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134th Meeting of Yale-Harvard Saturday

Matthew Oplinger Leads the Yale Defense (Jack Warhola image)
Matthew Oplinger Leads the Yale Defense (Jack Warhola image)

Outright Title On Line in THE GAME


Yale Media Notes in PDF

Harvard Media Notes in PDF

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There have been 61 official Ivy League contests between Yale and Harvard, and 29 of those meetings have impacted the championship. The 134th edition of The Game will be No. 30 on the list of significance. The Bulldogs (8-1, 5-1 Ivy), seeking an outright Ivy championship, take on a Crimson (5-4, 3-3) squad looking to spoil their archrival's celebration. Yale plays host to Harvard in the second oldest rivalry in the sport on Saturday at 12:30. CNBC provides live coverage, while the game airs on WELI Radio (AM 960). Paul Burmeister and Ross Tucker have the call on TV with Ron Vaccaro '04 and former Yale head coach Jack Siedlecki on the Yale Football Radio Network.
If Yale wins, it has the outright Ivy championship. If Harvard wins, the Bulldogs might have to share the crown with one or two 7-2 (4-2 Ivy) teams, Dartmouth and Columbia. The Big Green host Princeton on Saturday, while the Lions are home with Brown.

The Bulldogs have 15 championships, six of which have been outright titles. Yale's last outright Ivy title was 37 years ago under hall of fame coach Carm Cozza. The last Eli share of the crown came under Jack Siedlecki in 2006, while the Bulldogs have not shared a championship with multiple schools in 48 years.

It's the second oldest and third most played rivalry in college football. The Bulldogs are up 66-59-8, including a seven-point victory in last year's game, which ended a 10-game drought. Yale is 30-31-3 at home (last win over H in 1999), 29-27-5 at Boston (25-26-3 in Harvard Stadium) and 7-1-0 at neutral sites. There have been 55 shutouts since the first meeting in 1875, and the Elis are 28-20-7 in those contests. This Saturday is the 30th time The Game has Ivy title implications for at least one squad, and Harvard has a 16-12-1 edge in those. When both are in the hunt, the Crimson are up 5-2-1.

QB Kurt Rawlings connected with WR Reed Klubnik on a short TD pass with 6:47 left in the game to lift Yale to a 21-14 win at Boston. The game-winning 14-play, 80-yard drive was the start of great things to come. DB Jason Alessi batted down a 4th-down pass with 8 seconds left to end Crimson hopes for a piece of the 2016 Ivy title.

There have been six lopsided victories and three close games. The nail biters include one road loss (28-27 Dartmouth), a late, come-from-behind road win at Penn (24-19) and an early, big, title-clinching comeback road victory at Princeton. The Elis were 3-7 last fall.

Yale earned a title last week at Old Nassau by erasing a 17-point deficit on the way to a 35-31 win. RB Zane Dudek ran for a season-high 180 yards and 3 TDs while QB Kurt Rawlings went 26-for-34 with 304 yards and 2 TDs. TE Jaeden Graham caught a 4th down, 58-yard TD pass and WR Ross Drwal hauled in a 33-yard scoring pass as the Elis scored three straight times from the end of the second quarter into the third. SS Hayden Carlson had a crucial 4th down pass breakup, while LB Matthew Oplinger's blitz on Princeton's last offensive play helped LB Foyesade Oluokun intercept the 4th down attempt.

Harvard, coming off a loss at home to Penn, 23-6, was in the title race through week No. 8 after beating Columbia at New York. Last Saturday marked the first time since 1998 that the Crimson did not find the end zone, but there were still some solid performances. WR Justice Shelton-Mosley led all players with four catches and 72 yards while moving into 8th place on the school's career reception list. He has much to do with his squad leading the league in yards per completion and punt return yards. DB Tanner Lee had a team-high 10 tackles and an interception against the Quakers and has helped the Cantabs lead the Ivy in turnovers gained.

Yale's home Blue and White Under Armour uniform – cleats, socks, gloves and more - is on display this Saturday morning on ESPN Sports Center's Gear Up segment. It includes a helmet with a TB/24 sticker celebrating athletics director Tom Beckett's 24th and final year at Yale.

