Yale Athletics

The Yale football team’s first game of the season started out with a bang but ended with a whimper as the defending Ivy League champions fell in overtime to Holy Cross.

The Bulldogs (0–1, 0–0 Ivy) beat the Crusaders 32–0 in last year’s meeting. Last weekend in Worcester, though, Yale let a two-touchdown lead in the fourth quarter slip to fall in overtime 31–28. The Elis will now look to recover in league play, which begins this weekend against Cornell, after the disappointing start to the season.

Despite a 9–1 record in 2017, the Elis have gone through rough patches before and shown a propensity to bounce back well from disappointment. And after blowing a 21–0 first-half lead against Holy Cross, Team 146 will have to demonstrate that grit.

“I felt from day one that we needed to get punched in the face,” head coach Tony Reno said. “I wanted us to get punched, we did, and to be honest, I’m pretty happy we did … when you go in with a young team coming off a championship season, you’re hoping that you get humbled a little bit. We did.”

Many of Yale’s players first demonstrated the ability to bounce back after disappointing results at the 2016 Yale-Harvard game. The injury-riddled Bulldogs traveled to Cambridge with a 2–7 record but found a way to knock off the heavily favored Crimson 21–14.

Yale’s next opportunity to rebound came at the beginning of the 2017 season, when it faced three straight teams to which it had lost the year before. Team 145 rolled through its revenge tour, beating that trio of opponents — Lehigh, Cornell and Fordham — by a combined margin of 146–62.

Trouble struck Team 145’s paradise in week four when the Bulldogs played on the road at Dartmouth. The Big Green, which Yale had defeated to earn its first win of the 2016 season, trailed the Elis by three touchdowns early in the game.

However, Dartmouth would go on to earn a 28–27 victory after a Big Green pick-six late in the second half ignited a furious comeback effort eventually capped by a 15-yard touchdown pass with just 34 seconds left to play. But Yale responded to that agony away from home with three straight victories at the Yale Bowl by a combined margin of 89–13.

Two weeks after the heartbreak in Hanover, Yale traveled to Franklin Field to take on Penn, a team coming off back-to-back Ivy League championship seasons. After taking an eight-point halftime advantage into the fourth quarter, the Bulldogs promptly fell behind following two fumbles in their own territory that gifted the Quakers a late lead. But the Elis showed their resilience, marching 80 yards down the field in 11 plays to pull ahead 24–19 with less than five minutes left to secure a victory that preserved their outright championship hopes.

“This is something we hadn’t done this season,” Reno said after that game. “We’ve been fortunate that we’ve been in some ball games where we’ve had a big lead … so this was a great [experience] for us.”

That mental fortitude proved vital once again after Yale spotted Princeton a 24–7 lead in its penultimate game of the season in New Jersey but scored three unanswered touchdowns later in the game to fuel a 35–31 win for the Blue.

Now the Bulldogs hope they can improve on the late-game miscues that plagued them against Holy Cross to learn what it takes to close games out in a season where four of their seven conference matchups will be contested away from the Yale Bowl including trips to Penn, Columbia and Harvard.

“What everyone is trying to bring is grit,” captain and fifth-year defense tackle Nick Crowle ’19 said. “Ultimately, that’s the biggest piece in our team being successful. We come out with energy every day, we come out with the intention to execute every day.”

Unlike last season’s senior-laden squad, the Elis started just one senior between their offense and defense last weekend. As a result, Yale will rely on its younger players to show enough mental fortitude to defend the 2017 Ivy crown.

Linebacker Ryan Burke ’20 emphasized the importance of setting the tone for the Ivy season next week at Cornell.

“[Against Holy Cross] I think we had a lot of bright spots,” Burke said. “Our offense moved the ball all day, and the defense stepped up when we needed it. It’s the little steps that we needed to clean up. The first [conference] game is huge … so we’re going to have to come out with our A game.”

Saturday’s game against the Big Red will kick off at 3 p.m.

Joey Kamm | joseph.kamm@yale.edu

Angela Xiao | angela.xiao@yale.edu