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Early Deficit No Problem; Yale Rallies for 54-43 Win vs. Lehigh

Candler Rich and Morgan Roberts. (photo by Ron Waite and Jahkima Cuencas/Photosportacular)
Candler Rich and Morgan Roberts. (photo by Ron Waite and Jahkima Cuencas/Photosportacular)

100th Anniversary Season for Yale Bowl Starts with Offensive Outburst

NEW HAVEN, Conn. - The celebration of the Yale Bowl's 100th anniversary season got underway with a barnburner Saturday afternoon, as the Yale football team rallied from an early 21-0 deficit for a 54-43 win vs. Lehigh. Senior tailback Tyler Varga ran for 152 yards and a touchdown, and junior quarterback Morgan Roberts threw for 356 yards and three touchdowns.

Lehigh (0-3, 0-0 Patriot League) scored just two plays into its first drive, with running back Brandon Yosha taking off 59 yards for a score at 12:53 of the first quarter. The Mountain Hawks extended their lead to 14-0 on their next drive, capping it with a 26-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Nick Shafnisky to wide receiver Josh Parris. On the ensuing Yale drive, an interception by defensive back Brandon Leaks turned into a 23-yard return for a touchdown that made it 21-0 with 6:51 to play.

After that rough start, the Bulldogs gradually clawed their way back into the game.

"You have to stay as balanced as possible," said Tony Reno, Yale's Joel E. Smilow '54 Head Coach of Football. "Down 21-0, one of the things we talked about was just staying with the game plan."

Yale's offense answered the third Lehigh score with a 70-yard drive that culminated with a 20-yard touchdown run by the team's captain, senior wide receiver Deon Randall. Randall showed his elusiveness by outrunning several would-be tacklers and spinning his way past another en route to the end zone with 3:53 left in the first.

Lehigh's offense continued to click, though, converting a fourth-and-one from the Yale 39 as the first quarter ended. Three plays later, Shafnisky pulled the ball down and scrambled for an 12-yard touchdown that made it 28-7.

The touchdowns kept coming on the ensuing Yale drive. Sophomore tailback Candler Rich broke off a 51-yard scoring run down the left sideline, sprinting away from a pair of Lehigh defensive backs at the end. The Bulldogs were unable to get off the extra point kick, leaving the score at 28-13 with 12:48 to play.

On Lehigh's next drive Yosha (75 yards on eight carries) left the game with an apparent injury and did not return. A tackle by sophomore defensive back Foyesade Oluokun on a third-and-12 forced the first Mountain Hawks punt of the day. On the very next play, Roberts hit Randall in stride down the middle of the field and Randall took off for a 68-yard touchdown that pulled Yale within eight.

"We didn't let the deficit faze us," Randall said. "Morgan trusted all his guys."

The Yale defense then generated its first turnover, as sophomore cornerback Spencer Rymiszewski grabbed a tipped pass at the Lehigh 25. That set up a 41-yard field goal by senior punter/placekicker Kyle Cazzetta with 6:48 left in the half.

A flea-flicker touchdown pass from Shafnisky to a wide-open wide receiver Troy Pelletier for 49 yards extended Lehigh's lead to 35-23 4:24 before the half. Yale's final drive of the first was kept alive by a fourth-and-one conversion run by Varga, getting the ball to the Lehigh 30. Cazzetta then drilled a 37-yard field goal to bring the Elis within 35-26.

An unsportsmanlike conduct call wiped out a Lehigh interception midway through the third quarter, giving the Bulldogs a first down at the Mountain Hawk 38. Four plays later, Roberts scrambled toward the right sideline to free himself up to launch a 26-yard touchdown toss to junior tight end Stephen Buric. In addition to that being Buric's first career touchdown catch, Saturday marked his first catches (two) in two years -- he missed most of last season due to injury.

A tackle for loss by senior outside linebacker Charles Cook helped stall Lehigh's next drive, and after the punt the Bulldogs took possession with the chance to take the lead. Roberts and freshman wide receiver Michael Siragusa Jr. drew a crucial pass interference call on the Mountain Hawks with a deep ball down the right sideline, and six plays later Varga finished things off with a 17-yard touchdown run that put Yale ahead 40-35 with three minutes left in the third.

The see-saw then swung briefly back in Lehigh's favor on the next drive. A breakdown in Yale's coverage left wide receiver Derek Gaul wide open on a third-and-10 for Lehigh from its own 47, and Shafnisky launched one to him to put the Mountain Hawks back ahead. A two-point conversion toss to Parris gave Lehigh a 43-40 lead late in the third.

Two penalties hurt Yale (1-0, 0-0 Ivy League) on its next drive. Shortly after a holding call, an offensive pass interference call wiped out a 49-yard touchdown pass from Roberts to senior wide receiver Grant Wallace. But on third-and-eight from the Lehigh 42, Roberts and Siragusa once again generated a key pass interference call on Lehigh. Three plays later, Rich was wide open for a 23-yard touchdown pass from Roberts to put Yale ahead 47-43 with 12:14 remaining in the game.

Sophomore defensive back Robert Ries intercepted a Shafnisky pass at the Lehigh 44 three plays into the next drive, giving the Bulldog offense a chance to extend the lead. Yale kept the ball on the ground, with five of six plays runs (three by Varga, two by Rich), to get the ball to the five. Roberts kept the ball from there, scooting in for a touchdown that made it 54-43 Yale.

Lehigh's next drive ended with an incompletion near the Yale goal line, as sophomore cornerback Dale Harris broke up the pass.  The Mountain Hawks' comeback attempt was further stymied on their next drive by a block-in-the-back call that took a touchdown off the board with 4:02 to play. Oluokun ended that drive with an interception at the Yale 17.

"We just had to make a play," Oluokun said. "The ball was in the air and I just went and caught it."

The Elis then ran out the clock after driving to the Lehigh one-yard line.

Yale hosts Army next Saturday at 1:00 p.m. as the Yale Bowl 100 celebration continues.

Report by Sam Rubin '95 (sam.rubin@yale.edu), Yale Sports Publicity