The Game is responsible for many original events: Yale performed the first on-side kick against Harvard in 1881; Harvard's flying wedge was first seen in the 1892 contest; the first game in the Bowl was the 1914 meeting; the first crowd at an American sporting event over 80,000 was the 1920 game at the Bowl; and the first triple OT Ivy game happened in 2005 at Yale.

Yale is 4-0 at the Bowl, outscoring opponents 138-37. The Elis allowed just 13 points in their last three games on the Class of 1954 Field.

Zane Dudek (Kittanning, Pa.) is having the best-ever freshman football season at Yale for a running back. He owns the school's freshmen record for touchdowns (14 rush, 15 overall) and rushing yards (1,069), while his 7.9 average per carry, which ranks 3rd in the FCS, would be a Yale single-season record. Dudek, the 14th Bulldog to reach 1,000 yards in a season, leads the Ivy in every category for a RB while ranking among the top 7 in the nation in those same areas. That's why he was placed on the STATS FCS Jerry Rice Award Watch List for the top rookie in the FCS. Dudek has six games over 100 yards and has been the league's rookie of the week five (last 4 straight) times and the offensive player of the week once. He was also STATS FCS National Rookie of the Week and took both Ivy honors after going for 173 yards against Columbia. The former Western Pennsylvania 100-meter sprint champion owned the WPIAL high school game rushing record (492 yards) until the weekend Dudek made his collegiate debut at Lehigh.

Yale is 4th in the FCS in sacks with a 3.6 average and has 32 overall this fall, doubling the team total from 2016. Senior LB Matthew Oplinger (Summit, NJ) is second in the FCS averaging better than one per game and has 9.5 on the year. Three (including a safety) of those came against Holy Cross, the most sacks in a game for a Bulldog in 15 years. Sophomore defensive end Charles Callender (Cutler Bay, Fla.) is second with six, while junior DE Kyle Mullen (Manalapan, NJ) has 4.5. Some of the team success in getting to QBs can be attributed to senior All-Ivy League DL Copache Tyler (Springfield, Ill.), who tends to "eat" double-team blocking. Yale had a season-best six sacks against both Penn and Cornell. 

Matthew Oplinger, Yale's All-Ivy linebacker, has been named to the STATS FCS Buck Buchanan Award Watch List for the top defensive player in the country. Twenty-five finalists will be selected sometime in the next two weeks. Oplinger, who has helped the Blue lead the nation in sacks for most of the fall, is second in the FCS in QB takedowns per game and now has a team-high 9.5 this year. His season total is fourth best at Yale, which is 4.5 shy of record holder Kevin Czinger (14.0, 1980). His 19.5 career sacks are also fourth (Czinger is No 1 with 27). Oplinger has also helped put points on the board for Yale. He tackled the Holy Cross QB for a safety in a home shutout victory and caught a conversion pass against Penn during a road win.

Spencer Rymiszewski (West Chester, Pa.), who was voted captain by his teammates despite missing last season with an injury, has started all 33 games (158 tackles, 7 interceptions) in the defensive backfield that he's been available for. He earned freshman MVP honors in 2013 and was team MVP and a first-team All-Ivy pick in 2015. An injury slowed him in 2014, and he elected to have surgery over competing in 2016. Rymiszewski's busiest day was 11 solos and one interception vs. Dartmouth in 2014, but it's his leadership that is of most value to the Blue. In fact, he was presented the game ball after the win over Columbia despite missing the contest with an injury.

He's the only player in school history to return two punts for TDs of 80 yards or more. Jason Alessi (Bloomfield Hills, Mich.), the dual-sport standout who has been a starter on defense for most of his career, has 164 career tackles and seven interceptions over 37 games, while his 415 career punt return yards are 5th best at Yale. His work as a midfielder on the lacrosse team has helped the defending Ivy champs win three straight league tournament titles.

Senior DB Hayden Carlson (Glen Ellyn, Ill.), Yale's active career leader with 266 tackles, is 12th on the school's career list. Carlson, who scored his first TD on his seventh career interception vs. Cornell this fall, now has eight picks overall. He led the Ivy League in tackles in 2015 with 92 and was third in 2016 with 95.

