Two Blocked Field Goals And Two-Point Conversion Prove Key
HAMILTON, N.Y. – Just like the 2014 season-opener, the Yale football team overcame a multi-touchdown deficit in the second half of the 2015 opener, relying on two blocked field goals and an unlikely two-point conversion to sneak past Colgate, 29-28, on Saturday afternoon at Andy Kerr Stadium.
The Bulldogs (1-0, 0-0 Ivy) scored 15 points in the final quarter, while mixing in a stingy defensive effort in the second half, to earn an impressive come-from-behind victory on the road against the Raiders.
In 2014, the Elis came back from a 21-point deficit to beat Lehigh, 54-43, at Yale Bowl. On Saturday, it took an all-out effort to edge Colgate – including outscoring the home team, 22-7, in the second half.
"In the first half, we made mistakes on every side of the ball, but the important thing is how we dealt with it," said Class of 1954, Joel E. Smilow head coach Tony Reno. "If this is what this team will be about, facing adversity and just keep playing, we will have a team with a great foundation."
Senior quarterback Morgan Roberts was 29-of-41 for 293 yards, three touchdowns and one interception in the victory. Junior running back Candler Rich ran for 78 yards on 22 touches with a touchdown, while sophomore receiver Bo Hines caught six balls for 68 yards in his Yale debut.
At the start of the final quarter, Yale and Colgate exchanged 70-plus yard touchdown drives. First, it was the Raiders who converted a third-and-17 as part of a 75-yard drive that led to a touchdown, ending in a 12-yard rushing score by James Holland. Colgate took a 28-14 lead with the drive.
The Bulldogs needed less than three minutes to respond. Two 18-yard passes to sophomore receiver Michael Siragusa Jr. were followed by a 30-yard strike from Roberts to junior wide-out Robert Clemons III for a quick score, cutting the deficit to 28-20 with 7:19 left in the game.
Yale lined up in an unconventional formation for the PAT – and for good reason. Sophomore linebacker Matthew Oplinger took the snap from behind center and ran the ball up the middle, past a surprised Colgate defense. He converted the two-point conversion, which proved to be the difference in the game.
"We look to try to get an advantage on the formation and we tried it earlier in the game, but they lined up correctly," said Reno of the two-point call. "We felt we had the advantage the second time and so we ran it. We give the players some parameters when calling the play, so if they think they can do it, they do it."
A quick three-and-out by the Yale defense gave the ball back to Roberts and the Eli offense with 5:33 remaining. Passes to Clemons and junior receiver Myles Gaines, along with 15 rushing yards by Rich, led the Bulldogs down in the field in lightning-quick fashion.
With the Yale offense rolling, Roberts found Siragusa Jr. to the left, who broke a tackle on his way to the game-tying score on a 13-yard reception. Siragusa led Eli receivers with seven receptions for 82 yards and two touchdowns on the day.
An extra-point kick by junior kicker Bryan Holmes put the Bulldogs ahead, 29-28, their first lead since the midway through the first quarter.
With 3:30 remaining and Colgate starting on their own 46 after a good kick return by John Maddaluna III, the Bulldogs made the game's most important defensive stand. Growing increasingly stingy as the game went on, the Raiders struggled to get any rhythm on the inspired Eli defense.
After a 20-plus yard run by Wilkins was negated by a holding call, junior defensive back Spencer Rymiszewski came up with a big pass breakup on third-and-seven, forcing Colgate into a fourth down situation. As Melville scrambled to find a receiver, junior defensive end Marty Moesta and senior linebacker Andrew Larkin combined to drag him down, giving the ball back to Yale with just 2:20 remaining.
After Rich ran for a key first down and Colgate had been drained of timeouts, the Bulldogs ran out the clock and earned their first win of the season.
"The guys really played tough in the second half, defensively. We missed so many tackles in the first half. We played better in the second half, but we're lucky to come out of here with a win because we didn't play our best," said Reno.
