A previous version of this article ran in the No. 30, 2015 edition of the News.
A Yale football season that began with significant hype ended, as the eight prior seasons have, with at least one of the Bulldogs’ goals unrealized.
Outplayed for all but the first four minutes in its final game of 2015, Yale suffered a 38–19 loss to Harvard on Nov. 21 in a contest that was nothing like the thriller finish from a year before. The loss marked the Elis’ ninth-consecutive defeat in The Game — now the longest streak ever in the 132-game series.
Yale (6–4, 3–4 Ivy) finishes its season tied for fourth in the Ivy League, while Harvard (9–1, 6–1) joined Penn and Dartmouth in a three-way tie for the conference championship, the first time that has occurred since those same three teams split the title in 1982.
“It’s pretty disappointing,” head coach Tony Reno said. “I thought we had plenty of opportunities in this game to have a different outcome, and we didn’t capitalize on them. Give credit to Harvard for what they did with their opportunities.”
The Elis gave the crowd of 51,126 at the Yale Bowl hope when, three-and-a-half minutes into the game, quarterback Morgan Roberts ’16 connected with slot receiver Christopher Williams-Lopez ’18 for a 28-yard touchdown, the sophomore’s first career scoring reception.
But the atmosphere changed just 48 seconds later when Harvard wide receiver Justice Shelton-Mosley — now the Ivy League Rookie of the Year — caught a 53-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Scott Hosch to tie the score. That was the start of 31 straight points from the Crimson that put the game out of reach. Two touchdowns from the Bulldogs in the final 15 minutes of play, one from a Roberts run and one from an eight-yard reception by tight end Stephen Buric ’16, ultimately did little to affect the final outcome.
Many of the issues that plagued the Elis all season — injuries, an inconsistent running game and difficulties defending against long passes — came back to hurt the team at the end of an up-and-down 2015 season. Yale surrendered 508 yards to the league’s highest-gaining offense, and although the Elis put up 444 yards themselves, they went just 5–18 on third-down conversions, including four three-and-outs on the five possessions following the first score.
Reno, whose record at Yale is now 21–19, said lack of consistency on both sides of the ball led to the team’s downfall. Much of this inconsistency was unavoidable: With at least 42 players injured or ill at various points this season, the Bulldogs frequently had to get creative with their personnel, moving players around and introducing freshmen — most notably cornerback Marquise Peggs ’19 and wide receiver Kyle Marcinick ’19 — earlier than they normally might have.
“This team really achieved with the personnel we had,” Reno said. “They taught Yale football how to play through adversity and how to just play the next play and not worry about anything else we couldn’t control.”
The 444-yard effort from the Eli offense was due mainly to Roberts, who, with his team playing from behind for the majority of the game, completed 38 of 65 passing attempts — both career marks — for 410 yards and two touchdowns in addition to his rushing score.
Roberts finishes his career after rewriting the record books in just two-and-a-half years. In addition to leaving as Yale’s all-time leader in passing yards and total offense, he will graduate with his name atop several other statistics: most completed passes in one season, most yards in one season, most touchdowns in one game, most touchdowns in one season, most 300-yard games and highest completion percentage in both an individual game and an entire season.
“At the end of the day, it would’ve been awesome to end on a win,” Roberts said. “I’m very proud that Coach Reno gave me the opportunity to come here and play, very thankful for getting this opportunity. I feel very blessed to be here. But it’s not the way I wanted my career to end.”
Though the large deficit was a major reason for Roberts’ 65 passing attempts, another was the fourth injury to a running back that Yale suffered on the season. Running back Dale Harris ’17 came off the field with an injury in the third quarter, and with fellow rusher Deshawn Salter ’18 still battling a persistent neck injury, the running game finished with just 34 yards on 19 attempts.
The rushing performance, Yale’s worst in five years other than a negative 14 yard showing against Columbia earlier in the year, came against what Reno called the best linebacking corps that the Elis faced all year.
Harvard was much more effective running the ball, particularly in the second half. Despite missing top running back Paul Stanton Jr., who suffered a knee injury in the team’s Nov. 14 loss to Penn and sat out the final game of his career, the Crimson found success with a trio of rushers. Hosch led the team with 11 carries for 61 yards, and the Smith brothers — Semar, a sophomore, and Seitu, a senior — added another 110 yards on 31 carries.
“[I was] really impressed and really happy for the Smith brothers to be able to play together in the backfield,” Harvard head coach Tim Murphy said. “I thought the offensive line probably played their best game of the year. Overall, just our resiliency and our conviction, those intangibles have been the trademark of this team.”
Murphy also complimented his quarterback, comparing Hosch favorably to NFL quarterback Tom Brady in his ability to make good decisions despite not being the most athletic player on the field.
That honor could go to Shelton-Mosley, who finished with five receptions for 119 yards and two touchdowns, as well his eight-yard rushing touchdown.
Although Shelton-Mosley will continue giving the Bulldogs trouble for another three years, Williams-Lopez demonstrated that he can also become a serious weapon. The sophomore, who spent all of last year on the junior varsity team, led the Elis in receiving yards for the final three weeks of the season and set a career high against Harvard with 169 yards on 13 receptions.
“I thought [Williams-Lopez] played really well,” Reno said. “He’s really grown from that point to the end, had a great game two weeks ago and played well against Princeton. He’s become very reliable for Morgan [Roberts] and runs great routes, catches the ball really well too.”
In his six career games — the first of which came after zero practice time due to a preseason injury — Williams-Lopez has 60 receptions for 576 yards, averaging 9.6 yards per catch.
He is one of the many bright spots for an Eli team that often started just two seniors on defense and three on offense this past season. Captain and safety Cole Champion ’16 expressed confidence in the Elis’ future after a season that will be remembered more for the number of injuries Yale sustained than the number of wins the team posted.
“As far as this season, a lot of things happened that we couldn’t control,” Champion said. “That’s really what we believed, that we couldn’t control it, so all we have to do is keep working. I’m incredibly proud of Team 143 and the way they reacted to all the adversity we faced. I think we’re in a better place now than when me and Morgan [Roberts] got here.”