NEW HAVEN, CONN. — Miscues, missed tackles and Mike McLeod. That trio spelled doom for the football team Saturday afternoon as it fell to Yale, 51-12, at the Yale Bowl in New Haven, Conn. It was the most points that Cornell had given up since Nov. 22, 2003.
“We got physically dominated in all aspects of the game, offense, defense and special teams,” said head coach Jim Knowles ’87. “Yale played like a champion and the consensus pick to win the league and we didn’t. … They were a much more physical ball club.”
Cornell struggled on both sides of the ball, and was out-gained by Yale, 436-323. The Bulldogs also had 293 rushing yards compared to 39 for the Red. Cornell threw three interceptions, missed two two-point conversions and only converted 3-of-17 third downs.
Making matters worse for Cornell was an injury suffered by junior quarterback Nathan Ford in the third quarter, when he was taken down by Yale junior Bobby Abare. After sophomore backup Ben Ganter threw a touchdown pass on his first play, Ford came back on the next drive and immediately threw an interception that was picked off by senior Lee Driftmier, who returned it to the 1-yard line. The junior quarterback did not return.
“[Ganter] plays like he has some skills and some talents,” Knowles said. “He played like a guy who is in his first game, some good some bad.”
McLeod, a first-team All-Ivy selection last year, added to his prodigious career totals. The junior carried the ball 31 times and gained 151 yards, despite sitting out for the majority of the fourth quarter. McLeod also scored three touchdowns, giving him seven for the season in just two games. He frequently made would-be tacklers miss, and often gained extra yards after the first hit. In the fourth, McLeod’s backups, sophomores Jordan Farrell and Ricardo Galvez, rushed for a touchdown each.
“I think that’s the thing with Mike,” said Yale offensive coordinator Keith Clark. “He has such great physical toughness that he can just wear on a defense. … Mike is one of those guys where it doesn’t look he is doing much and all of a sudden it is second and three.”
“He just was able to get a consistent four or five yards,” said junior Gus Krimm. “When we were watching film, we realized he liked to bounce it to the outside a lot, and for the most part we did a pretty good job of keeping him away from the sideline. But he was able to get a lot of yards right up the middle on a consistent basis.”
Adding to Yale’s offensive prowess was the play of senior quarterback Matt Polhemus. Polhemus frequently utilized the play-action pass, and was able to pass for 128 yards and a touchdown as well as rush for another 66. Cornell had difficulty bringing Polhemus down, and he often broke out of potential tackles. The Red’s defense was led by junior Tim Bax, who notched 15 total tackles, including two tackles for a loss and one pass defended. Senior linebacker Ryan Blessing recorded 10 total tackles.
Cornell’s new offense, which gained yards in a 38-14 win over Bucknell last week, was mostly stymied by Yale’s defense. Ford was able to pass for 203 yards on 22 completions, but many of the Red’s short passes were immediately gobbled up by the Bulldogs’s defense. Juniors Jesse Baker and Zac Canty caught eight balls apiece, with Baker gaining 83 yards and Canty 37. The two Cornell scores came on Ganter’s first pass and a halfback option from sophomore sophomore Bryan Walters. Walters’s two touchdowns and 88 recieving yards were both career highs.
“Yale is a far superior team to Bucknell obviously,” Knowles said. “Yale is in a different league. We would catch those balls and they would be all over us. They are great tacklers, big physical guys on defense and we could never get our little guys started. They hit them right away and dominated them.”
In addition to the three picks thrown by Cornell quarterbacks, Yale was able to sack the quarterback twice. Junior Brady Hart recorded one, while sophomore Justi Oplinger and senior Kirk Porter combined on the other.
Cornell was also unable to achieve success on the ground. Senior Luke Siwula ran eight times for 43 yards and Ford gained 16. As a team, Yale notched seven tackles for loss during the game.
“Going into the game, the coaches talked a lot about how Cornell was really a much improved team this year after their convincing win over Bucknell last week, and we knew we had to come with our best,” Abare said. “I think everyone really had that frame of mind coming into the game that we would be ready to play. Cornell, they thought they had a good chance of coming up here and knocking us off. We just had to be ready, and everybody did that.”
Early in the third quarter, after Cornell had cut Yale’s lead to 16-6, the Red missed the two-point conversion, and then decided to try an onside kick on the ensuing kickoff. The onside try caught the Bulldogs by surprise, but senior Jay Harding kicked it out of bounds, over Bax’s head.
“We got to 16-6, and we tried our little shake kick, which, man, it was there,” Knowles said. “It was there and the kid hit it too high … Bax was right there on the sidelines. It’s a kick we work on in practice and he just sailed it over his head. In a situation like that, we hadn’t had any momentum all game, and you try to grab some momentum and we score and go for two and don’t get it and come right back with something else, you don’t leave it in your bag.”