Seniors Jon Bezney and Karl Marback, two starters on the offensive line, are science guys. They have helped the Elis rank among the best in the nation in total offense and scoring, but they are equally impressive off the field. Bezney, who missed the Fordham and Princeton games with injuries, could be back for Harvard. Marback has played all nine games this year.

BEZNEY, a molecular, cellular and developmental biology major, worked in Yale's Bindra Laboratory this summer in the department of therapeutic radiology. The laboratory focuses on novel therapeutics for brain cancer and specifically focuses on the biology of DNA repair. His project aimed to distinguish how certain drugs react in the presence and absence of key proteins involved in DNA repair, hoping to translate the findings into a clinical setting. Bezney (Cincinnati, Ohio), a tackle who missed last year with an injury, plans to attend medical school and become a physician.

MARBACK, a biomedical engineering major and the team's rocket scientist, has been sending devices into space as part of the Yale Undergraduate Aerospace Association (YUAA). He helped build a rocket (sophomore year) that climbed to 10,000 feet and collected microbes from the air to learn more about what is living in the atmosphere. Marback (Birmingham, Mich.), a semifinalist for the 2017 William Campbell Trophy (nation's top football student-athlete), moved from the defense as a sophomore and then started every game at center last year.

Anders Huizenga, a guard, is a political science major who spent 8 weeks last summer in the legal department at Mercy Health, a Catholic non-profit hospital system in Ohio. He also spent 4 weeks interning for The Cooper Law Group in Colorado Springs, Colo. Huizenga (Trophy Club, Texas), who is known for his Yoga interests, plans to intern with the firm again next year and then go to law school.

Bliksem, in South Africa, is slang for hitting, which is what Dieter Eiselen does very well on the Yale offensive line. The South African native, who played rugby from ages 7 to 16 before switching to Olympic weightlifting, was fascinated by the American gridiron and wanted to find a way to play after graduating from his local high school. He attended a football camp in Washington, D.C., and immediately garnered interest from colleges. He got in as a PG at Choate Rosemary Hall and then attended the Yale camp to get ready for his first season of football. Eiselen, who worked his way into the starting lineup as a rookie last fall, is the starter at guard this fall.
Sterling Strother (Moraga, Calif.), who earned a starting job at tackle last fall as a newcomer, is now Yale's center, playing the position for the first time. He learned to snap while staying at QB Kurt Rawlings' house the summer before their first season in New Haven. (Rawlings' father is a high school football coach, but Strother also learned from his own father, who played football in high school. Strother, who is considering a major in psychology and has played all five spots on the Yale o-line, became a starter early in the 2016 campaign.

The guy with the long blonde hair streaming out of his helmet adorned with stickers has earned a spot on the school's list of elite quarterbacks. Sophomore Kurt Rawlings, who has led the team to some of the most significant and difficult drives in recent Yale history, has produced big numbers this fall. He has 2,143 passing yards (9th at Yale), 18 TD passes (6th) and what would be a school single-season record completion percentage of 67.3. His fourth-quarter drive at Penn brought the Elis from behind to victory, while Rawlings was masterful in erasing a 17-point deficit at Princeton. He grew into the game as the son of a high school football coach, Yale's first starting QB with that background since Dean Loucks '57. The sophomore from Bel Air, Md., got the last three starts of 2016, including a win at Harvard, and picked up where he left off last fall. Rawlings completed 20 of 26 passes at Lehigh for 308 yards and four TDs to earn Ivy League Offensive Player of the Week, College Sports Madness Ivy Player of the Week, honorable mention STATS FCS Offensive Player of Week and College Football Performance honorable mention national performer of the week.  He also established a Yale record for completion percentage with 18 connections (including the first 14 straight) on 20 attempts at Fordham. Meawhile, he helped erase a 17-point deficit at Princeton to capture an Ivy title. Rawlings was 26-of-34 for 304 yards and 2 TDs, which earned him Ivy Offensive Player of the Week. He has 23 TD passes (9th at Yale) in 16 career games (11 starts). Rawlings is also on the school's career passing yards (8th) and completions (8th) lists to name a few.

