Julia Nagel / Sun Assistant Photography Editor

Despite two late touchdowns, Cornell fell to Yale 23-17.

September 25, 2021

Cornell Falls in Ivy Opener, Loses 23-17 to Yale

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This article has been updated.

Cornell dropped its Ivy League opener to Yale, losing 23-17. 

Cornell managed to score just three points in the first 57 minutes of action before senior backup quarterback Ben Mays came in and led two touchdown drives in the final 75 seconds of the game. 

Mays’s stellar play, in comparison to fifth-year quarterback Richie Kenney’s struggles, will prompt questions about who will start under center next weekend.

After the game, head coach David Archer ’05 didn’t commit to a starter for next week’s game against Bucknell.

“I have to go back and look at the tape, but what you certainly saw was [Mays] take advantage of his opportunity,” Archer said.

Kenney threw three interceptions in the contest and finished 18-38 for just 163 yards. Mays came in with just over four minutes left in the game and immediately led the Red on an 80-yard drive, capping it off with a 15-yard touchdown pass to fifth-year wide receiver Alex Kuzy . 

After Cornell’s onside kick was returned for a touchdown, Mays took the field again, this time leading the offense 75-yards in just 30 seconds for another touchdown. 

Mays finished the contest 7-14 for 105 yards and 1 touchdown.

“[Mays] came in and generated some positive ball movement and gave us a chance to win,” Archer said. “When he got the opportunity, he produced and so that is certainly going to be on my mind [when determining who starts].”

Coming into the game, the Red was focused on combating Yale’s dual quarterback scheme. Junior Griffin O’Connor handles the bulk of the Bulldog’s passing, while sophomore Nolan Grooms coordinates the run game.

Grooms ended up not being a factor, playing just 4 snaps in the contest. O’Connor, however, burned Cornell, finishing 23-38 with 317 yards and 2 touchdowns.

Interceptions plagued the Red offense in the first quarter.

The Red had an early scoring opportunity as the offense steadily marched into the red zone on its first possession. On 3rd and 5 from the 8-yard line Kenney broke free from a sack, but threw an interception in the endzone to junior cornerback Wande Owens. 

The Bulldogs took advantage after getting the ball. O’Connor found senior wide receiver Darrion Carrington on consecutive big plays — first a 20-yard completion on the sideline and then a 35-yard touchdown pass. After a missed extra point, Yale took a 6-0 lead.

On its next possession, the Red gave the ball right back. After a penalty brought up a long third down, Kenney threw another interception — this time over the middle to senior safety Rodney Thomas II. The interception appeared to be returned for a touchdown, but Cornell caught a break when the return was called back for a hold. 

On defense, a pair of stands in the red zone kept Cornell in the game. After allowing a 44-yard reception to senior wide receiver Melvin Rouse, Yale was set up with first and goal. The Bulldogs brought in their second quarterback, sophomore Nolan Grooms, to try to punch it in.

The Red defense held Grooms and the Bulldogs out of the end zone, and Yale had to settle for a field goal attempt. Yale failed to add to its lead when sophomore kicker Jack Bosman’s 20-yard attempt missed wide left.

After Cornell’s offense went three and out, Yale found itself back in the red zone following a 28-yard completion from O’Connor to sophore wide receiver Mason Tipton. Cornell once again kept the Bulldogs out of the end zone, but this time Bosman connected on a 27-yard attempt to put Yale up 9-0.

Kenney’s interceptions were part of a slow offensive half for the Red. On six first-half possessions, Cornell punted three times and turned the ball over twice. 

The lone bright spot for Cornell’s offense came in the 2nd quarter when Kenney found senior running back Devon Brewer down field for a 50-yard completion. The Red drive stalled in Yale territory after fifth-year tight end Kyle Benham dropped a pass and Kenney missed Kuzy. The Red settled for a 32-yard field goal that brought the score to 9-3. 

The Bulldogs had an opportunity to add to their lead before half, as they got the ball on Cornell’s 33 with 54 seconds left in the half. The Red defense kept Yale off the board, and the two teams went into the locker room for halftime with Yale up 9-3.

O’Connor and the Bulldogs marched down field after receiving the second half kick. Cornell’s defense had a chance to get off the field on 4th and 4 from its own 29-yard line, but O’Connor’s four yard pass to senior wide receiver Jaylen Sandifer was just good enough for a first down. 

On the next play, O’Connor found sophomore wide receiver Chase Nenad for a 25-yard touchdown. The extra point extended Yale’s lead to 16-3. 

The Red offense was unable to respond. Kenney and the offense put together a 39-yard drive to Yale’s 36 before finding itself faced with 4th and 10. Down 13 points halfway through the 3rd quarter, Archer and the coaching staff decided to go for it. A Yale blitz put pressure on Kenney, and he threw the ball away, ending Cornell’s drive. 

The Red defense came up with a stop, forcing Yale to punt. After Kenney overthrew his target on consecutive plays, the Red was forced to punt. 

Once again the defense came up big for Cornell, forcing a turnover on downs in Cornell territory. The offense took the field with 13 minutes left in the game. Down 13, Cornell desperately needed to score. 

Brewer got the Red offense going with a 28-yard run on the first play of the drive. After Kenney found fifth-year Logan Thut for a 16-yard pass and SK Howard broke free for an 11-yard rush to set Cornell up on Yale’s 11. 

Two false starts backed Cornell up to the 21, before Kenney’s pass on 3rd and 20 sailed into the hands of Yale’s Rodney Thomas. The interception was Kenney’s third of the day — Thomas’s second — and seemed to put the nail in the coffin for Cornell.

Just as all hope seemed to be lost, the Red took the field another time – this time with backup quarterback Ben Mays under center. 

Archer said the decision to put Mays in was because the team was looking for a spark. “We’d been stalled out a lot offensively all day and we were looking for a spark.”

Mays provided that spark, putting together an 80-yard drive and finding Kuzy for a 15 yard touchdown to bring the score to 16-10.

Down 6 with a little over a minute to go, the Red was forced to attempt an onside kick. Lees’ kick was recovered by Yale and returned by Rodney Thomas for a touchdown to put Yale up 23-10. 

In another crazy twist, Mays put together a second scoring drive, this time going 75-yards in just 30 seconds. 

Archer praised the team for staying in the game. “[Yale] did us a favor by scoring on the onside kick because if he goes down the game is over,” he said. “When we go back and execute again, that tells you a lot about the character of the guys.”

Despite the late game heroics, Cornell failed to recover its second onside kick, allowing Yale to secure the 23-17 victory.

The loss extended Cornell’s losing streak at the Yale Bowl to six games.

The Red will look to find the win column next weekend when they take on Bucknell in Lewisburg, PA.