobile quarterback like Moore under center.
“[Using receivers as running backs was] of the things that we implemented this week,” Reno said. “It [was] part of the package we brought out because of the ability we have in our offense now.”
When not handing the ball to his teammates, Moore was able to create some offense for himself using his legs. The first-time starter opened the game with a rush on an option play, and finished with 28 yards and two touchdowns on 11 ground attempts.
But as the Bulldogs resorted more to their passing game and the Lehigh lead swelled, Moore struggled with his accuracy and consistency in the pocket, throwing for just 120 yards with a 42 percent completion rate and more interceptions than passing touchdowns.
“I think Tre did some nice things today,” Reno said. “Obviously when we look at the quarterback position we look at the whole body of work: the running game and the passing game. I think he made some really good decisions today and just missed on some long throws. With more time, you’ll see those throws completed.”
The offense received some assistance in the second quarter from its special teams unit, as punt returner Jason Alessi ’18 split through an opening in the Lehigh coverage unit for an 82-yard touchdown. The junior’s second punt returned for a touchdown of his career shaved the Lehigh lead down to just 15 towards the end of the first half, and Yale would come within one score a few minutes later thanks to the first of Moore’s touchdown runs.
Though Team 144 outscored its 2015 counterpart in last year’s road win at Lehigh, the Mountain Hawks’ high-powered passing attack and Yale’s inept secondary overpowered the Elis’ offensive output on Saturday. Lehigh quarterback Brad Mayes, starting in the place of an injured Nick Shafnisky, did not miss a beat in the pocket. The sophomore threw for six touchdowns and a Yale Bowl-record 524 passing yards while championing a Lehigh offense that amassed 651 total yards.
“It was a late decision to play Brad today,” Lehigh head coach Andy Coen said. “We have all the confidence in the world in Brad. He stepped up last fall and played for two big games, so we knew he’d be able to handle the job today.”
Mayes’ historic day was made possible by the astounding performance of his top two receivers, Troy Pelletier and Gatlin Casey. The Yale secondary was incapable of staying with the pair of wideouts, as the Mountain Hawk duo combined for 382 yards receiving.
Pelletier, a first-team All-Patriot receiver last season, had 13 catches for 213 yards and three touchdowns, making defenders miss consistently and gashing the secondary on a gamelong spree of deep receptions.
In the scariest moment of Saturday’s game, Lehigh cornerback Quentin Jones absorbed the brunt of a massive head-to-head collision with Moore and lay motionless on the turf for several minutes afterwards. Jones was eventually carted off the field on a stretcher and spent the night at a local hospital. Coen added that Jones had likely suffered a severe concussion, and had been going in and out of consciousness, but appeared to be regaining movement.
Yale’s defensive woes were exacerbated by several injuries of their own, most notably to cornerbacks Marquise Peggs ’19 and Spencer Rymiszewski ’17.
“We were down three corners [against Lehigh] and it really showed,” Reno said. “Their receivers made great one-on-one plays. We need to continue to get better and get healthier [in the secondary].”
Rymiszewski, a first-team All Ivy selection last year, underwent shoulder surgery in the offseason and is not expected to return in 2016.
The Bulldogs will resume Ivy League competition next Saturday as they host Dartmouth. The Big Green handed Yale the largest loss of last year’s 4–3 conference campaign, a 35–3 blowout in Hanover.