Christopher Williams-Lopez (Duluth, Ga.), nicknamed "C-Lo," is Yale's active career leader in receptions with 128 in an injury-shortened, 20-game career. He is currently 5th on the Yale career receptions list, while his 6.50 average per game is among the best in the FCS. The senior WR leads the team this fall with 53 catches. He led the Blue with 60 catches in 2015, but missed most of last year with an injury. C-Lo had a season-high 11 grabs at Princeton this season. The former Greater Atlanta Christian High School football and track captain came to New Haven as a Spanish Honor Society and National Honor Society member. He was also on the GACS President's list and won the school's citizenship award.

The Blue received 89 votes in the latest FCS national poll, the most they have had this fall... Yale ran a season-high 79 plays at Princeton… The Elis have 3 games with better than 500 yards of offense… Princeton had the most (527) yards against Yale in 2017… The Blue had the ball for 20 more minutes than the Tigers, the largest margin for Yale this fall… Sophomore CB Malcolm Dixon leads the team with 9 PBUs… Senior TE Jaeden Graham's 25 catches and 4 TDs are the best campaign for a Yale tight end since former NFL player Nate Lawrie led the Blue with 72 grabs in 2003… Dante Chiappetta, Yale's Team IMPACT player, will take part in the coin toss along with Harvard's representative.

Junior Alex Galland (Bakersfield, Calif.), who has been handling the punting and place kicks this season leads the Ivy League in balls landing inside the 20 with 24. However, he has another stat that really jumps out. He has punted 43 times in 2017 and has yet to have a touch back, the only player in the Ivy League with that distinction. Galland distinguishes himself in other ways. Last summer, in addition to working out, Galland interned as a mechanical engineer, helping design facilities for Hess Oil. The mechanical engineering major in Pauli Murray College was building 3D models and making sure they were compliant with state laws. Galland, who plays the trumpet in the Yale Band and has played the national anthem at the Bowl before his own games, is 13-19 on career FGs and 56-60 on PATs.

Junior Hunter Simino (Portage, Mich.) has been the top long snapper in every game since he arrived at Yale. When Simino was in fourth grade, his neighborhood friend (the offensive line coach at the rival high school) brought him to the rival school's football camp and spent the day teaching him to snap. He missed the second half at Lehigh this year with an injury, and the emergency snapper, TE Jaeden Graham, had to snap for kicks and punts.

2018 SLATE
It's not a typo. Next year's Yale schedule includes another home game against Brown. That's just part of the league's schedule balancing initiative. Here's the entire slate: Sept. 15 at Holy Cross, Sept. 22 at Cornell, Sept. 29 Maine, Oct. 6 Dartmouth, Oct. 13 Mercer, Oct. 20 at Penn, Oct. 27 at Columbia, Nov. 3 Brown, Nov. 10 Princeton and Nov. 17 at Harvard.

The Yale and Harvard football teams have agreed to cancel this year's junior varsity contest scheduled for 1 p.m. on Nov. 17.  Both programs have used more players in varsity action than anticipated, and there are not enough on the roster at certain positions to make it a true contest.

Yale's win on Oct. 28 vs. Columbia was the school's 900th, a total that is third among all Division I teams. Michigan leads college football with 943 wins, while Notre Dame is second with 904. The Bulldogs' total includes a 1997 forfeit (ineligible player) victory against Penn that was legislated by the Ivy League but not recognized by the NCAA. Yale is 902-374-55 (.694) all time.

The current roster includes the following:

87 High School football captains
53 High School captains of an additional sport
61 National Honor Society members
7 High School Class Presidents
3 High School Student Body Presidents
3 High School Valedictorians
2 High School Salutatorians

Yale players were surveyed about their teammates:

Most humorous: OL Anders Huizenga
Most intelligent: OL Jon Bezney
Most vocal leader (besides the captain): LB Matt Oplinger
Most interesting extracurricular activity: OL Karl Marback (aerospace)
Best singer: RB Kamsi Nwangwu
Strongest pound-for-pound: LB Matt Oplinger

The 2017 Yale football team represents 24 states and 3 countries… California (14) has the most Bulldogs… Cameron Warfield is the first player from Washington, D.C. since John Kemp in 1990… Ross Drwal is the first player from Nebraska since Christopher Beutler in 1965… The heaviest player on the team is sophomore offensive lineman Sterling Strother at 310 pounds… The Yale starting offensive line averages 6-5 and 299.6 pounds… The school with the most (6) players is a college prep called Choate Rosemary Hall in Wallingford, Conn.

