This post has been updated.
NEW HAVEN, Conn. — A crisp start at the Yale Bowl Saturday, one that followed a strong second half last week against Delaware, had Cornell football poised to enter halftime against Yale with a 17-7 lead and a firm stranglehold on the Bulldogs.
But after a stalled, three-and-out drive that handed Yale the ball back, coupled with collapses by the defense, the Bulldogs were able to swing the game in their favor and notch a go-ahead score with under two minutes remaining in the half.
And since Cornell elected to begin with the ball, Yale trotted back onto the field to start the second half looking to do more damage, which it did out of the gate, en route to a 49-24 thrashing of the Red.
“Last two minutes of the half are like the hidden game within the game,” head coach David Archer ’05 said when asked about the team’s breakdowns just before halftime. “It felt like we had to keep being aggressive offensively. … [You think] this is going to click there, and it didn’t.”
Before that point, Cornell outplayed a Yale team that was riding a high after demolishing defending Patriot League champion Lehigh, 56-28. For a team that has, in the recent past, struggled with run defense, Cornell held the Bulldogs to just 55 yards on the ground at the half and 142 yards of total offense — 63 of which came on Yale’s go-ahead drive just before the half. This was aided by the Red’s ability to keep the potent Yale offense off the field, as it held the ball for nearly twice as long as the Bulldogs by halftime.
But missed opportunities became the nail in the coffin for Cornell. On the Red’s first offensive drive of the game, junior quarterback Dalton Banks, who eventually exited the game due to injury, orchestrated a 76-yard drive to the Yale four-yard-line only to see a field goal as the final result.
On the ensuing drives, Cornell was forced into a three-and-out, then was intercepted twice in a row — the second of which was returned for a touchdown to get Yale on the board for the first time.
“We’re moving the ball well, offense is doing good we just got to capitalize and score points at the end of drives,” said freshman wide receiver Eric Gallman, whose 97 receiving yards on the day set the Cornell single-game record for a freshman. “We’re kicking field goals when we should be scoring touchdowns … and that’s definitely affecting us, but I think we’ll get it together in upcoming weeks.”
Though Archer has been cognizant of these mistakes that might come with Banks throwing to some new receivers, he is also aware the grace period is running thin. Both interceptions on the day for Banks were either tipped off the hands of a teammate or Bulldog.
“[Banks] made some good throws,” Archer said of his quarterback, who attempted 45 passes on the day before senior Jake Jatis stepped in. “We just have to get it together and get it off the ground. It feels like an airplane that [can’t take off].”
It seemed that on nearly every play, Banks was slow to get up after either a hit just after he threw or a late hit that was penalized — Yale’s Tosan Agbeyegbe was ejected for targeting after a late hit on Banks. With a young offensive line that has been cratered due to graduation, Bulldog after Bulldog found their way to Banks, sacking him six times and forcing him to depart the contest after taking a beating. Archer said Banks will be reevaluated in the coming days, but he was able to exit the field on his own power.
On top of rushers making their way to Banks, the offensive line did not help the run game establish any sort of rhythm. Apart from a 90-yard touchdown sprint from sophomore tailback Harold Coles, Cornell managed just 24 yards on the ground for the day.
“A lot of young guys and we have some depth hurt, which has taken its toll,” Archer said, explaining the troubles on the offensive line. “We traveled an offensive lineman this week who didn’t practice because he had the flu, so our depth at offensive line is not great. We are going to keep finding the right combination there.”
Like the offense, the defense’s day also deteriorated as the day progressed. Despite holding Yale to 55 yards of rushing in the first half, the Bulldogs notched nearly 300 yards on the ground in the second half with Zane Dudek and Deshawn Salter going for 173 and 143 on the day, respectively.
Following their late first-half go-ahead touchdown, the Bulldogs scored right out of halftime to make it a 21-10 game, and after a missed 21-yard field goal attempt by junior kicker Zach Mays, Yale scored again to take a 28-10 lead.
On each of those drives, Dudek had a run for over 20 yards while Yale’s sophomore quarterback Kurt Rawlings had to make only four completions to march his team down the field.
No rush was more damning to the Red than an 82-yard touchdown run by Salter that effectively put the game out of reach for Cornell. It was just three drives after Coles’s 90-yard touchdown and two-point conversion to cut the deficit to 11. But much like the second half as a whole, Salter and Dudek stymied any hope Cornell had for a comeback.
“Schematically I don’t think much changed between the first [and second] half,” said junior linebacker Reis Seggebruch. “I just think players didn’t make plays in the second.”
After last week’s 41-14 loss to Delaware, Archer said he felt more confident than he did opening 2016 with a win over Bucknell. Now two loses in, he still maintains that level of trust in his guys to not let the ship steer too far off course.
“[I’m] still confident because I am confident in my guys’ ability to correct this,” he said. “These are correctable things, so I am still very confident about the season, extremely frustrated about today’s result.”