September 29, 2003

Red offense struggles against stingy Bulldogs defensive unit

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NEW HAVEN — Junior running back Andre Hardaway had just taken the ball 37 yards to keep a late drive alive, but it didn’t matter. On the next play, Yale’s Ben Breunig stood up and found himself clutching the ball. Breunig had intercepted a Cornell pass, and with it, any chances of a comeback.

“I was just very fortunate,” said Breunig, “I was just in the right place at the right time. The ball just hit right to my chest — I didn’t even have to use my hands for it.”

The play was characteristic of the luck Yale had all day, as the Bulldogs (2-0, 1-0 Ivy) defeated the Red (1-1, 0-1) 21-7 on Saturday. For Cornell, however, it wasn’t so much a question of luck as it was mistakes and execution, or lack thereof.

“You always hope that going from week one to week two, you’ll make fewer mistakes,” said Pendergast. “Today we did just the opposite, we made more mistakes that cost us the game.”

Cornell’s mistakes were costly from the beginning. On its third defensive play, it was whistled for pass interference, moving Yale 15 yards closer to the endzone. Instead of being third-and-six, the Bulldogs were now first-and-10 on their own 44-yard line. Nine plays later, Yale quarterback Alvin Cowan broke through the Cornell line for the game’s first touchdown. It would also be the only points of the half.

“For as many easy ones as we had last week, we didn’t get any of the easy ones this week,” said Yale head coach Jake Siedlecki. “[Cornell] made us earn it, they played hard.”

Yale’s next two touchdowns came in the third quarter. The first came from a 48-yard Robert Carr run; the second was by tight end Nate Lawrie on a short pass from Cowan. Cornell eventually answered back, but it was three quarters and two touchdowns too late.

The band blared Cornell’s Alma Mater as the fourth quarter opened, and seconds later it was playing the Red’s fight song, as sophomore running back Josh Johnston found a lane for a 28-yard run to the endzone. The play capped a 76-yard drive for Cornell.

The Red’s defense was effective at stopping its primary target, Yale’s running back Robert Carr. On Yale’s first redzone attempt, the Cornell line kept Carr out of the endzone. Overall, Carr was limited to just 33 yards rushing in the first half, and totaled just 114 yards and one touchdown on the day.

In regards to limiting Carr and the Yale offense, senior captain and lineman Kevin Rooney pointed to the differences between this season and last season.

“Last year, there were a lot of breakdowns across the board,” said Rooney. “They came out with a good game plan, and were knocking us off the ball a little bit. Then I think we panicked a little bit and didn’t trust each other.

“I think this unit, this year, is a lot tighter. We know that the other guys are going to make plays, and just try to do your job and count on the other guys. We obviously still have a lot of room for improvement, but I think we did a better job today than we did last year.”

While effective in containing Carr, Cornell was unable to neutralize the threat from the man in the pocket. Cowan rushed for 99 yards and one touchdown, while throwing for another. It was something the Red defense didn’t expect.

“I think, if you look at his stats, he obviously had a great day running the ball,” said Rooney. “Going in, we weren’t expecting that as much. He threw the ball really well last week, and we’d been getting ready for their running backs, so that gave us a little trouble.”

In Pendergast’s mind, Cowan’s numbers were a result of another one of Cornell’s problems this Saturday — missed assignments.

“We missed tackles,” said Cornell head coach Tim Pendergast. “The reason Alvin Cowan had 100 or 99 yards and Carr had 115 yards — yes they’re good, they’re good players — but when you go back and turn on the tape tomorrow, and see how many opportunities we had that we didn’t finish