Yale Player, Game, Honor
Hayden Carlson - Columbia: Ivy H 
Zane Dudek: Lehigh - Hero, Ivy H, STATS; Cornell: Ivy R; Penn: Ivy R; Columbia: STATS R, Ivy O, Ivy R, CSM; Brown: CSM, Ivy R, STATS H; Princeton: CSM, Ivy R, STATS H
Matthew Oplinger - Holy Cross: Ivy H; Princeton: Ivy H
Foyesade Oluokun - Penn: Ivy D, CSM
Kurt Rawlings: Lehigh - Ivy O, CSM, STATS, CFP; Holy Cross, Ivy H; Princeton: Ivy O
Deshawn Salter: Cornell - Ivy H; Fordham: Ivy H
Christopher Williams-Lopez - Dartmouth Ivy H

The Awards Index
(CSM) College Sports Madness Ivy POW
(Ivy O) Ivy League Offensive Player of Week
(Ivy D) Ivy League Defensive Player of Week
(Ivy R) Ivy League Rookie of the Week
(Ivy H) Ivy League Honor Roll
(STATS R) STATS FCS National Rookie of Week
(STATS H) STATS FCS Honorable mention
(CFP) College Football Performance Awards
(Hero) Hero Sports candidate

The YH series has seen its share of special moments, firsts and freaky plays. Here are some of the most memorable meetings:

1881: Yale tries the first on-side kick ever in football during a scoreless tie
1946: Elis overcome a 14-0 Harvard lead to win 27-14
1952: Yale student manager Charlie Yeager catches a PAT pass in a 41-14 Eli win at Cambridge
1968: QB Frank Champi completes a TD pass and a conversion play with no time left as Harvard gains a 29-29 draw at Cambridge and shares the Ivy crown with Yale
1972: Yale overcomes a 17-0 first half deficit to win 28-17
1974: QB Milt Holt scored on a 1-yard run with 0:15 left in a 21-16 victory that gave Harvard a share of the Ivy title with Yale
1975: Mike Lynch's 26-yard FG with 0:33 left gave Crimson a 10-7 win and sole possession of the Ivy title
1977: Mike Sullivan's 6 5-yard TD run out of punt formation ignites Yale in a 24-7 win at the Bowl
1995: Crimson Eion Hu scores from 2 yards out with :29 left in a 22-21 win
1999: WR Eric Johnson (21-244) scoops up a Joe Walland (42-67, 437) pass with :29 left to send Yale to a 24-21 win and an Ivy title
2005: Clifton Dawson ends the longest game in Ivy history in the 3rd OT with a two-yard run to give Harvard a 30-24 win at the Bowl

Seven members of the 2017 team earned all-league honors last fall or in 2015. Here are the current All-Ivy players:

CB Spencer Rymiszewski '17 – First-Team 2015 
DT Copache Tyler '17 – First-Team 2015
DB Jason Alessi '18 - Second-Team 2016
OL Karl Marback '18 - HM 2016
LB Matthew Oplinger '18 – HM 2015, 16
DE Kyle Mullen '19 - HM 2016
RB Alan Lamar '20 - Second-Team 2016

Every Tuesday, the Dick Galiette, Yale Football Media Luncheon, takes place at Mory's on York Street. Tony Reno, Yale's Joel E. Smilow '54 Head Coach, is joined by a few of his student-athletes. Captain Spencer Rymiszewski, Zane Dudek, Deshawn Salter, Foyesade Oluokun, Matthew Oplinger, Hayden Carlson, Kurt Rawlings, Jaeden Graham, Jon Bezney, Jason Alessi, Malcolm Dixon, Christopher Williams-Lopez, Kyle Mullen, Anders Huizenga, Dieter Eiselen and Jaelin Alburg have attended this fall.

The Cornell game was Youth Day at the Bowl… Health, fitness and sustainability was the focus for the Holy Cross game… Columbia was Hero's day… Brown was Yale Employee and Westville Community Game… Harvard is "Fill the Bowl" with the Connecticut Food Bank.


filed by Steve Conn, Yale Associate AD/Sports Publicity Director -