September 29, 2008

Red Bullies Bulldogs

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Head coach Jim Knowles ’87 is trying to take a more even-keeled approach in 2008 than in the past, but it was difficult for him not to get excited after his team beat preseason Ivy League favorite Yale in front of a Homecoming crowd of 11,143. Cornell’s soggy 17-14 upset over the perennial Ancient Eight contenders Saturday afternoon at rain-drenched Schoellkopf Field was primarily the by-product of an aggressive and well-executed defensive scheme that restricted senior All-American running back Mike McLeod to 57 rushing yards and zero trips to the end zone on 20 carries.
“Everybody was just running to the ball,” said senior linebacker Brian Ostrowsky. “That’s one of the things we really stressed in the offseason. It’s easier to tackle a guy when you have four or five guys with you and it definitely showed today.”[img_assist|nid=32167|title=Up and at ’em|desc=Senior safety Gus Krimm (29) recorded two sacks, 1 1/2 tackles for a loss and recovered a fumble.|link=node|align=left|width=|height=0]
“The biggest disappointment for me was really our inability to run the football,” said Yale head coach Jack Siedlecki. “We were not getting people on people and giving Mike space to run with the ball. When you get into second and 10, first and 20, third and 20, there aren’t very many plays [you can run]. That’s tough duty for any offense. We took no gains in the run game and we turned the ball over. That’s not a very good combination.”
Cornell’s (2-0, 1-0 Ivy) defense surrendered a mere 209 total yards of offense on the afternoon and also recorded six sacks for a loss of 49 yards.
Capitalizing on an interception by senior safety Tim Bax, senior quarterback Nathan Ford registered the first points of the contest and his first rushing touchdown of the season on a quarterback sneak at the 9:15 mark in the first quarter.
Trailing 7-0 with 5:53 remaining in the first quarter, the Bulldogs (1-1, 0-1 Ivy) pinned the Red on its own goal line, but Yale bailed out Cornell with a 15-yard personal foul. Penalties cost the Bulldogs field position all day as Yale committed seven penalties for a total of 80 yards.
Yale brought in sophomore southpaw Brook Hart, who has been splitting time with senior signal caller Ryan Fodor, for the next series. On his first play from under center, Hart found sophomore Jordan Forney for a 30-yard strike, moving the ball to the Cornell 27-yard line. As the drive stalled, the Bulldogs were forced to settle for a long field goal attempt. However, for the second time in two weeks, senior linebacker Graham Rihn knifed through a hole in the line to block a 42-yard field goal attempt.
On offense, Cornell kept Yale guessing all afternoon, substituting either junior wide receiver Stephen Liuzza or the tailback tandem of senior Luke Siwula and junior Randy Barbour for Ford under center. The Red utilized a bit of chicanery by having the tailbacks take a pair of direct snaps. After Siwula took a direct snap and gained four yards down to the Bulldog’s 26-yard line, Liuzza scampered 19 yards to the Bulldog’s seven-yard line on a second consecutive direct snap. Barbour punched the ball in the end zone with a six-yard rumble, plowing through Yale defenders to put Cornell up 14-0 with 10:10 to play in the half.
“With so many [capable] guys on our offense, we can all make plays,” Liuzza said. “We don’t have to rely on one single guy.”
It was not until 1:57 remaining in the first half that the Bulldogs got on the scoreboard. Sophomore Gio Christodoulou resuscitated a dormant Yale sideline with a 71-yard punt return for a touchdown to slice the Red’s lead to 14-7 heading into halftime.
“That was just one bad play,” Knowles said. “We talked about it in the locker room. One play is not going to beat us. One play is not going to win the game for us. When you look at it as one single play, it’s pretty easy to move forward.”
Cornell, determined to prove the first half was not a fluke, forced a fumble on the first play from scrimmage in the third quarter as senior defensive lineman Frank Kunis caught Hart’s left arm and stripped the ball before he could release a throw.
“That wasn’t even a blitz,” Knowles exclaimed, the defensive end in him coming through. “That was just Frank fighting his way through and chopping it right out of there. That was great.”
Rihn recovered the loose ball on Yale’s six-yard line, but the Red had to settle for a 21-yard field goal, boosting its lead to 17-7 after three consecutive handoffs to Siwula fell short of the goal line.
Cornell forced its fourth fumble of the game on the very first play of the fourth quarter when senior safeties Anthony Sabo and Gus Krimm sacked Fodor for a loss of eight yards before pilfering the ball from his hands.
“Gus and I got our numbers called on that blitz,” Sabo said. “I came free. The quarterback didn’t see me, and I just tried to put my head right on the ball.”
Liuzza and Barbour rushed for a combined 24 yards on the ensuing drive to take the ball deep inside Yale territory which set up a 21-yard attempt by sophomore Brad Greenway, but Greenway missed wide right.
It was not until 58 seconds remaining in the contest that Yale recorded its first offensive touchdown of the game on a 10-play, 80-yard drive, which culminated in a Fodor seven-yard strike to senior wide receiver Jarret Drake.
Yale’s onside kick failed. Senior wide receiver Jesse Baker secured the ball, assuring victory.
On the afternoon, Barbour rushed the ball 23 times for 67 yards and a touchdown. Ford was 7-for-22 for 74 yards passing and scored one rushing touchdown, the 10th of his career.
The victory extends Cornell’s home winning streak to four games and marks the first time the Red has started the season at 2-0 during Knowles’s tenure as head coach.
“Yale was every bit as talented individually, if not more talented than us,” Knowles said. “But we were the stronger team today.”