In front of a Homecoming crowd of 16,026, Cornell opened its Ivy League schedule with a 21-7 loss to the rival Yale Bulldogs. In a contest featuring two evenly matched teams, it was turnovers and penalties that ultimately sealed the Red’s fate and pushed the Kent Austin era to an 0-2 start.
Yale’s offense stormed out of the gates as the Bulldogs won the toss and drove 65 yards down to the Red’s nine-yard line. Quarterback Pat Witt connected on three of his first four pass attempts before throwing two consecutive incompletions, the last of which was nearly picked off by senior safety Ben Heller in the end zone. On fourth down, Yale sent the field goal unit onto the field and kicker Alex Barnes proceeded to push the 27-yard attempt wide right.
The Red kicked-off its first offensive possession with a 16-yard run from senior running back Marcus Hendren. However, this attempt would spell the end of the day for Hendren, who left the game with an apparent concussion. Cornell managed another first down on its first drive of the game before freshman quarterback Jeff Mathews was sacked for an eight-yard loss and Cornell was forced to punt.
Yale got on the scoreboard first at the 6:01 mark in the first quarter, as Witt took advantage of a breakdown in coverage and connected with wide receiver Gio Christodoulou for a 69-yard score.
“We still have a lot of places that we need to [improve] in the secondary, definitely including myself, and just bounce back and get ready for Bucknell next week,” said senior cornerback Emani Fenton.
After driving 64 yards to the Bulldogs’ eight-yard line, Cornell answered Yale’s score with a touchdown of its own. Mathews hit Nick Booker-Tandy with a swing pass to the right side and the junior running back did the rest, running untouched into the end zone to tie the game at seven. Booker-Tandy, who was forced to carry the load at running back after Hendren’s injury, led the offense with 97 all-purpose yards.
“Nick plays hard, he’s a good quality back. He gives us some ability out in space, and we need to get him out in space more,” Austin said.
With 10 seconds left in the first quarter and Yale driving into Cornell territory, Fenton jumped the route on a pass intended for wide receiver Chris Smith and came down with the ball on the Red’s 28-yard line. The interception was a sign of things to come, as both defenses dominated the second quarter.
The remainder of the first half was played out with little fanfare until Fenton recorded his second interception –– and third of his career –– for what appeared to be a 72-yard return for a touchdown. As was the story for much of the game, a Cornell mistake erased what could have been a major turning point when the return was called back for an illegal block below the waist.
Despite the penalty, Fenton’s pick marked the first time a Red player recorded multiple interceptions in a game since 2004. When asked about achieving this feat, the cornerback downplayed the accomplishment in light of the team’s losing effort.
“It doesn’t really mean much without the win; I think that’s the biggest thing,” Fenton said. “I can’t really say that it means much to me right now. Honestly, I just wanted to win today.”
Cornell started the second half with tremendous field position after an errant kick by Yale put the Red on its own 40-yard line. Momentum quickly changed hands when Mathews faked a hand-off and threw the ball deep downfield for a chance at a quick score. The pass came up well short of the intended receiver, junior tight end Ryan Houska, and was intercepted by Yale defender Adam Money.
After taking a hard hit on the play Mathews got into a tussle with a Yale defender; however, no penalties were assessed on the field.
“People are getting in your face … and I don’t like being bullied and I’m not going to let someone do that to me, so if I have to get in a skirmish … without doing anything stupid that might happen,” Mathews said.
The Bulldogs quickly took advantage of the turnover and drove 53 yards down to the Cornell two-yard line with the help of two pass-interference penalties against the Red. Yale running back Alex Thomas capped the drive off with a two-yard run into the end zone, putting the Bulldogs up, 14-7, with 10:29 remaining in the third quarter.
Thomas had his way with the Red defensive line all afternoon, totaling 124 yards on 18 carries. The Bulldogs ran for 211 yards just one week after Wagner put up over 300 yards on the ground against the same Cornell defensive unit.
“I thought that we did a better job against the run … but what we needed to do was have more three and outs,” Austin said. “When you have sustained drives you get tired defensively. We had opportunities; we had two interference calls that finished the drive for them. We had them off the field twice, and those penalties to start the second half … kept our defense on the field.”
After Cornell’s ensuing possession resulted in a punt, the Red defense held strong and forced Yale to bring out its own punt team. In a pivotal moment in the game sophomore returner Luke Tasker decided to play the ball off the bounce and proceeded to fumble it into the hands of a Yale special teamer at the Cornell 30-yard line. The Red defense wasn’t as successful in the second go-around, as Thomas accounted for 28 yards in getting the Bulldogs down to the Cornell one-yard line. Witt finished the job off with a one-yard quarterback sneak, as he followed the center across the goal line.
“We had a disastrous first five minutes of the second half — disastrous. Turned the ball over twice, gave them great field position and had tons of penalties,” Austin said. “Give them a lot of credit, they played well, but we’re not good enough right now to turn the ball over and give up big plays.”
The score remained 21-7 entering the fourth quarter when Austin was faced with a difficult decision with fourth and six on the Yale 39-yard line and 11:36 remaining in the game. Despite the defense’s inability to stop the Yale running attack throughout the afternoon, the Red sent senior punter Drew Alston onto the field to kick the ball away.
The Cornell offense didn’t get the ball back until the 8:41 mark, when Mathews took over on his own eight-yard line. The freshman showed poise beyond his years, compiling 75 yards on five of seven pass attempts. Unfortunately, the second incompletion came on a fourth and five attempt from Yale’s 28-yard line.
“It’s simple. We talk about finishing all the time, and for [the offense] it’s finishing drives,” Mathews said. “We moved the ball, but we couldn’t finish the drive. We’ve got to finish drives, and once we do that we’ll score a lot more points.”
Cornell’s offense never came back onto the field, as Yale’s offense was able to run out the clock and spoil the Red’s hopes for a Homecoming victory.
Original Author: Dan Froats