Following a disappointing 3–7 campaign in 2016, the Yale football team spent an entire offseason preparing to put the memories of a lost season in the past. When the Bulldogs stepped out onto Lehigh’s Goodman Stadium on Saturday, this mentality was crystal clear from kickoff.
Within the first three minutes of their season opener, the Elis (1–0, 0–0 Ivy) had scored a long touchdown and forced a three and out from the potent Mountain Hawk (0–3, 0–0 Patriot) attack to open a 7–0 advantage. Over the course of the next 57 minutes of play, they did not once relinquish this lead. Outstanding play from Yale’s offensive line spurred an explosive Bulldog offense that accounted for seven touchdowns and 566 yards of total offense. In the other two phases of the game, Yale struggled considerably with blown coverages, special-teams miscues and penalties; however, the Elis played well enough to come away with an impressive 56–28 victory.
“[Yale] look like a completely different team,” Lehigh head coach Andy Coen said. “They were not a very good football team last year … but there were skill players on the field for Yale that were not there last year, so I credit their staff for getting those kids here.”
After Lehigh pummeled Yale in New Haven by a 63–35 score line a season ago, Team 145 returned the favor by playing Lehigh’s own game against the home team. Quarterback Kurt Rawlings ’20 opened the game with a 37-yard strike to a streaking Melvin Rouse II ’21 on a go-route down the sideline. Five minutes later, Rawlings attacked a vulnerable Mountain Hawk secondary again through the air, this time via a 43-yard pass to wide receiver Christopher Williams-Lopez ’18 who was wide open on his seam route.
The Bulldog defense also impressed early, forcing two three and outs from quarterback Brad Mayes by applying constant pressure. A sack by linebacker Matt Oplinger ’18 on Lehigh’s second drive forced a punt that gave the Elis solid field position at their own 40-yard line. However, Yale could not capitalize and kicker Alex Galland ’19 missed a 47-yard try just left.
The final 6:23 of the first quarter was all Lehigh as its offense put together a 14-play, 70-yard drive. The Bulldogs aided the Mountain Hawks with two crucial penalties on this drive, but headed into the second quarter with a 14–7 lead.
In the second quarter, Lehigh cornerback Donavon Harris had to be carried off the field in an ambulance after tackling Yale tight end Jaeden Graham ’18 on the first play coming out of the intermission. Following the medical delay, the Mountain Hawks forced a three and out and then converted a third-and-21 play to keep their drive alive. Three straight receptions by star wideout Troy Pelletier for 49 yards situated Lehigh at the Bulldogs’ 31 before Mayes found wide receiver Gatlin Casey for an 11-yard touchdown reception. The 10-play, 91-yard drive cut Yale’s lead to 14–13.
On the ensuing drive, gains of 21 and 20 yards by wide receiver JP Shohfi ’20 and running back Zane Dudek ’21 put the Bulldogs in Lehigh territory. Following a pass interference call which placed the ball at the two-yard line, running back Deshawn Salter ’18 powered his way into the end zone to extend the Elis’ advantage to eight. On Lehigh’s next possession, defensive end Charles Callender ’19 sacked Mayes on third down, forcing a fumble recovered by linebacker Ryan Burke ’20. The Bulldogs turned defense into offense, scoring on an 11-yard touchdown reception by Shohfi seven plays later to give Yale a 28–13 lead heading into halftime.
Mayes got back to work after the break, taking advantage of a blown coverage in the Yale secondary to find Casey for a 66-yard touchdown. The quarterback followed this with a perfectly thrown fade route to Sasha Kelsey to convert the ensuing two-point conversion. Though having trimmed the Yale lead to 28–21, Lehigh got no closer through the remainder of the game.
Yale responded by again targeting first-year preseason standout Rouse, who took a wide-receiver screen pass 31 yards to the house behind strong blocking down the field. The Bulldogs then force another three and out from Lehigh, but a muffed punt from return man Jason Alessi ’18 put the Eli defense right back on the field.
Even though the defense started on its own 38-yard line, it proved resilient, forcing a field goal attempt from the Mountain Hawks. When kicker Austin Henning missed the 20-yard try to the right, the Elis pounced on the opportunity. Rawlings set Ross Drwal ’18 in motion across the formation to the left before hiking the ball and running a read option with Dudek to the right.
After reading the outside linebacker, Rawlings stuck the ball in the hands of the rookie running back, who ran 69 yards for another demoralizing score. Yet again, the defense stopped the Lehigh offense, and the third quarter came to a close with Yale marching down the field.
Dudek and fellow first year back Andrew Grinde ’21 added another pair of rushing scores in the fourth quarter, solidifying the eventual 56–28 blowout. With the win, Yale moves to 1–0 on the season with its third win over the Mountain Hawks in four seasons.