Five months after beating Harvard to snap a nine-year losing streak, the Yale football team took the field at the Yale Bowl for the Blue-White game, an annual intrasquad scrimmage.
Although the scrimmage lasted just over an hour, Yale fans got their first glimpse of Team 145, with the offense donning light jerseys and the defense in navy. Strong quarterback play and the return of several starters who missed last season with injuries demonstrated the 2017 Bulldogs’ potential to bounce back from last season’s disappointing 3–7 record.
“I thought it was an improvement,” head coach Tony Reno said. “We’re still not done yet because we have three practices [this] week, but I think we’ve had gradual improvement each practice … I thought some guys stepped up and made some plays.”
Among the players were several upperclassmen who missed last season with injuries. Offensive lineman Jon Bezney ’18, who has played in just six games in the past two years, played after well over a year off and, at the urging of his teammates, spoke during the postgame award ceremony about finally getting back on the field. Receiving targets Christopher Williams-Lopez ’18, Ross Drwal ’18 and Michael Siragusa Jr. ’18, all of whom suffered injuries in the 2016 campaign, also suited up at the Yale Bowl on Saturday.
However, no return seemed as impactful for 2017 as that of wide receiver Bo Hines ’18. The North Carolina State transfer, a freshman ACC All-American before transferring to Yale, has played less than 60 minutes of football in the Bulldog uniform over the last two years as he battled shoulder and collarbone injuries. Hines had four catches on Saturday, proving to be the quarterbacks’ go-to target, and returned punts as last year’s returnman, Jason Alessi ’18, was away competing with the Yale men’s lacrosse team.
“My old-man shoulders held up today, so that’s always a plus,” Hines said. “It was fun to be back out there. … We’re all meshing really well. It’s a good group of guys and we all get along so it should be a good fall.”
All three quarterbacks who started for the Elis in 2016 impressed in Saturday’s scrimmage. Kurt Rawlings ’20, who started the last three games of the season and threw two touchdowns against Harvard, including the game-winner, got the nod in the offense’s first two series.
Although the freshman struggled to connect with his receivers early on in the drizzly conditions at the Yale Bowl, he completed several deep throws late in the game, including back-to-back 20-plus yarders to tight end Jaeden Graham ’18 and wide receiver Caden Herring ’20.
“Kurt has had a really good spring,” Reno said. “The other guys are gradually improving as well.”
Quarterback Rafe Chapple ’18, who started the first two games of the season before being diagnosed with a torn rotator cuff in his throwing shoulder, appeared fully rehabilitated. On the third drive of the game, the Georgia native found Hines on a 25-yard pass over the middle then wideout Reed Klubnik ’20 on a 19-yard gain. With these sharp deep balls, Chapple demonstrated that he has recovered the arm strength lost with the injury.
Quarterback Tre Moore ’19 came on the field to finish the drive and lobbed up a 37-yard bomb that 6-foot-4 tight end Quinn Dawson ’20 came down with in the end zone for the highlight of the game.
Though the defensive backs are expected to be among the Bulldogs’ strongest units in 2017, the defense barely had enough defense backs to play in the scrimmage. Several of the secondary’s stars did not play due to injury, redshirts and multisport commitments. Captain Spencer Rymiszewski ’18 and Foye Oluokun ’18 watched the game from the stands, as NCAA rules prohibited them from being on the field due to their redshirt semesters.
Recovering from a torn meniscus from last season, Marquise Peggs ’19 did not dress, and Alessi was in Albany with the lacrosse team. Alessi had three goals in No. 11 Yale’s 13–12 loss to No. 6 Albany Saturday night.
But safety Hayden Carlson ’18, the lone seasoned defensive back to play in the scrimmage, made his presence known all over the field and picked off Rawlings for the game’s only turnover.
Saturday’s game ball went to Dante Chiappetta, whom the Bulldogs drafted as part of Team Impact, an organization that pairs children facing life-threatening and chronic illnesses with collegiate athletic teams, four years ago. On the final play of the game, Chiappetta took the handoff from Chapple in for a two-point conversion, with the rest of Team 145 cheering him on. Chiappetta, who has cerebral palsy, regularly attends practice and games and often sends a message to the Bulldogs on Friday nights. Reno said Chiappetta has become a brother to his teammates.
“[Dante’s] the guy who also comes out with a smile,” Chapple said. “It inspires us to come out and practice our hardest every day.”
Yale will play five games at the Yale Bowl this fall, with the home opener scheduled for Sept. 23 against Cornell.