Back in 1915, the Elis recorded their first home victory in the Bowl’s storied history against the University of Maine. And in their home opener on Saturday, the Bulldogs will host the Black Bears once again — for the first time in more than eight decades.
The Bulldogs (1–1, 1–0 Ivy) opened their 146th season on the road, with a pair of games against Holy Cross and Cornell. Team 146 returned from Worcester with a shocking loss after the Crusaders mounted a successful overtime comeback, but the Elis bounced back in their conference opener against the Big Red with a 30–24 victory. This weekend, the Bulldogs return to the Bowl for the first time since last November, when Team 145 notched a 24–3 victory over Harvard in The Game to clinch Yale’s first outright Ivy League championship since 1980. This weekend, the Elis will look to build on the momentum fostered in Ithaca as they host No. 13 Maine (2–1, 1–0 Colonial Athletic Association) in the first meeting between the two squads since 2015.
“We want to play great teams,” head coach Tony Reno said. “ [Maine] is the most talented out-of-conference team we’ve played since Army walked into Yale Bowl in 2014. They’ve got talent on both sides of the ball … at the end of the day, it’s going to come down to how well we do our stuff.”
Against the Crusaders, the Elis got off to a hot start but were unable to sustain their explosive first-quarter performance.
Last weekend, at Schoellkopf Field, Team 146 recovered to battle through a full 60 minutes against a scrappy Cornell squad that lagged by no more than nine points at any point during the match and often trailed by less than a lone touchdown.
“It’s just about being a tenacious group of guys,” defensive end J. Hunter Roman ’19 said. “We’re willing to do the nitty gritty work. Sometimes as d-linemen we’re not designed to make the plays but to eat up the blockers, so others can make the play. It really is a mentality of doing whatever needs to be done for the greater good of the unit and the entire team.”
Against both Holy Cross and the Big Red, Yale started just one senior — captain and defensive tackle Nicholas Crowle ’19. But Team 146’s young roster delivered in its Ivy opener. Running back Spencer Alston ’22 ran for 120 yards and scored the game-winning touchdown in his collegiate debut as backup to running back Zane Dudek ’21. Dudek found the endzone twice for the Elis on Saturday to up his career tally to 17 — the sophomore needs just one more score to land on Yale’s career top-10 list.
Quarterback Kurt Rawlings ’20, who started all 10 weeks of the 2017 campaign, completed 18 of his 25 passes on the day, to rout Cornell’s pressure defense and rack up 283 yards. This weekend will test Team 146’s ability to extend the movement of the ball to rounding out drives.
“It’s a lot of fun to be out there with your brothers and to see the offense rolling the way that it did,” wideout JP Shohfi ’20 said. “Kurt had a phenomenal game [against Cornell]. … It was great to see the offense as a whole. Our effort was awesome on Saturday. We are going to continue to emphasize finishing. There’s some things to work on.”
The Black Bears will arrive in New Haven off their first loss of the season after opening the year with a pair of strong showings against then-No. 7 New Hampshire and Western Kentucky. Maine began the season with a bang, dominating the Wildcats throughout to earn a lopsided 35–7 win. The Black Bears faced a stronger challenge in the Hilltoppers but still emerged with a three-point advantage.
Last weekend, Maine faced its strongest challenge yet in Central Michigan and fell 17–5. Despite the loss, the meeting of the Black Bears and the Chippewas put Maine’s dangerous defense on display. Rawlings and company will have to circumvent this defense on Saturday.
The Black Bears held their FBS opponent to just 177 yards of total offense, 57 plays and two touchdowns en route to just 17 points. However, Maine’s offense, which put a combined 66 points on the board in its first two matches, could not find the endzone, even as back Ramon Jefferson averaged 5.8 yards per carry.
For the Elis, the Black Bears are an unfamiliar opponent. Maine’s last visit to the Yale Bowl, despite the Black Bears’ place in the stadium’s history, came in 1937. Since then, the teams have faced off just once, when the Bulldogs travelled to Orono in 2015 to triumph 21–10.
Kickoff against the Black Bears is at 1 p.m. on Saturday.
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