September 27, 2004

Dominant Defense, Opportunistic Offense Aid Red to Victory

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“What is going on here? Is this really happening?” most astonished fans who attended Saturday’s football game against Yale must have asked themselves, as the Red beat Yale, 19-7, in front of 11,835 fans at Scheollkopf Field. The win surprised nearly everyone in attendance but the Red (1-1, 1-0 Ivy), which entered the contest picked to finish last in the Ivy League, while Yale (1-1, 0-1 Ivy) came to Ithaca ranked No. 3. The victory marked the Cornell’s first in 10 tries and the first time the team has won its Ivy season opener since 2000.

“It’s awesome. I’m so proud. I’m so proud of our players. We’ve totally changed our attitude, our culture, everything, and our players bought into everything,” head coach Jim Knowles ’87 said following the game. “It was a good game, a solid game across the board.”It was a good game, a solid game across the board.”

From the opening drive, Cornell controlled the game — especially at the line of scrimmage — moving the ball cleanly down field, scoring first, and never relinquishing its lead.

Senior placekicker Trevor MacMeekin, recovering from an 0-for-3 outing against Bucknell, led Cornell in scoring with 13 points on four field goals and one extra point. Senior quarterback D.J. Busch finished 19-for-32 with 174 yards, while junior running back Joshua Johnston had a game-high 104 yards rushing on 26 carries.

Defensively, the Red dominated Yale, allowing the Bulldogs only 71 total rushing yards and holding them to eight first downs and one of 14 third-down conversions.

“We had three-and-outs on defense, and, up until their first touch down, I don’t know if they had a first down,” Knowles said. “The offense put the defense in good spots, but they hardly got any rest, because the defense did such a good job stopping [Yale].”

From its first drive of the opening quarter, Cornell looked solidly in control of its offense — and the game. On the Red’s first play from scrimmage, Busch hit junior Troy Follmar for a 19-yard pickup, setting the stage for the Red to open up Yale’s defense and attack from the air and the ground. After several Johnston rushes and two more Busch passes — one to junior receiver Brian Romney and one to senior wideout Chad Nice — the Red found itself on Yale’s 32.

Unable to advance further, Cornell’s special teams took the field, and MacMeekin booted a field goal in to make the score 3-0.

Neither team managed to get much closer to the goal line for the rest of the first quarter, and the clock ran out with Cornell still up by three.

The Red started the second quarter with possession, but suffered a setback when Yale’s Brandon Dyches sacked Busch for a seven-yard loss on third down, forcing a punt.

Senior Mike Baumgartel, kicking for the third of five times in the game, put the Red in good field position, however, with his 47-yard bomb.

“I said at the beginning of the year that we can have the best kicking game in the Ivy League,” Knowles said. “We have two great kickers here. There’s no reason why we can’t.”

Yale’s punting unit, on the other hand, muffed a punt on its next possession, sending the ball squiggling on the ground in its own end. Senior strong safety Brad Kitlowski recovered for the Red, giving the offense the ball on Yale’s 24-yard line.

Junior running back Andre Hardaway next carriedl for Cornell, plowing through two tacklers and coming down on the 6. Hardaway got the call on the Red’s next two plays, but Yale stopped him and a third-down pass fell incomplete, so Knowles called on MacMeekin, who again put the Red on the board with a field goal.

On Yale’s next possession, the Blue and White failed to move the ball, in part because Cornell’s sophomore defensive lineman Jonathan Lucas and senior defensive back Sean Nassoiy both recorded sacks on the series, putting Yale’s on its own three.

The Red took over on the 33 after a sputtering punt, but again settled for a MacMeekin field goal, making the score 9-0, with 4:43 remaining in the half.

Yale countered quickly with the biggest play of the second half, as Cowan completed a pass to Ralph Plumb, who stiff-armed his way to the 44.

After gaining short yardage on three plays, Cowan connected with Plumb again on fourth down, and the wide receiver entered the end zone untouched. Sullivan made the PAT, making it a 9-7 ballgame with only 2:11 remaining in the half.

On its last possession, the Red had a scare, when Busch inadvertently dropped the ball, but senior offensive Kevin Boothe make a crucial save, when he fell on the pigskin to retain possession for Cornell. Neither team scored again, however, and both left for halftime, with the score still 9-7, Cornell leading.

“We gave them every opportunity to control the ball. We were inept on offense,” Yale head coach Jack Siedlecki said of his team’s performance. “We had returning players who had unbelievable numbers last year. But I thought our defense played their guts out, considering what an awful position we put them in.”

“The defense was unbelievable,” Busch said. “I remember we were going in to make our adjustments on the sideline and not being able to go for more than three minutes before we had to go out again. [Yale] is supposed to be one of the most powerful offenses in the Ivy League and our defense just stopped them.”

Both teams traded possessions to start the second half, all to no avail, and the third quarter dwindled down. But, with with 45 seconds on the clock, Cornell took over and came out shooting. Busch connected with Follmar for a 19-yard pickup, putting the Red on the 41 and bringing to a close the game’s penultimate stanza.

The fourth opened with a bang, as Busch hit Nice on a 30-yard route to put the Red in deep in Yale territory.

A screen pass brought Cornell within 3 yards of the goal line, and a penalty flag put the Red on the 2 with four downs to score. With that, Hardaway, led by Kitlowski at fullback, leapt over a goal line pileup and into the end zone for the team’s first touchdown of the day. The 8-play, 58-yard scoring drive extended Cornell’s lead to 16-7.

Rolling on the momentum of the score, the Red’s defense prevented Yale from doing much at all after the kickoff, and Johnston plowed through line for two consecutive first downs when the team took over following a Bulldog punt.

Busch then threw an interception to stall the drive, but the pickoff buried the Bulldogs on their own four-yard line. Yale’s offense didn’t move from the spot and punted, giving Cornell the ball near midfield.

Johnston ripped three huge runs during the Red’s attack, and Busch completed a pass to Romney, which brought the Red to the 15 with 2:17 remaining in the contest.

Backed up and facing an eight-point deficit, Yale called a timeout to regroup. Cornell emerged with its kicking unit and MacMeekin — perfect on the day — tacked on three more points for the Red, giving it a 19-7 lead with fewer than two minutes on the clock.

On its last possession, Yale turned the ball over on downs, and the crowd cheered wildly as Busch took a knee to run out the final 46 seconds.

“If this is who we’re going to be as a team, I’ll take it every time,” Knowles said. “D.J. [Busch] will lead the offense, Lempa will lead the defense, and Trevor [MacMeekin] will lead the special teams,” Knowles said. “This is good football.”

Johnston, also commenting on the team’s victory, said, “We as a team knew we could do this. We said we were going to strike back this year, and that’s what we’re going to do.”

Archived article by Everett Hullverson
Sun Assistant Sports Editor