In by far its best performance of the season, the previously winless Yale football team got back on track on Saturday with a 21–13 victory over defending Ivy League co-champion Dartmouth.
The Bulldogs had a strong showing in almost every facet of the game. Despite a shake-up in the backfield — an injury to Deshawn Salter ’18 relegated him to the sideline and gaps at the cornerback position forced Dale Harris ’17 to move back to the secondary — the Yale running game still propelled the Bulldogs to its first victory of 2016 with a 180-yard, two-touchdown performance by Alan Lamar ’20.
The Eli defense also stepped up, allowing the Big Green’s formidable offense just 69 rushing yards. Yale played very physically, with defensive backs Foye Oluokun ’17, Hayden Carlson ’18 and Harris all dishing out vicious hits on Dartmouth receivers to break up several key passes. Most importantly for the victory, the defense was very opportunistic throughout the game. The unit recorded two interceptions and stopped Dartmouth on three fourth-down attempts, two of which came in the red zone.
“As a defense, it’s important that you set the tone,” Oluokun said. “Our defense really prides itself on physicality. Coming in, we hadn’t beaten Dartmouth in [four] years, so we had to come in and have the mentality that we were going to take the game to them. When [we] punched them in the mouth the first time they kind of backed down a little.”
While Oluokun and the defense played a stellar 60 minutes, the highlights of the contest came primarily from Lamar. Despite only having seen the field on kickoffs thus far in his freshman campaign, Lamar averaged almost eight yards per carry against Darmouth. The 5-foot-9, 185-pound freshman began the game splitting touches with running back Candler Rich ’17 due to the unavailability of Salter and Harris, but his ability to break tackles and get to the second level of the defense won him the bulk of the late-game carries. His 43-yard burst in the fourth quarter gave Yale its final score and some much-needed breathing room.
“I was just trying to prove to everyone that I deserve to be here,” Lamar said. “I did everything I could for the team and trusted what [running backs coach Derrick Lett] taught me.”
Wide receiver Myles Gaines ’17 provided another unexpected source of offensive production to complement Lamar’s rushing outburst. The senior, who played in just three games last season due to injury, entered the game with just three catches on the season due to limited playing time. But after top wideout Christopher Williams-Lopez ’18 suffered what looked to be a serious right leg injury in the second quarter, Gaines stepped in and was practically unguardable in the middle of the field, recording nine catches for 106 yards in just two and half quarters. Fellow wideout Reed Klubnik ’20, who was not even listed on the depth chart entering the game, contributed a spectacular, diving touchdown on a pass from quarterback Tre Moore ’19 for Yale’s first score of the game in the second quarter.
While the play of quarterback Tre Moore ’19 is certainly trending upwards — the sophomore starter posted his best yardage total of the year with 181 passing yards on a 63 percent completion rate — he continued to struggle with ball security. While he did not throw an interception, Moore was credited with fumbles on two sacks and was involved in a third on a botched handoff to Rich, which was also recovered by Dartmouth.
Luckily for Moore and the offensive unit, the Bulldog defense came to the rescue on a number of occasions. Yale’s three fourth-down stops, one of which came at its own six-yard line, came at pivotal points in the game and kept Dartmouth off the scoreboard. The defense also completely silenced the Big Green rushing attack, which came into the matchup ranked third in the Ivy League with an average of 161 yards per game.
“We always pride ourselves in stopping the run,” head coach Tony Reno said. “When you look at an opponent you don’t want them to have two ways they can beat you. You want to take one of the two away. That’s how we build our defense.”
To address the ailing secondary, which had been the Elis’ downfall in previous weeks, Harris was moved back to cornerback, his position before assuming running back duties last year. Additionally, Oluokun moved back to his former position at safety to play alongside Carlson. Together, this trio recorded 20 solo tackles and five pass break-ups. Safety Jason Alessi ’18 saw most of the playing time at the other cornerback position opposite Harris, and fellow cornerback Malcolm Dixon ’20 contributed two key pass break-ups.
While the Bulldogs let up 348 passing yards, a large portion of that total came in the final minutes of play when the Big Green offense aired the ball down the field in desperation. The Dartmouth offense posted 120 yards on its two drives in the final seven minutes of play, but these drives ended in a turnover-on-downs and an interception by Carlson, respectively.
In addition to Carlson’s game-sealing takeaway with just over a minute to go, Oloukun added a pick of his own.
“I’m very proud of how we responded [to the 0–3 start],” Reno said. “The first couple weeks of the season didn’t quite go as we wanted. I’ve never seen a group more resilient than this one.”
With its first win under its belt, Yale travels to Fordham next Saturday for its Week 5 matchup. The Rams 3–2 record includes a decisive win over Penn two weeks ago.