Amanda Burkart/Cornell Football

Senior punter/kicker Jackson Kennedy hit the game-winning 38-yard field goal to put the Red on top.

September 23, 2023

Huge Second Half Fuels Football to Statement Upset Against Yale

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Faced with a 4th and 13 from the Yale 20, football had an opportunity to pull off an unprecedented upset. Taking on the defending Ivy League champion Yale, the Red (2-0, 1-0 Ivy) had fallen behind 14-0 early, before fighting back in the second half to take a 20-14 lead. 

A late Yale touchdown put Cornell’s comeback in jeopardy, and down by one, senior punter/kicker Jackson Kennedy stepped up for a 38-yard field goal attempt with two seconds remaining. The snap was good, and Kennedy drilled it down the middle, putting Cornell on top, 23-21. It was the Red’s first win against Yale since 2016, and sends an early message to the rest of the Ivy League that this is a team to be taken seriously.

The Bulldogs (0-2, 0-1 Ivy) got the ball to start the game, and quarterback Nolan Grooms showed his dual-threat ability immediately. Grooms rushed for 18 yards on the first snap to kick start Yale’s drive.

The Bulldogs eventually stalled just inside Cornell territory, and with the wet conditions on the field, was forced to punt. With the Red’s punt returner getting out of the way, Yale was able to down the ball at the Cornell 1.

Backed up against its own end zone, the Red was not able to move the ball, going three-and-out. A short punt gave the Bulldogs excellent field position, at the Cornell 40.

Cornell’s defense, which was stout all of last week, made some key mistakes in the first. Two penalties — a roughing the passer and a pass interference, set up Yale with a goal-to-go opportunity at the two yard line, despite having just nine yards of actual offense on the drive. Running back Tre Peterson hammered it up the middle into the end zone, and the Bulldogs jumped out to a 7-0 lead.

The Red looked to respond on its second drive, starting with more favorable field position at its own 26. Cornell had no trouble moving the ball, getting to the Yale 21 in just five plays. Sophomore running back Gannon Carothers had the big spark with a 29-yard rush up the middle.

Faced with a 3rd and 4 at Yale’s 21, junior quarterback Jameson Wang found sophomore wide receiver Davon Kiser. The sophomore turned to run upfield, but took a big hit from a Yale defender, losing the football in the process. The Bulldogs pounced on it, and the Red came away with no points once again.

It took just two plays for Yale to double its lead. Grooms opened up the drive with a 27 yard pass over the middle. Working at midfield, the Bulldog offense pulled off a flea flicker, and Grooms found receiver Chase Nenad wide open over the middle behind the Red’s defense. Nenad took it into the end zone untouched for a 47-yard score, and Yale quickly led, 14-0.

The second quarter was a defensive grind, as both teams were forced to adapt to the wet conditions. Cornell was able to drive into Yale territory once again following the Bulldogs’ second score, but a second down sack stalled the drive, and the Red was forced to punt.

Cornell forced a three-and-out, and got the ball back with favorable field position at the 50. Nevertheless, faced with a 4th and 5 after three plays, the Red opted to go for it. Wang’s pass went incomplete, and the Bulldogs took over at its own 45.

With a chance to make it a three possession game, Yale drove into Cornell territory. The Bulldogs stalled on the Cornell 28, and despite the rain, chose to attempt the field goal. The kick was wide right, and Cornell got the ball back.

Needing points before halftime, the Red once again was able to move the ball into Yale territory, mixing the rush and the pass to set up a goal-to-go opportunity. Faced with a chance to make it a one score game, Cornell went backwards on all three goal-to-go plays, and had to settle for a field goal, cutting Yale’s lead to 14-3.

Having used its timeouts, the Bulldogs ran its two minute offense, looking to steal points before the half. After picking up two first downs, Grooms was picked off over the middle by senior linebacker Connor Henderson. The Red went into the locker room trailing, 14-3.

Coming back from halftime, Cornell’s offense began to heat up. The Red had thus far stalled in Yale territory, but on its opening drive of the third quarter, Cornell marched right down the field. 

The 12-play, 70-yard drive was highlighted by a 12-yard pass from Wang to senior wide receiver Nicholas Laboy on a 4th and 4 from the Yale 29. Wang capped off the drive with a one yard quarterback sneak into the end zone, and the Red quickly cut the deficit to 14-10.

Riding the momentum shift, the Cornell defense, which held Grooms to just 95 yards passing in the first half, forced a three-and-out from Yale. After a short punt, the Red had the ball at the Yale 40 with a chance to take the lead for the first time in the game.

The Red worked methodically in the third quarter, taking what the Bulldog defense gave it. Cornell worked the ball into the red zone before being faced with a 4th and 6 from the Yale 18. Continuing to show up in clutch situations, Wang picked up six on the ground to extend the drive.

Four plays later, Cornell took the lead on a three-yard pass from Wang to Laboy. After having trailed for most of the first half, the Red took its first lead of the game, 17-14.

Suddenly needing to mount a comeback of its own, the Bulldogs leaned on the ground game, rushing the ball on five of its first seven plays of the ensuing drive. However, faced with a 3rd and 3 just outside the red zone, Grooms was sacked by senior linebacker Rasean Thomas.

Starting the fourth quarter with a 4th and 9 from the Cornell 29, Yale opted to attempt a game-tying field goal. Nevertheless, the Bulldogs’ kicker was once again wide right, and the Red held on to a three point lead.

With an opportunity to work the clock in the fourth quarter, Cornell continued to rush the ball. Yale struggled to find an answer to the Red’s ground game, and Cornell drove for 59 yards on 16 plays, eating up more than nine minutes of game time before settling for a field goal. With less than six minutes left, the Red held a six point lead.

With time dwindling and needing a touchdown, the reigning Ivy League Player of the Year took matters into his own hands. Grooms rushed for 41 yards on Yale’s first two plays from scrimmage, and a roughing the passer penalty against the Red had the Bulldogs well within Cornell territory.

Looking to bend but not break, the Red’s defense forced a couple of incompletions, and paired with an offensive holding penalty, had Yale in a 4th and 20 situation, needing one stop to virtually clinch the game. Nevertheless, Grooms made a perfect pass down the left sideline to wide receiver Mason Tipton, and after the extra point, the Bulldogs had taken the lead back.

Down one point with three minutes left, Cornell needed to put together one drive to get its biggest win in years. The offense stuck to its roots, mixing the rush and the pass as it marched down the field. Wang connected with sophomore wide receiver Doryn Smith for 22 yards to start the drive, and a 17-yard rush from Carothers had the Red knocking on the door.

Cornell was able to force Yale to take all of its timeouts, and after converting a first down, took the clock all the way down to two seconds. On the final play of the game from the Yale 20, Kennedy knocked through the game winning field goal, and the Red left New Haven with the win, 23-21.

It was an all-around effort for Cornell, with the offense racking up 371 scrimmage yards while the defense limited Grooms to just 129 yards passing. The Red dominated time of possession as well, holding the ball for nearly 39 minutes. One concern for Cornell is Kiser, who left the game after his fumble and did not return.

Following its 2-0 start to the season, Cornell returns home next Saturday, Sept. 30 to take on Colgate (0-3). The game will serve as both Homecoming and the Red’s home opener, and with Cornell off to a hot start this season, the Red faithful should turn out in numbers. The game is set to kickoff at 2 p.m., and will be broadcast on ESPN+.