ORONO, Maine — Coach Tony Reno said the Yale University football coaching staff often talks about “straining.” The concept speaks to making extra effort, through passion and persistence, to execute plays.
The Bulldogs’ philosophy was evident in a few game-changing plays on Saturday afternoon. As a result, Yale spoiled the University of Maine’s Homecoming with a 21-10 football victory on chilly Morse Field at Alfond Stadium.
“When they made the big plays they got a lot of energy out of their plays. As the game went on, they got more and more confidence,” said UMaine head coach Jack Cosgrove, whose team slipped to 2-4.
Yale (4-1) kept the Black Bears’ offense bottled up all afternoon and, with the help of some momentum-building plays, scratched out enough offense to get the win.
Statistically, the Bulldogs emerged with only a slight edge in total yards (362-308). Even so, quarterback Morgan Roberts (14-for-33 passing, 185 yards, 1 interception) and his receivers hooked up for several clutch plays through the air.
Tailback Deshawn Salter played an important role as well, providing a consistently effective presence in the run game, carrying 37 times for 139 yards and two touchdowns.
“They found their running game late in the second quarter, they had something they could hang their hat on, and they came out in the third quarter and really did that,” Cosgrove said.
Meanwhile, the Bulldogs neutralized UMaine’s ground game (109 yards) and afforded the hosts very few big pass plays. Black Bears quarterback Dan Collins completed only 19 of 49 passes (39 percent) for 199 yards and was picked off twice.
“We’ve got to get all 11 guys doing the right thing for a play to work,” Collins said. “It just wasn’t happening. I didn’t play well.”
UMaine did not use backup quarterback Drew Belcher, with Cosgrove citing the “nature of the game” and the weather conditions.
Despite its offensive shortcomings, UMaine appeared still to be in good position to get a victory. The Bears drove to the Yale 17 before settling for a 35-yard Sean Decloux field goal that gave them a 10-9 lead with 36 seconds left in the third quarter.
The Bulldogs responded right away with a quick scoring drive that included a falling, one-handed catch by tight end Leo Haenni for a 21-yard gain to the UM 17.
On the next play, Salter raced around left end for a touchdown that put Yale ahead for good. The failed conversion pass left the lead at 15-10.
“I just felt like Yale, to be honest, they wanted it more than us,” said UMaine senior linebacker Randy Samuels, who piled up a game-high 15 tackles.
“They made the big plays, we didn’t, and that was the difference in the game,” he added.
Unable to establish the run, the Black Bears managed only two first downs on their next three possessions. Aided by two penalties, Yale came through with the clinching drive.
On third-and-two from the 26, Roberts called his own number on a read option and ran 26 yards up the middle to end the suspense with 4:07 to play.
“He’d been making good plays all day,” Samuels said, “but when it all comes down to it, we had the play call but we didn’t run it right.”
In the second half, Yale was able to establish and maintain a good run-pass balance and hit several long plays that eventually led to points.
UMaine, on the other hand, had difficulty moving the ball consistently on the ground and could not find an effective rhythm in the passing game.
Tailback Nigel Beckford wound up with 78 yards and a TD on 25 carries.
Yale had grabbed a 9-7 lead with 6:02 left in the third quarter. The drive, highlighted by tight end Michael Siragusa’s nifty over-the-shoulder grab on a 28-yard pass from Roberts, covered nine plays and 75 yards.
Salter finished it off with 1-yard scoring run. The PAT was wide left.
The first half was evenly played, but the Black Bears could not take advantage of consistently good field position. Only two of their possessions consisted of more than six plays.
UMaine started three times inside Yale territory, but scored just once. The hosts also held an edge of nearly eight minutes in time of possession.
“We had great field position and we could just never make a play when we needed to,” Cosgrove said. “It was pretty obvious: Poorly thrown balls, dropped balls, you name it. It didn’t happen. We just did not execute.”
The Black Bears were clinging to a 7-3 halftime lead after both teams achieved offensive results in fits and starts.
UMaine broke a scoreless tie in the second quarter, marching 71 yards on 15 plays. The Bears went 4-for-4 on third down, including a 12-yard pass from Collins to Micah Wright (4 receptions, 47 yds.) that set up Beckford’s 1-yard scoring scamper around right end.
Decloux’s PAT kick gave UMaine a 7-0 lead at the 8:22 mark of the period.
The Bulldogs threatened on their next possession, but tackle Pat Ricard (7 tackles) stripped the ball from Salter and Mike Koslakowski recovered at the UMaine 21-yard line.
However, the Bears were unable to get anything going. The punt snap sailed over the head of James DeMartini, who chased it down, scrambled upfield and got off a kick that was downed at the Yale 39.
It didn’t matter as the Bulldogs used a couple of long pass plays to move quickly down the field. The gem was Roberts’ throw down the left sideline that was tipped by UMaine safety Sinmisola Demuren but alertly reeled in by Siragusa for a 27-yard pickup to the UM 17.
“(There was) the one at the end of the first half where we should have intercepted it and their kid caught it, got his feet down inbounds,” Cosgrove said.
“I thought those were inspirational plays for them, momentum plays for them, and big plays for them,” he added.
Yale reached the 3-yard line before a third-down stop by Koslakowski and John McCabe forced the Bulldogs to settle for Bryan Holmes’ 22-yard field goal with nine seconds remaining the half.
“It was a game that the momentum swung their way,” Cosgrove said.
“They longer they were in the football game, the more confidence they gained that they could come and beat us,” he added.