Harold Coles tied a career high with 141 rushing yards on Saturday.

Eldon Lindsay / Cornell Athletics

Harold Coles tied a career high with 141 rushing yards on Saturday.

September 28, 2019

Football Can’t Overcome Offensive Struggles, Drops Ivy Opener to Yale

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This post has been updated.

Cornell’s defense turned in a strong first half performance and the Red entered halftime tied 3-3 with Ivy League preseason favorite Yale in New Haven on Saturday. But junior Richie Kenney — who threw four second-half interceptions in his first career start — and the Cornell offense couldn’t keep up, and the Red suffered a 27-16 loss to the Bulldogs.

“We thought we were going to be able to deliver the knockout punch and we just couldn’t,” head coach David Archer ’05 said of his offense.

An 89-yard touchdown pass from Kenney to sophomore running back Delonte Harrell gave Cornell (1-1, 0-1 Ivy) a 10-3 lead in the third quarter. But on the Red’s next drive, Kenney overthrew senior running back Harold Coles, resulting in a pick-six for Yale’s Rodney Thomas II.

After splitting a pair of road contests to start the season, Cornell returns to Schoellkopf Field next weekend for its Homecoming game against Georgetown.

Yale (2-0, 1-0) later scored on a touchdown pass from Kurt Rawlings to Mason Tipton, and the Cornell offense — which was without senior quarterback Mike Catanese, who missed the game with an injury — couldn’t put up any more points until the game’s final minutes.

Kenney finished the game 14-of-28 for 210 yards and two touchdowns to go along with the four picks. He had just five completions go for 10 yards or more.

Catanese was hampered by cramps late in last week’s 21-7 win at Marist, but Archer suggested that he’d be good to go for Saturday’s contest. The team announced on Twitter before the game that the signal-caller — who has been hampered by injuries for a while and missed the last six games of last season — would be unavailable. Archer said he knew on Thursday that Catanese would be unavailable.

Kenney found Harrell for a 20-yard touchdown with 1:55 to play. The extra point attempt was blocked, and the ensuing onside kick bounced right to Yale’s JP Shohfi, who easily ran it back for a touchdown, quickly erasing Cornell’s comeback bid and inflating the final score margin.

To start the contest, Cornell’s defense picked up where it left off last week, denying the high-powered Bulldog offense on the goal line. After Yale’s opening drive ate up more than six minutes, the Red stuffed running back Zane Dudek on fourth-and-goal, keeping the game scoreless.

“People are going to say ‘holy crap these guys are tough to run the ball against in short yardage,’” Archer said of his defensive front. “That’s true because they are.”

Later in the opening quarter, a 36-yard connection from Rawlings to receiver Reed Klubnik had Yale again knocking on the door. But this time the Bulldogs opted for a field goal and a 3-0 lead.

The teams exchanged punts until late in the half, when junior kicker Garrett Patla converted on a chip-shot field goal to tie the game at 3. Patla handled the kicking duties while senior Nickolas Null — still dealing with a quad injury — served as Cornell’s punter.

Archer said that Null’s quad injury prevented him from kicking off and trying field goals, but that he felt healthy enough to punt.

While Rawlings’ athleticism helped him avoid a sack and find his man to give the Bulldogs the lead, Cornell’s defense impressively slowed Rawlings, Dudek, Klubnik and the star-studded Yale offense. After two weeks, it seems that Cornell’s defense is legit.

“If this is any indication it certainly seems that the Ivy League is going to be a knock-down, drag out fight every week, every opponent, every game,” Archer said.

The second half started with a missed opportunity for Cornell. A negative play, penalty and sack turned a potential scoring drive into a missed 45-yard field goal.

But the Red wasted no time on its next drive. Kenney took advantage of a breakdown in Yale’s coverage, finding Harrell for the running back’s first career touchdown. Harrell caught the pass and sprinted down the sideline, tiptoeing his way into the endzone to give the Red its first lead of the day.

Cornell’s next series also only lasted one play. Only this time, it was a player in a navy blue jersey trotting into the end zone. Kenney misfired on a screen pass and Thomas quickly tied the game at 10.

In the fourth quarter, Yale flexed its offensive muscles and Kenney and co. fell apart. Kenney’s second interception (again to Thomas) set up the Bulldogs with excellent field position, but a mistake by Rawlings — and a nice interception by junior cornerback Kenan Clarke — gave Cornell the ball back and kept the Red in the game.

Kenney’s next throw sailed over the head of an open senior tight end John Fitzgerald. Then a deep ball on third down was intercepted, giving Yale the ball leading by a touchdown midway through the final quarter. A long drive resulting in a field goal seemingly put the game out of reach for Cornell. Harrell’s second touchdown of the day briefly made things interesting, but the blocked PAT and onside kick returned for a touchdown slammed the door on Cornell’s hopes at achieving a road upset.

“[Kenney will] be the first one to tell you he wishes he could have some of those plays back,” Archer said, adding that “Richie managed the game and gave us a chance to win at the end.”

Coles again led the way for the Cornell offense, rushing 17 times for 141 yards, tying a career high. Runs of 17 and 33 yards before halftime helped set up Patla’s field goal.

After splitting a pair of road contests to start the season, Cornell returns to Schoellkopf Field next weekend for its Homecoming game against Georgetown.