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For the first time since 2017, Yale will battle Lehigh when the Bulldogs travel to Bethlehem, Pennsylvania this week. In the last meeting between the teams, the Elis trounced the Mountain Hawks 56–28. 

Yale (1–1, 1–0 Ivy) bounced back last weekend after dropping its season opener to Holy Cross. The Bulldogs got back into the win column with a 23–17 victory over Cornell (0–2, 0–1 Ivy). Meanwhile, Lehigh (0–4, 0–1 Patriot) has struggled out of the gate. The Mountain Hawks have scored just nine points all season and were shutout 32–0 by Ancient Eight rival Princeton (2–0, 0–0 Ivy) last week. 

Yale head coach Tony Reno downplayed the idea that Lehigh’s slow start may affect how the Bulldogs approach the game. 

“Obviously Lehigh is a place where they’ve had a lot of success and a lot of tradition,” Reno said. “It’ll be a tough crowd, and for us it’s being able to play to our standards. We haven’t done that yet, we’ve improved in the two games immensely, but we’ve got to continue to grow as a team if we want to chase what we’re trying to chase — and that’s to be an elite team.” 

The meetings between the Mountain Lions and the Bulldogs have some added excitement, as the Yank Townsend Trophy will be up for grabs yet again. The trophy is awarded to the winner of the Lehigh-Yale football game, and was founded in honor of Charles Fredrick “Yank” Townsend. Townsend was the only person from Connecticut to be enrolled in the Lehigh Class of 1895 and for his love of both Lehigh and Yale athletics, the trophy was created in his honor.

Lehigh is riding an 11-game losing streak, which dates back to the 2019 season. Their last victory came almost two years ago, when the Mountain Hawks beat Georgetown 27–24 on Oct. 26. Lehigh has not beaten an Ivy opponent since 2016 — when they defeated Yale, Princeton and Penn en route to a 9–3 season. 

Despite the slow start this year, Lehigh finished fourth in the Patriot League preseason poll. The Mountain Hawks have faced a tough opening slate, including the aforementioned Princeton Tigers, who entered the year as the Ivy League favorites. They have also played Villanova and Richmond, both of whom are currently ranked by the FCS coaches’ poll. Yet only one Mountain Hawk received all-league preseason recognition this year: junior defensive back Jack Bush, for his contributions on special teams.

“Our preparation does try to stay the same regardless of who the opponent is,” linebacker Micah Awodiran ’22 said. “We really just try to hone in on being better at the things that we run. Our execution is usually the number one thing that we’re looking for. There might be a couple of wrinkles here and there, schematically, but we’re always just trying to max out the potential of each respective side of the ball and special teams.” 

The Mountain Hawks’ poor offensive output this year has been in part due to some instability at quarterback — four players have attempted a pass this season. Junior Cross Wilkinson started the first three games of the season, before an injury he suffered forced sophomore Dante Perri into action. Perri made his first career start last week against Colgate. Two other players, Alec Beesmer and Nigel Summerville, have attempted a total of 11 passes combined. Summerville was expected to play a larger role against Colgate, but got injured on his first series.

“Experience at [quarterback] is more critical than any other,” Lehigh head coach Tom Gilmore said. “Consistency at position is so important because there’s a timing factor and a confidence factor. Those guys have to gel. That position has been inconsistent and that has contributed to our struggles.”

The strength of the Mountain Hawks’ team this year has been their pass rush. Lehigh has nine sacks this year, trailing only Holy Cross in the Patriot League. Sophomore Trevor Harris, and juniors Mikhari Sibblis and Stephon Bland are tied for the team lead in sacks, each holding two a piece.

For the Bulldogs, the story of the game will be how Yale handles its first away game of the season, especially as it opens up a three game road stretch. The Elis will not return to the Yale Bowl until Oct. 23 when they host Penn. Included in this three week stretch will be an important battle in Hanover, New Hampshire next week, when Yale faces off against Dartmouth, with whom they split a share of the Ivy League title in 2019.

“Obviously, we love playing at home, love playing at the Yale Bowl and in front of all of our fans and students, but the road trips are a great opportunity for us,” Reno said. “I’m really looking forward to a chance to get off campus, to get together … We spend a lot of time together in the hotel, meetings, and bonding, and things that you would normally do when you went away somewhere. I do think that there is a lot to be said about that.” 

Though travel time can detract from players’ study time, offensive lineman Nick Gargiulo ’23 deemphasized the impact upcoming road trips may have on players. 

“We got ample time before, during and after [games] on away trips to handle our school work,” Gargiulo said. “I think Coach brought up a great point. It really allows us time to isolate ourselves, really focus on the game and while it does bring its own challenges, it’s really beneficial in some ways.” 

Yale and Lehigh will kick-off at 12 p.m. on Saturday, Oct. 2 in Bethlehem, PA.

NADER GRANMAYEH
Nader Granmayeh is a staff writer covering football and softball for the Yale Daily News. He is originally from New York City and majoring in political science.