Facing a 21-7 halftime deficit, the Bulldogs looked to get off to a strong start in the third. As a Colgate drive stalled after two straight penalties, the Bulldogs held the Raiders to a field goal attempt from 36 yards. In the second of his two blocks on the day, junior defensive back Foyesade Oluokun blocked Colgate kicker Jonah Bowman's try and set-up the Elis at their own 38-yard line.
"We've worked hard on that in the offseason, because we really think we have good pushers in the middle and we have the ability to have a leaper. Foye made two great plays and the linemen did a good job to allow him to get into that good position," said Reno.
Following the block, on back-to-back plays, Gaines caught his first two passes of the season, both for 10 yards from Roberts. On the second catch, Yale earned an extra 15 yards after Colgate was called for roughing the passer.
A pass interference call on the Raiders put the Bulldogs inside the 10-yard line, setting up a four-yard touchdown connection from Roberts to Siragusa, Jr., cutting the Colgate lead to 21-14.
On a Colgate drive that started at the 10:54 mark in the second quarter, junior linebacker Darius Manora stripped a Colgate receiver of a possible third-down conversion, leading to a Raiders' punt. Colgate punter Nikko Armiento pinned the Bulldogs on the one-yard line with a 52-yard kick, leaving the Elis with work to do.
Roberts threw two incompletions from the Yale endzone, leading to a punt by Holmes and good field position for Colgate at the Bulldogs' 31. Two plays later, Melville ran around the right side and scored on a 20-yard run for the Raiders, putting them ahead, 14-7, at 6:26.
On the following possession, the Bulldogs were on the move. Rich ran for 13 yards and a first down, which was followed by a key 12-yard reception by senior tight end Stephen Buric on third-and-two to sustain the drive.
Later in the drive, Colgate's Pat Afriyie sacked Roberts and knocked the ball loose, leading to a 55-yard fumble return touchdown by Cameron Buttermore. The Raiders led, 21-7, with 3:02 left in the quarter, which was the score at halftime.
Roberts, who went 17-of-27 for 156 yards in the air in the first half, was sacked four times; he was not sacked once in the second half, though.
The Bulldogs were the first to hit the scoreboard, driving 71 yards on the opening drive and picking up where they left off in 2014. A fast-paced, high-intensity drive kept the Raiders' defense on its heels, as Roberts was a sharp 7-of-8 for 48 yards.
It took Hines very little time to get incorporated into the Yale offense, as the sophomore wide-out caught four passes for 36 yards on the first drive of the game, including a 19-yard diving catch over the middle from Roberts. He ended the quarter with five receptions for 39 yards.
Rich ran for 23 yards on six carries, including a one-yard touchdown scamper to put the Elis ahead on the first possession of the season.
Colgate struck back quickly, needing just over five minutes to drive 74 yards for a touchdown, making it 7-7. The Raiders converted two fourth down plays, including a two-yard touchdown run by running back John Wilkins on fourth-and-one from the Yale two yard line. Wilkins ran for a game-high 94 yards.
Roberts threw an interception to Colgate's Ty McCollum deep in Yale territory on the next drive, giving the Raiders possession the Bulldogs' 21-yard line. That's when the Eli defense stepped up.
Aided by a false start penalty, the Bulldogs held Colgate to a 34-yard field goal attempt. Oluokun, however, did not let the ball reach the posts, as he blocked the kick by Bowman to keep the score tied.
"This game was like déjà vu, because last year there were several games when we were down big. At halftime, we knew we weren't ourselves and were making it easy on them," said sophomore Jason Alessi, who returned five kick-offs for 95 total yards. "We just took things one step at a time, kept battling, and came out on top."
The Bulldogs host Cornell at the Bowl next Saturday at 1 p.m. The game can be viewed on the Ivy League Digital Network and heard on the Yale Football Radio Network.
Filed by Steve Lewis, Yale Sports Publicity
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