FOOTBALL: Elis to face Morgan State in NAACP Harmony Classic
The Yale men’s football team will face the Bears this weekend in their second-ever match against Morgan State.
The Bulldogs (0–2, 0–1 Ivy) will play Morgan State (1–3, 0–0 MEAC) at the Yale Bowl at noon this Saturday in the second annual Harmony Classic, hosted by the NAACP, and Yale’s third game of the year.
Coming off a close 23–21 loss to Cornell last weekend, the Yale football team is ready to turn up the heat and secure a win. This is the second year Yale has played in the NAACP Harmony Classic.
“It’s a great opportunity for us to play against a great team,” head coach Tony Reno said. “They’re very talented… it’ll test us in a lot of ways that if we played a team that didn’t have their capability or their athleticism, it wouldn’t test us.”
The Harmony Classic is organized by the Connecticut NAACP to inspire peace, fellowship and harmony on college campuses, according to Reno. The Connecticut and Greater New Haven Chapters of the NAACP have hosted the Harmony Classic for over 10 years, and the Yale players said they look forward to participating in its second year.
During the game, Yale will honor Levi Jackson ’50, Yale’s first Black football captain for the 1949 football team, and his daughter Denise will participate in the honorary coin toss. Calvin Hill ’69 will be the honorary captain for Yale and Mark Washington will captain Morgan State; both Hill and Washington played on the Dallas Cowboys together from 1970 to 1972.
Before the game, the Hospitality Village will be open to the community and will feature many vendors, including a health fair, job fair, Yale Affinity groups and the United Way of Greater New Haven. The pregame festivities will also include NAACP programming and offer other games and activities — with inflatables, yard games, tattoos, face painting and a photo station.
“We have some really amazing opportunities to not only remember and talk about Levi Jackson and his contribution to Yale Athletics and Yale Football,” Reno said. “I’m honored by Calvin Hill and Mark Washington to help us spend the time that’s necessary to put in perspective where Yale football is and Morgan State is in the grand scheme of college football.”
Prior to last year’s game, the last time Yale faced Morgan State was on Oct. 7, 1984, when the Bulldogs shut out the Bears 41–0. The Blue and White led 27–0 at halftime, with two touchdowns in both the first and second quarters.
Because Morgan State lacked both experience and ability in skilled positions, as it was a relatively young team at the time, Yale’s defense was able to limit the Bears to 53 total yards while its own offense was able to produce 210.
The Yale defense hopes to demonstrate a similarly strong performance this upcoming Saturday.
“On defense, you always want to get as many turnovers as possible, they’re game-changing plays,” linebacker Joseph Vaughn ’24 said. “I think that’s always a focus for us, every week… those are always going to be game-changing plays that allow us to do what we do best and get the ball back.”
In the game against Cornell last Saturday, quarterback Nolan Grooms ’24 led the Bulldog offense with 76 yards rushing on 15 carries. In an attempt to make a last-minute comeback, Grooms threw a 30-yard touchdown to wide receiver Mason Tipton ’24 in the end zone, and kicker and punter Jack Bosman ’24 added the extra point.
Despite this, Cornell ran the clock down and set up a field goal, which was ultimately secured by Big Red kicker and punter Jackson Kennedy with no time remaining.
“We always look forward,” Tipton said. “A big part of this week is honing in on what we can do to make sure that moments like that don’t happen again.”
Morgan State began their season with a 17–10 win against the University of Richmond on Sept. 2 and three losses: 21–24 to the University of Akron on Sept. 9, 10–20 to Towson University on Sept. 16 and 17–23 to the University at Albany on Sept. 23.
Last season, Morgan State finished 4–7, losing 35–6 to Howard University in their last game of the season on Nov. 19. The Bulldogs faced Howard University last year on Oct. 1, where they earned a 34–26 win.
This year, the Bears welcomed Old Dominion University transfer quarterback Dominique Anthony, who finished his first game for the Bears against UAlbany completing 18 of 39 passes for 147 yards, including a 7-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Demier Shipley.
Norfolk State running back transfer J.J. Davis leads the Bears with 52 carries for 144 yards, and defensive lineman Elijah Williams currently has 27 tackles, eight tackles for loss and five sacks. Safety Jordan Toles also leads the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference with three interceptions and earned Defensive Player of the Week for his performance against Akron.
“I think it’s the ability to put 60 minutes together and that’s the piece that’s been elusive to us to this point,” Reno said. “Doesn’t mean that we’re not going to get there, I feel strongly we’re going to get there, but it’s going to come down to us consistently playing down and down out and earning wins, that’s what it takes.”
The Bulldogs also have a strong group of players ready to face Morgan State. Vaughn leads the Bulldogs’ defense with 22 tackles, two for a loss, a sack and a forced fumble, and rookie defensive back Osize Daniyan ’27, who has seen more time than expected due to injuries, has recorded 15 tackles, 10 of which were solo, and a forced fumble in his first two games.
Grooms has rushed for 144 yards and passed for 241 this season so far, a fragment of the 726 rushing yards and 1,660 yards thrown last season.
“We have a lot of seniors, even juniors, on the defense that are doing a good job of pulling guys along and getting guys caught up with where they need to be to play at the level we want to be,” Vaughn said.
Despite their slow start to 2023 competition, the Elis are more than ready to earn their first win of the season on their home turf.
This weekend’s matchup is set to kick off at noon at the Yale Bowl and will be streamed live on ESPN+. The Yale Precision Marching Band and Morgan State University band will perform during halftime.