BETHLEHEM, Pa. – The Yale offense was expected to be much improved from last fall, but it more than exceeded the prognostications in a 56-28 opening day victory over Lehigh at Goodman Stadium. The Bulldogs found the end zone four times through and the air and as many on the ground in a dominating performance on both sides of the line.
It was the most Yale points in a game since the 2003 season opener, a 62-28 win over Towson at the Yale Bowl. The margin of victory was the largest since a 51-13 decision at Cornell.
Yale, which has won better than 86 percent of its season openers, including 10 of the last 11, may have given up four scores, but the Bulldog defense came up with big plays when needed. That included five sacks, two of which caused fumbles that resulted in Yale scores.
Sophomore quarterback Kurt Rawlings completed 20 of 26 passes for 308 yards and four touchdowns to lead the multifaceted Eli offense. He used his feet to rush for 38 additional yards and pick up a number of significant first downs.
Rawlings, who earned College Sports Madness Ivy Offensive Player of the Week, found six different receivers today, including eight catches by senior Christopher Williams-Lopez (87 yards, 1 TD) and a four-catch, two-touchdown debut by freshman Melvin Rouse II.
“We have awesome guys on the front line. The big boys certainly work their tails off protecting me and allowing me to get the ball to those guys,” said Rawlings. “The chemistry we have as an offense is something that I’m super excited about. These guys are awesome, they know how to fight. It’s fun having those opportunities. I think I need to improve, be a little bit better on my part, making the right reads and getting them the ball. I’m never satisfied though, so hopefully we’ll keep improving and practicing. I am hoping to distribute the ball out to them better.”
The Bulldogs’ running game, thanks to a dominating performance by the offensive line, was equally impressive with 258 yards and a 7.2 average. Senior DeShawn Salter got the start at tailback and ran for a touchdown as part of a dynamic backfield trio. A pair of freshmen combined for three scores and 176 yards in their college debuts. Zane Dudek had nine runs for 131 yards, including consecutive TD scampers of 69 and 29 yards that helped put the game away in the third quarter.
“It was an awesome day, unbelievable,” said Dudek, a Pennsylvania native. “Our line is really good, our receivers are really good, and Kurt was awesome back there. He controls everything so well, and he was throwing the ball great today.
Classmate Andrew Grinde got four carries and 45 yards, two of which came on a fourth-quarter TD run.
“I thought we ran into a little tough road running the football early on,” said Tony Reno, Yale’s Joel E. Smilow ’54 Head Coach, “We had to make some adjustments, and we made some adjustments in the pass game to open things up. As the game went on, we were able to run effectively.”
The visitors, who host Cornell in the Ivy opener next Saturday at home, jumped out to a 14-0 lead on a pair of long passes and a defense that put a ton of pressure on quarterback Brad Mayes. Lehigh, the defending Patriot champs, countered with 13 straight points. That was the closest it could get to the Blue.
The Elis finished off the first half with a Salter one-yard run and a Rawlings to JP Shohfi 11-yard connection to take a 28-13 lead into the locker room. Both offenses came out firing in the third as the Mountain Hawks took two plays to cut the margin to seven. Yale punched back and then finished off the home team.
Rouse’s catch and run, 31-yard play preceded a pair of Dudek scoring runs.
Reno didn’t give his defense a very good overall grade, but he had to be thrilled by the opportunistic plays. Sophomore defensive end Charles Callender and senior linebacker Matthew Oplinger each had two sacks. The five total were the most for the Blue since registering seven in 2014 vs. Dartmouth. Callender and captain Spencer Rymiszewski each forced fumbles that turned into Eli TDs.
“I think our defensive line played great,” said Rymiszewski, a starting cornerback. “At times, we were a little spotty in coverage but I think we played well as we went on in the game and bounced back from mistakes. They’re a great offense, but we played well defensively.”
The bottom line was that the Yale head coach had an overall good feeling about his sixth Eli team.
“We have a team with great chemistry, we have a team with the ability to play together. This team can play one play at a time and win each play and continue to focus on winning plays, not just winning a game. I was very proud of how the guys played today,” said Reno.
The Yale offensive line did not allow a sack… Spencer Matthaei blocked a Lehigh PAT… Newcomers were responsible for 5 TDs in their college debuts… Rawlings averaged better than 15 yards per completion… Junior Alex Galland had a 46.5 average on two punts… Sophomore Sam Tuckerman handled the kickoff duties.
Filed by Steve Conn, Yale Associate AD/Sports Publcity Director