September 25, 2006

Bulldogs Defeat Red in First League Contest

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The first win of the 2006 season eluded the football team once again as Cornell lost, 21-9, to Yale on Schoellkopf Field Saturday afternoon.

Despite holding an advantage in total offensive production, the Red was doomed by its failure to convert red-zone opportunities into touchdowns and defensive lapses late in the game.

[img_assist|nid=18513|title=Up for grabs|desc=Sophomore quarterback Nathan Ford (17) fumbles the ball on Yale’s 1-yard line in the first quarter of the Red’s 21-9 loss on Saturday. (Eric Safstrom / Sun Senior Photographer)|link=popup|align=left|width=87|height=100]

Sophomore quarterback Nathan Ford marshaled the Red’s offense in the air, completing 13-of-21 attempts with one interception on the day for a total of 173 passing yards. Ford was also a workhorse on the ground, leading Cornell (0-2, 0-1 Ivy) with 66 rushing yards on 11 carries. Junior tailback Luke Siwula added another 65 rushing yards on 15 carries, while sophomore Shane Kilcoyne contributed 52 yards to the running game on 14 attempts and freshman quarterback Stephen Liuzza chipped in with 15 yards on four touches. The Red finished the game with 212 yards rushing. Junior placekicker Peter Zell accounted for all of Cornell’s points, converting all three of his field goal attempts with the longest coming from 33 yards out.

Sophomore wide receiver Zac Canty was Ford’s favorite target agains the Bulldogs, catching five passes for a total of 71 yards. Classmate Jesse Baker also collected 59 yards on two receptions.

“We’re certainly moving the ball well,” said head coach Jim Knowles ’87. “Sometimes you get in a rut and it’s hard to get out. There’s not a real explanation except we need to take a look at ourselves deep inside and we’ve got to see where the errors are coming … you’ve just got to analyze everything from top to bottom. … It’s a long season, we still have eight games left and we still have all our hopes and dreams in front of us.”

On the other side of the ball, junior linebacker Ryan Blessing and sophomore safety Michael Boyd and junior cornerback Colin Nash each had seven tackles on the day against a Yale attack that totaled 280 yards of offense.

Quarterback Matt Polhemus led the Bulldogs (1-1, 1-0) as he threw for 131 yards while completing 9-of-19 passes with one interception. He was also a key to the ground attack, rushing for 51 yards on seven carries. Sophomore Mike McLeod, the 2005 Ivy League Rookie of the Year, did most of the dirty work for the Bulldogs, rushing for 110 yards on 26 carries to help the visitors finish with 149 yards on the ground. McLeod also scored all three of Yale’s touchdowns.

“[McLeod’s] a good runner, he runs downhill and he runs hard,” Siwula said. “We had a little trouble bringing him down at times, but I thought we did a pretty decent job of containing him.”

Bobby Abare anchored the Bulldogs’ defense with 10 tackles, while Steve Santoro and Chris Barry each tallied nine.

“Like I said to the players, that was a great team win,” said Yale head coach Jack Siedlecki. “After their first couple of drives we got off to a little of a slow start, [but] once we got into the speed of the game and execution of our offense, our defense just played tremendous.”

Déjà vu struck the Red early, as the Bulldogs mimicked last week’s foe, Bucknell, by taking a 7-0 lead on their first possession. After Santoro returned Zell’s kickoff to the Bulldogs’ 40-yard line, Polhemus found McLeod in the end zone for a 41-yard screen pass to put Yale on the scoreboard with only 2:40 elapsed in the game.

“No excuses, we just need to start better, and I take responsibility for that,” Knowles said. “We need to come out on defense — we’ve just struggled the first two series. I thought we played well, aside from that first series and aside from the end. Defensively, we just shot ourselves in the foot a few times.”

The Red seemed poised to strike back as the home team marched 76 yards down the field in 10 plays, highlighted by a 13-yard scramble by Ford and a 35-yard pass caught by Canty in a first-and-15 situation. However, Ford attempted to run in for a touchdown on a third-and-goal from six yards out and fumbled the ball at the 1-yard line after taking a hit from Yale’s Michael Woodson. Jared Hamilton recovered the ball for the Bulldogs to put a sudden end to Cornell’s first scoring attempt.

The defense held Yale to just seven yards on its following possession, and Kilcoyne returned the ensuing punt 15 yards to position Cornell on Yale’s 49-yard line to start its next drive. The Red advanced to the red zone once more, this time settling for a 26-yard field goal from Zell to cut the Bulldogs’ lead to 7-3 with 14:15 left in the second quarter.

After each team’s next possession ended in a punting situation, Yale found itself on the Cornell 6-yard line in a fourth-and-goal setup. Placekicker Alan Kimball missed the 23-yard field-goal attempt, sending the football wide left to end the scoring threat.

After a break at the half, during which Cornell’s 1971 Ivy League championship squad and other football alumni were introduced to the crowd, the modern teams took to the field once more.

Plays by each team’s defense provided the highlights to start the second half. First, Santoro picked off a pass attempt by Ford to end Cornell’s first possession of the second half after 46 seconds. Senior cornerback Matt Grant answered for the Red just two minutes later, however, intercepting a pass from Polhemus and returning it 30 yards to position the Red on its own 45-yard line. Although the Red tried to change the look of the offense by putting Liuzza under center and sliding Ford to a receiver position, the home team couldn’t navigate its way to the end zone.

Zell ended the scoring drought with 13:51 remaining in the fourth stanza, striking from 33 yards out to bring the Red within one point. The Bulldogs didn’t have to look over their shoulders for long, however, as McLeod punched into the end zone on a 14-yard carry after breaking five Cornell tackles on the following possession. Kimball regained his form as well, splitting the uprights to put Yale ahead, 14-6.

“It’s tough because it’s hard to point the finger at anybody because we’re a team, we do everything together,” Grant said. “So when that kind of thing happens late in the game, you’ve got to pick your teammates up. It’s unfortunate, but it’s one of those things where you just go back to work in practice and get it corrected, watch the film and get coached up and we’ll be all right.”

Although the Red’s first touchdown of the year remained out of reach, Zell converted a second 26-yard field-goal attempt to answer the Bulldogs touchdown and make the score 14-9.

Santoro struck back quickly with a 31-yard kickoff return. To put the game out of reach, Polhemus directed a nine-play, 68-yard drive down the field, converting two third downs to make the Bulldogs a perfect 3-for-3 in third-down attempts in the final quarter — two of which were passes to captain and wide receiver Chandler Henley. Polhemus carried the ball 26 yards to advance the offense to Cornell’s 12-yard line. Yale then turned to McLeod, who ended the game’s scoring with a 9-yard rush into the end zone, putting the Bulldogs ahead, 21-9.

“We did a lot of option passes where the receivers just found a lot of open areas and they made some great plays,” Polhemus said. “We’ve got a lot of chemistry and we throw the ball and I know where they’re going to be and they know where the ball’s going to be. Just that last drive, we knew we had to do it so we made big plays and Mike had great runs, so we just put it together at the end there.